In Canada, the breadth of behaviours and effects associated with conduct that falls within the umbrella of terms such as “cyberbullying,” online hate propagation, and cyberviolence can and have been addressed with an equally broad array of legal and policy responses.
Human rights law responses may be particularly appropriate for online attacks grounded in prejudices against equality-seeking groups, but claims can only be initiated against those providing public services.
Education law and policy responses in all 13 provinces and territories address cyberbullying and cyberviolence to varying degrees, often combining both reactive punitive responses with more proactive initiatives aimed at addressing underlying problems such as homophobia. In the education area, Newfoundland has recently developed a particularly comprehensive approach.
Civil litigation responses include lawsuits for invasion of privacy (BC and Ontario), non-consensual distribution of intimate images (Manitoba), defamation, and copyright infringement. Nova Scotia’s attempt to create a tort of cyberbullying was recently struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Canada has meaningfully contributed to civil litigation responses by making it easier for young victims of sexualized cyberbullying to proceed with their cases using pseudonyms to protect them from further publicity and exposure. However, from a practical perspective, bringing a civil claim can be quite time consuming, slow, and expensive. If a civil claim succeeds, however, the victim may be entitled to money damages, an injunction against further targeting, and to have the attacker reimburse them for a portion of their legal costs.
Regulatory agencies can also play a role in responding to cyberbullying and cyberviolence. For example, privacy commissioners may be helpful in addressing online attacks that involve misuse of personal data by those involved in commercial undertakings. Further, specialized units have been set up in Manitoba (for non-consensual distribution of intimate images) and in Nova Scotia (for cyberbullying) to assist those targeted.
Criminal law responses may also be applicable to a variety of behaviours that can be referred to as cyberbullying or cyberviolence, including prohibitions on online hate propagation (for targeting groups and individuals based on identity factors such as race, gender, etc.), criminal harassment, uttering threats, intimidation, defamatory libel, assault, mischief relating to data, unauthorized use of a computer, identity fraud, extortion, false messages, indecent or harassing phone calls, child pornography (in relation to sexual images of those under 18), and non-consensual distribution of intimate images. However, criminal law responses are often reserved for extreme situations and require proof beyond a reasonable doubt before an attacker can be convicted. While the person targeted does not have to hire their own lawyer, the Crown lawyer responsible for the case acts on behalf of the public and not the individual victim.
Meaningfully responding to cyberbullying and cyberviolence demands a multi-pronged approach that can address underlying issues of discrimination when and where they arise, while also holding individuals accountable for their actions and the harms they cause in a reasonable way. Research suggests that where young people are concerned, proactive educational responses aimed at developing greater respect for diversity and human rights, enhanced development of digital ethics, and improved understanding of healthy and respectful relationships are more likely to promote positive long term change than are reactionary, punitive approaches.
 See e.g. Shaheen Shariff, Sexting and Cyberbullying: Defining the Line for Digitally Empowered Kids (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).