Using Our Courts to Investigate Cyberbullying In Schools

November 2012

A recent decision of the Supreme Court of
Canada has sent a message to all victims of cyberbullying– the Canadian courts
can help you!

In A.
B. v. Bragg
, an anonymous cyberbully (or bullies) created a fake Facebook
page, which contained derogatory and defamatory content about a 15 year girl.
The girl brought a defamation and harassment action against the anonymous cyberbullies
and sought an order from the Nova Scotia courts that would assist in
identifying them. She also sought an order that would prohibit the publication
of her identity. The reason for the publication ban was clear – if the
plaintiff’s identity was made public by the Courts and the media, it might lead
to further bullying, harassment, and psychological harm to the young girl. The
Nova Scotia courts granted the plaintiff an order seeking to identify her
anonymous bullies, but refused to grant the publication ban, relying on the a
long standing doctrine that our Courts should be open to the public. The
plaintiff appealed and her case made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Supreme Court of Canada granted the
plaintiff’s request to shield her identity. In its unanimous decision, the
Court affirmed the importance of protecting our youth from cyberbullies. By so
doing, the Court has enabled other victims to come forward and use the civil
courts to track down their tormentors, without the fear of having their
identity revealed to the public.

In Ontario, when a child is a victim of cyberbullying
and the principal of that child’s school becomes aware of the situation, the principal
must take active steps to investigate the cyberbullying to determine, amongst
other things: (a) whether the culprit is a school pupil; and (b) whether the cyberbullying took place while “at school, at a
school-related activity or in other circumstances where engaging in the
activity will have an impact on the school climate”.

An obvious conundrum arises out of the duty
that principals must exercise.  Since many
cyberbullies do not identify themselves, it can be difficult for a principal to
determine if the culprit is a school student.

School boards on behalf of principals in
some extreme cases might consider recourse to the civil courts to aid in their
investigation. As in the A.B. v. Bragg
case, a court application can be brought on behalf of the victim seeking to
identify the cyberbullies. If successful, it can potentially identify the
cyberbullies. It might also reveal whether or not the online activity took
place on school premises (for example, the cyberbully had connected to the
Internet using the school’s Wi-Fi).

In addition, determining whether or not
there has been an impact on school climate can be assisted by having a full record
of the communication and knowing if other individuals, particularly students,
have involved themselves by posting comments as well.

While investigation of cyberbullying
remains a difficult task for principals, recent incidents in the media highlight
the need to be thorough and vigilant in responding to a victim’s concerns, and
applications to the Courts, in some circumstances, might assist principals to
fully investigate a matter.

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