Cyberbullying means bullying a person using technology, such as social networks, email, forums, blogs or text messages. It can be devastating for the victims. This is why the law makes some kinds of behaviour illegal.
Is Cyberbullying a Crime?
Cyberbullying can be a crime, depending on the situation and the type of bullying. Here are a few examples of when cyberbullying might be a crime:
- Someone sent you dozens of mean emails. This person is harassing you, and you are afraid for your safety. This behaviour can be considered criminal harassment.
- Your friend is spreading lies about a teacher to ridicule him and ruin his reputation. Since it is on Facebook, all of the students can read it. This behaviour can be the crime of defamatory libel.
- Your cousin receives a text message saying that she will be in danger if she goes to the end-of-year school party. The message said, "We'll break your legs if you show up!" This behaviour can be considered a threat.
- Someone in your class sent another student an email strongly suggesting that she commit suicide. This behaviour could be the crime of encouraging a person to commit suicide.
- Your boyfriend's "ex" took a picture of you while you were taking a shower in the school locker room. She sent it to all the boys at your school. This could be the crime of distribution of intimate images.
Did you know? As of age 12, people can be arrested, charged with a crime and have to go to youth court.
Even When It's Not a Crime, Cyberbullying Is Serious
When cyberbullying hurts someone, the bully can be held responsible in the courts. Being held responsible in this way is called "civil responsibility" (as opposed to criminal responsibility). For example, there can be civil responsibility for ruining someone's reputation.
Here are examples of actions that can lead to civil responsibility:
- If you post pictures of people on Instagram without their agreement, you are not respecting their right to control images of themselves.
- If you post personal information about people on Facebook, you are not respecting their right to privacy.
- If you say things about someone and they damage that person's reputation, honour or dignity, you can be held responsible for the damage to the victim.
People can be held civilly responsible for these kinds of actions even if they did not mean to cause harm. When people are held civilly responsible, the judge can order them to remove everything written or posted and to pay the victim money to make up for the harm done.
Also, some forms of cyberbullying can be discriminatory harassment. This refers to harassment based on someone's personal characteristics, such as ethnic origin, colour, sex, physical condition, religion or sexual orientation. Sending someone emails making fun of her physical handicap is an example of discriminatory harassment. The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (human rights and youth commission) handles complaints from victims of discriminatory harassment.
If You Are a Victim of Cyberbullying
It is not normal to be afraid to go to school or to the park, or to leave your home. Here is what you can do to stop cyberbullying:
- Print out the web page (forum, blog, email or site) or text message where you saw the cyberbullying. You can use this as proof.
- Talk to an adult you trust (for example, a parent, teacher, older brother or sister). Remember that your school has a duty to act, even if the bullying takes place in cyberspace.
- Report the situation to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or to the website where the cyberbullying occurred. Most of these sites have ways to deal with cyberbullying.
- Contact one of these organizations:
- File a complaint with the police if you are afraid for your safety, or to report the bully.
In Montreal: Go to your local police station to file a complaint.
Outside Montreal: Call your local police force or the provincial police.
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.