Suppose a teenager bullies another teen online, and the victim goes on to commit suicide. In Nova Scotia, the parents of the bully could be sued for damages under the Cyber-safety Act, passed this summer in a hasty response to the cyberbullying and suicide of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons of Cole Harbour. It’s liability without being directly at fault – except by being a parent.
Nova Scotia is not the only jurisdiction willing to hold parents accountable for the wrongdoing of their children. British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario all have laws requiring parents to pay damages in cases of vandalism by their children.
In the United States. “There’s virtually no defence – if you’re the parent, you’re liable [in civil court],” Eve Brank, a psychology and law professor at the University of Nebraska, says.
The Nova Scotia cyberbullying law is the only Canadian example that specifically requires parents to oversee online use or face liability in civil court. Parents are deemed guilty unless they can show that they exercised “reasonable supervision.” But what is reasonable supervision in the context of children’s online behaviour? The law doesn’t say.