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Crouch v. Snell

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Court/Judicial body:
Supreme Court of Nova Scotia

Hfx No. 434423

December 2015

Instrument(s) cited:
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (freedom of expression) Cyber-safety Act (defines cyber-bullying and lays out the steps to take if cyber-bullying occurs)

Case summary

After a business venture went bad, Mr. Crouch’s ex-business partner, Mr. Snell, began to cyber-bully him on multiple social media sites through text messages and email. Mr Crouch sought a protection order for online harassment under Nova Scotia’s Cyber-Safety Act. The trial court ultimately declared the order null upon finding the legislation to be unconstitutional. Mr. Crouch appealed to the Supreme Court to determine whether the Act was constitutional.

Issue and resolution:
Freedom of expression. Whether Nova Scotia’s Cyber-Safety Act was constitutional. The court ruled the legislation unconstitutional because it unduly restricts the right to freedom of expression granted under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Court reasoning:
The Court noted that constitutional rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression, are not absolute; they may be limited as long as the limit is legal, reasonable, and justifiable. In this case, the Court first determined that the definition of cyber-bullying in the Act was too broad and not sufficiently clear.

Although the objective of the Act –to create effective and efficient legislation to address cyber-bullying –were reasonable and of priority, the court determined that that the Act disproportionately restricts freedom of expression. The impact the law would have on the freedom of expression outweighs the impact the law would have on cyber-bullying. The court acknowledged the toxic nature of online bullying and the heightened need to protect the children, but said that victims can challenge online abuse through the current civil and criminal law means. Nonetheless, the judgment refers to evidence that “cyberbullying is “psychologically toxic” and causes extensive harm, and […] that a bullied child may not pursue responsive legal action without adequate protections.”

Nova Scotia’s Cyber-Safety Act was enacted following the death of a 17-year-old girl who attempted suicide as a result of online bullying. The effect of the decision is that victims can challenge online abuse only through the regular civil and criminal law means but there is no tailored legislation for cases of online bullying. The province’s Justice Department now working on new cyberbullying legislation to replace the Cyber-safety Act.

Link to full judgement:

This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.