In September of 2012, Canada’s top court, the Supreme Court of Canada, struck a blow to cyber-bullies in a case called AB v Bragg Communications Inc, 2012 SCC 46.
The rise of social media platforms has had a drastic impact on the way people communicate. Facebook, the social media market leader, now has roughly 1 billion users. That’s right; almost 1 in 7 people around the world are on Facebook. When used properly, websites like Facebook can have a positive impact on a user’s life. However, these websites can also be a very dangerous tool.
Cyber-bullying (the use of the internet to degrade another person) is becoming increasingly common. Bullies can now hide behind the veil of the Internet to harm their victims in a way that was previously not possible without the help of technology. Social science evidence has shown that cyber-bullying is linked to significant psychological harm in underage victims. As a result of this harm, victims of cyber-bullying are at an increased risk of dropping out of school and, in extreme cases, committing suicide.
The evidence also indicates that these unfortunate outcomes can be avoided if victims are allowed to anonymously report cyber-bullying incidents.
The Supreme Court Decision
In the case of AB v Bragg Communications Inc., the Supreme Court of Canada decided that victims of cyber-bullying have the right to pursue their attackers without disclosing their identity. In other words, victims of cyber-bullying can take legal action against bullies without having to reveal who they are. This was a difficult decision for the Supreme Court to make because it had to balance the interests of the victim against the freedom of the press and society’s interest in having an open, transparent court process.
In AB v Bragg Communications Inc., a fake Facebook profile was set up containing hurtful commentary and sexualized images of a 15-year-old girl. With the help of her father, the girl commenced a defamation lawsuit against her attackers. Defamation actions are intended to protect the reputation of individuals from unwarranted attack. The girl also applied to the court for an order protecting her identity throughout the legal proceedings.
The Supreme Court found that society’s interest in finding out the identity of cyber-bullying victims is not very important, especially when compared to the extremely important desire to encourage victims of cyber-bullying to report their attackers. The court therefore decided to ban the publication of any information that would uncover the victim’s identity.
The Supreme Court’s decision is an important step toward combatting cyber-bullying.
If you or someone you know is being bullied, tell someone you trust right away, even though this can be very difficult to do. You can also call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 for more help in dealing with bullying.
Remember that legal action against bullies is an extreme step to take. Working together with school officials, parents and your peers to solve the problem is probably the best approach. Legal action should only be used as a last resort.
There are people out there – including Canada’s top court – that are on your side and here to help.
To read the case, click here.
To read the case, click here.
This post was written by Brendan Stevens, a law student at the University of Toronto. Brendan is a volunteer on JFCY's PLE Team. Content reviewed by a JFCY lawyer.