Liberal MP Hedy Fry is accusing NDP MP Dany Morin of politicking and reneging on his word for voting against her private member’s bill targeting cyberbullying at a meeting of the standing committee on justice and human rights.
Bill C-273 aims to add “computer” to sections of the Criminal Code that pertain to criminal harassment, libel and false messaging to allow for easier prosecution of cyberbullies.
“My reaction at committee was one of absolute disbelief,” Fry says. “The NDP had supported the bill all along. Then during the meetings, they suddenly began to agree with the Conservatives. I was quite surprised.”
Morin says Fry has distorted the truth, and the bill is in need of an overhaul.
“The vast majority of the witnesses [who] came up to the committee had concerns with either the policy side or the drafting side,” Morin adds. “It is a very serious amendment to the Criminal Code; we have to make sure the wording is right. I strongly suggest Hedy Fry drafts a better bill based on the technical concerns the witnesses raised.”
Over two meetings, held Feb 25 and 27, the committee heard from several witnesses, including the Alberta teacher who coined the term “cyberbullying,” Bill Belsey. While the BC Teachers’ Federation supports the bill, others, including Belsey, worry that C-273 will funnel more youth into the criminal justice system.
Liberal MP Hedy Fry says now that the NDP has withdrawn support for Bill C-273, she doesn't "have a hope in hell" of getting the legislation passed.
“We need to understand that there needs to be a strong family focus to this,” Belsey said. “I think from my point of view, prevention is the priority.”
Myles Ellis, of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, said amendments to the Criminal Code that make it clear bullying is unacceptable are needed.
Fry says the emphasis on youth is overpowering the message of the bill.
“I am not saying throw teenagers in jail. All I was doing was adding a mode of communication that was left out. If we continue to think that it is only young people who use cyberbullying, we are wrong. Cyberbullying is aimed at adults now,” she says.
Fry points to the cases of Ottawa restaurant owner Marisol Simoes, who was found guilty of libel for impersonating a patron who posted a bad review online, and tennis player Rebecca Marino as examples of adults cyberbullying one another.
The Criminal Code does not mention computers when dealing with harassment, libel and false messaging, Fry says.
At the Feb 27 meeting, Conservative MP Kyle Seeback countered Fry’s assertion, saying he finds it hard to believe police would not pursue a case because the Criminal Code does not say “computer.”
Fry referenced the case of Amanda Todd
, where police were not able to track down those responsible for tormenting the teen, as they used computers.
Jeremy Dias, founder of youth diversity initiative Jer’s Vision, supports a national bullying-prevention strategy and says there is no simple solution for ending bullying.
“Legislation like this is a really good step because we’ve advanced the academic and political dialogue on cyberbullying and its effects,” he says. “We learned a lot from the witnesses, we learned a lot from where the politicians are, and now we can move forward to something bigger and better."
While most committee members agreed there should be a national bullying-prevention strategy, only Liberal MP Irwin Cotler spoke in favour of the bill.
“Now I don’t even have a hope in hell when the question comes to the House,” Fry says. “Because the NDP voted against it, it’s gone; it’s dead.”