John Rafferty – Are you horrified by cyberbullying?

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The issue of cyberbullying and its impact on children and teens is growing
The issue of cyberbullying and its impact on children and teens is growing

THUNDER BAY – POLITICS – Are you horrified by and want to end the systematic abuse of our children through cyberbullying? Me too. Do you value personal privacy for you and your family? Me too. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are dropping the ball yet again on an important issue and it could have a big impact on our individual rights.

If you have watched the news on a fairly regular basis over the past several years then you will have noticed a disturbing trend among our youth, namely the increasing prevalence of ‘cyberbullying.’ Broadly defined cyberbullying is the use of computers and other information technology like cell phones to harm or harass other people in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner.

Cyberbullying is a cowardly and repugnant act and could be a problem for adults in vulnerable circumstances, but it is definitely a threat to the well-being and healthy development of our children and youth. It is so much so that in the past few years we’ve seen a rash of suicides among our youth in Canada that stem directly from cyberbullying attacks. You may recognize the names of some of the promising youth we’ve lost to cyberbullying; Amanda Todd, Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, Rehtaeh Parsons. Sadly, there are many others.

In a rare moment of unity, nearly all MPs in Ottawa have declared that they believe cyberbullying is real, a threat to our youth, and that our federal government must act to stop it. Widespread agreement on solving such problems in Ottawa gives me hope, but the difficulty we are faced with is how to do so, and do so in a way that protects both the right of our youth to live in a peaceful and healthy environment while protecting the privacy rights of other Canadians.

I will give credit where it is due. I actually believe Stephen Harper and the Conservatives when they say that they are concerned with the cyberbullying epidemic in Canada, and I believe that they believe they have an answer in the tabling of Bill C-13. Unfortunately, where I disagree with them is related to some of the practical elements in that bill. Indeed, my New Democrat colleagues and I feel that Bill C-13 puts your basic right to privacy at risk and that is a big problem.

When Bill C-13 was tabled last November many voiced support for the anti-cyberbullying portion of the bill, but even more worried about the ramifications it would have on our right to privacy due to the fact it increases surveillance and eliminates the need for police to obtain a warrant to collect personal information in many cases. My colleague and NDP Justice Critic Francoise Boivin summed up our concerns well in a speech she gave on the bill in parliament in November; “The Conservatives introduced a bill whose first seven clauses are exactly what everyone expected the Minister of Justice to introduce with respect to cyberbullying and the distribution of images. However, clauses eight and up must have come as a surprise to many. Forty-seven is a lot of clauses.”

You can read the bill for yourself, plus all of the different speeches given by the parties, and track its progress through parliament here. I can tell you so far of at least one prominent person to voice their concern over C-13, that being Carol Todd the mother of the late Amanda Todd.

It testimony before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on C-13, Ms. Todd said; “While I applaud the efforts of all of you in crafting the sextortion, revenge porn, and cyberbullying sections of Bill C-13, I am concerned about some of the other unrelated provisions that have been added to the bill in the name of Amanda, Rehtaeh, and all of the children lost to cyberbullying attacks. I don’t want to see our children victimized again by losing privacy rights.”

New Democrats agree with Ms. Todd and others when it comes to C-13. We want a good anti-cyberbullying bill passed and quickly, but not at the expense of our right to privacy. For our part, we’ll continue to work on this bill and try to find the right balance that best protects the rights, dignity, and lives of all Canadians.

John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River

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John Rafferty is the current Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay – Rainy River and a member of the New Democratic Party caucus in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario. John was first elected to serve as MP in the 2008 federal election and was subsequently re-elected on May 2, 2011 with 48.1% of the vote.