Cyberbullying law promised in throne speech takes aim at online abuse

OTTAWA – The federal government is promising a new law prohibiting the non-consensual distribution of intimate images — a key element of a legislative package to address cyberbullying.

The pledge in the throne speech Wednesday follows a spate of troubling incidents involving young people, including that of Nova Scotia teenager Rehtaeh Parsons, who took her own life last April after a digital photograph of her allegedly being sexually assaulted was passed around her school.

The speech — which includes a mix of old and new criminal justice proposals — said the government will give police and prosecutors new tools to “effectively address cyberbullying that involves criminal invasion of privacy, intimidation and personal abuse.”

The government said it would also change the law so that the worst criminals spend their entire lives behind bars — although it is unclear how this would differ from existing dangerous offender designations.

Another bill, dubbed Quanto’s Law in honour of a German shepherd killed on police duty, would introduce specific penalties for harming law-enforcement service animals.

As expected, the government also confirmed plans to usher in a victims bill of rights.

It is all part of a continuing Conservative push to toughen penalties for offenders — a hallmark of their approach since coming to power seven years ago.

Opposition parties say the approach fails to make streets safer because it emphasizes punishment over helping prisoners turn their lives around.

But the government makes no apologies.

“For too long, the voices of victims have been silenced, while the system coddled criminals,” Gov. Gen. David Johnston said as he delivered the speech.

“Our government has worked to re-establish Canada as a country where those who break the law are punished for their actions; where penalties match the severity of crimes committed; where the rights of victims come before the rights of criminals.”

The throne speech reiterated promises to impose restrictions on violent offenders who were found not criminally responsible for their actions when they are released into communities, as well as measures to ensure predators who commit multiple crimes against children are not given discounted sentences.

“Canadians demand that those who prey on our children pay the full price for every devastated life.”

The government has already promised to revamp systems for tracking sex offenders including a public database of those convicted of child sex crimes.

It is also reviving the idea of making some dangerous and violent offenders serve their full sentences before being released from prison.

“Our government will end the practice of automatic early release for serious repeat offenders,” Johnston said.

“But for the worst of all criminals, even this is not enough. Canadians do not understand why the most dangerous criminals would ever be released from prison. For them, our government will change the law so that a life sentence means a sentence for life.”

The Conservatives also plan to expand the national anti-drug strategy to deal with “the growing problem” of prescription drug abuse.

In addition, it pledges to ensure the “inhumane practice of early and forced marriage” does not happen in Canada.

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