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Topless pic cyberbullying: politician

But Nova Scotia police say Twitter insults weren't criminal

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HALIFAX -- A member of the Nova Scotia legislature says she was cyberbullied by a group of people over the past two weeks after someone posted a topless image of her online.

Lenore Zann said Friday the image was taken from an episode in the U.S. cable TV series The L Word, in which she played a small part in a prison shower scene in 2008.

When the image was tweeted to her on Nov. 29, she asked the sender to remove the image, which she said included a message that said, "What happened to the old Lenore?"

But the sender refused and the online conversation soon included others who retweeted the image and hurled insults at her, Zann said.

"I never signed on for having that image used for another purpose," she said in an interview.

"I signed a contract... for my image only to be used in The L Word show. It's not just the image of the picture that was disturbing. It was the way that these people... suddenly targeted me. It increased in velocity and intent. It was constant and it was harassing."

'It was becoming more and more like a pack mentality. They were attacking me.'

-- Nova Scotia MLA Lenore Zann

The NDP politician from the Truro area said she later complained to the sender's parents, the local school board, Truro police and Nova Scotia's new cyberbullying investigation unit, known as CyberScan.

Truro police Chief David McNeil said an investigation last week determined the case was not a criminal matter. "Since then, our file has been concluded," he said.

A spokesman for Nova Scotia's Justice Department said the CyberScan unit does not discuss details of individual cases, but Zann said she was told the five-member unit is still looking into the matter.

The unit was set up earlier this year when Nova Scotia introduced the Cyber-safety Act, which the province describes as the first law in Canada aimed at protecting the victims of cyberbullying and making those responsible accountable under the law.

The act defines cyberbullying as any electronic communication "that is intended or ought reasonably be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person's health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation."

The CBC reported Nic Scissons, a 17-year-old high school student from Truro, said he sent the tweet, thought it was nothing more than a joke and the issue was blown out of proportion.

However, Zann insisted subsequent tweets from Scissons and others were filled with nasty taunts and vulgar insults. "It was becoming more and more like a pack mentality," she said. "They were attacking me."

Zann said the image was eventually deleted after she spoke with the boy's father and school officials.

Scissons did not respond to a request for an interview.

Wayne MacKay, a law professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax and an expert on cyberbullying, said Zann's complaint appears to meet the act's definition of cyberbullying.

He said even if the sender intended the message to be a joke, the law states an offence has been committed if the accused ought to have known their actions would cause harm.

"It's not about whether you absolutely intended to do it," MacKay said. "It's really looking more at what's the impact on the victim... The fact that you didn't really intend to be malicious is not necessarily a form of defence."

MacKay said just because an image is in the public domain, that doesn't mean it can be used for any purpose.

The professor, who led a provincial cyberbullying task force in 2012, said the legal definition casts a wide net. But he said that is necessary to deal with the rapid evolution of electronic communication.

"It's a good object lesson in how simply one can get in difficulty with our new laws," he said.

"A lot of people are not yet aware of how much potential liability they have under that act... There may be some problems here, but let's see how it plays out in terms of enforcement and how the courts handle it."

David Fraser, a Halifax lawyer and privacy expert, said the law's net is so wide it will likely be struck down as unconstitutional. He said what happened to Zann appears to be cyberbullying, as defined under the act, but he argued the law fails to take into account crucial factors, including the fact Zann is a public figure.

 

-- The Canadian Press

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2013 A21

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