A proposed federal law in Canada could make certain types of cyberbullying as illegal as distributing child pornography.
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry wants the Canadian government to enact changes to the country's criminal code that would make it illegal to distribute intimate images for a malicious or sexual purpose without consent.
The proposed changes come in the wake of the death of Rehtaeh Parsons, a Nova Scotia teen who was taken off life support last week following a suicide attempt stemming from an alleged sexual assault by four boys in 2011. Parsons' family say she was bullied for more than a year after a photo of one of the accused attackers having sex with her circulated electronically.
In an interview with the Canadian Press, Landry said that the proposed law came out of a discussion with Rehtaeh's mother, Leah Parsons.
"As I heard her and others speak, it's about images getting out there that don't have the permission of the parties involved," Landry said.
Landry plans to discuss the matter with federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson in a meeting next week. On Friday, Nicholson's office released a statement that indicates he will push to expedite a review of Canada's criminal code to "identify potential gaps... on cyberbullying and the non-consensual distribution of intimate images."
Although the distribution of child pornography is illegal in Canada, no protections exist against the malicious dissemination of sexual images for adults.
Dan MacRury, a prosecutor and Nova Scotia's representative on a national cybercrime working group, told the Canadian Press that although the details of the law still have to be worked out, lawmakers would gear it towards outlawing the distribution of harmful images such as those depicting genitalia.
"Obviously we wouldn't be looking at just kissing," MacRury said.
The investigation into the alleged sexual assault on Rehtaeh Parsons was reopened Apr. 12, after police received new and credible evidence from a witness that was willing to work with them. Previously, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had conducted a year-long investigation, but no charges were brought against the accused rapists.
Canadian law has provisions for when "a person accesses child pornography" or "knowingly causes child pornography to be viewed... or transmitted."
Parsons was 15 --a minor -- when the photos were taken, but in an interview with CBC Radio's Maritime Noon, Leah Parsons said that prosecutors backed off because they thought the accused would use ignorance of Rehtaeh's age as a defense. The boys involved were all under age 18 at the time of the incident.
But the proposed law could make it illegal to distribute any images like those the Parsons family claim ruined their daughter's self-esteem -- even if those images are of an adult.
"From a technology point of view, it's like any investigation. [Police] would have to prove who sent the item," MacRury told the Canadian Press.
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter ordered an independent review of the police and prosecutors’ actions in the Rehtaeh Parsons case last week, according to the Chronicle Herald.