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Child porn arrests made in Rehtaeh Parsons cyberbullying case

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“We hope that today’s arrests help the community to heal,” said Chief Superintendent Roland Wells of the Halifax District Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “A young girl has died in what was a tragic set of circumstances. We all need to reflect on how we as a community can come together in Rehtaeh's memory and see what we can do to work together to support our youth.”

Typically, first-time youthful offenders charged with child pornography don’t end up going to jail, but prosecutors can seek to try them as adults, and penalties for adults have been strengthened in Canada in recent years, says Wayne MacKay, a law professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

In Canada, a government committee has recommended strengthening the criminal code to make it illegal to distribute intimate images without consent, whether they are of minors or adults.

But Rehtaeh’s case has already prompted Nova Scotia to become a leader of sorts in Canadian efforts to prevent the hurtful distribution of sexual images and other types of cyberbullying among youths.

On Aug. 7 a new law took effect in the province that allows people to seek a protection order to place restrictions on, or help identify, a cyberbully. The law also allows victims to sue for being cyberbullied.

That has “significant potential,” because “when you get hit in the pocketbook you pay more attention,” says Professor MacKay, who chaired a bullying and cyberbullying task force in 2011-12 for the Nova Scotia education department. Parents can even be held liable if their minor child is cyberbullying and they have not sufficiently supervised his or her online activities, MacKay says.

The law also requires principals to respond to cyberbullying even if it occurs outside of school or school hours. And it sets up a special unit to investigate complaints of cyberbullying, the first of its kind in Canada.

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