Children and their parents will find out Thursday whether their identities can be protected if they try to sue a cyberbully.
A 17-year-old high school student, identified in court documents as A.B., and her father are asking the Supreme Court of Canada to protect their identity in a court order that would force an internet company to reveal the identity of a cyberbully.
The Nova Scotia teenager was 15 when she discovered a fake Facebook page had been created using her own Facebook profile photo and a slightly differently spelled version of her name. The page contained defamatory material about her physical appearance and sexual practices.
Her father, interviewed by CBC a year and a half ago with his identity concealed, said, "She is a child, you know, crying, wondering why someone would do that. As far as she's concerned she has no enemies, she gets along with everybody. Who would be so rude, so cruel?"
The fake Facebook page was put up in March of 2010, and removed that same month. Facebook provided an IP address, and the teenager and her father applied to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to force Eastlink, the telecommunications company, to disclose the identity of whoever created the page, so they could sue for defamation.
The judge granted the order, but the order was stayed until either A.B. and her father were willing to use their full names or the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal allowed them to use their initials only.
A.B. had also asked that the defamatory contents of the Facebook page be covered by a publication ban. The judge refused, saying that he found no evidence of emotional harm done to A.B. during the period the page was online.
The Nova Scotia Appeals Court denied both requests.
Protection from 'further harm'
Michelle Awad, A.B.'s lawyer, said the main principle in this case is that A.B. is a minor.
"We're trying to avoid further harm, further notoriety, and she's a vulnerable member of society, so we're attempting through this process to protect her."
Awad said that it's necessary to not only protect A.B.'s identity but also to impose a publication ban on the contents of the fake page, even though that page was available for anyone on the internet to read before it was taken down.
"If a number of people from her school, or wherever, read it in the first place and recognize it again, they're going to know who she is, and who knows how quickly that can spread."
Two media outlets, the Halifax Herald, publisher of the main newspaper in Nova Scotia, and Global Television opposed the publication ban, arguing freedom of the press.
Global Television eventually dropped out of the case and the Halifax Herald did not make any submissions to the Supreme Court of Canada.
A.B.'s lawyer says that the lower court judges failed to consider the special vulnerability of children and disregarded the obvious risk of harm to her if her identity is exposed.
Bullying Canada and Kids Help Phone are interveners in the case, on the side of A.B.
A.B.'s father told CBC that he's sold property to pay for legal fees, but he's promised his daughter he'll find out who created the Facebook page.
"We're not a wealthy family and she says, 'Dad, I don't want you to spend any more money.' I said, 'Well, don't you worry about the money. I want to protect you. I told you we'd find out who done it.'"
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If They're Happy And They Know It
From an early age, we teach children to identify and organize objects: A is for apple, B is for ball and so it goes. And we should also teach them to identify their emotions: "You must be happy the sun is shining, we can go to the playground." Or, conversely, "Maybe you are disappointed it's raining and we can't visit the park." In this way, the dialogue begins, as does the ability to take another's perspective. Kids can only talk about their feelings if we give them the vocabulary; so show them how and give them permission to express them.
Talking To The Boys
Parents sometimes don't give their sons the tools they need to properly express their feelings. Child psychologist Dan Kindlon, who co-authored Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, told us parents -- and society -- often protect boys from having to do the emotional work that will help them become whole people. He shared the story of a mother and daughter coming across a little boy crying in the park. When the daughter asks why the boy is crying, the mom helps her speculate. "Maybe he's lost." "Maybe he hurt himself." A mother with a son, however, may tell her son not to worry about the crying child. An encounter with a curt waiter at a restaurant might provide more food for thought: "Why do you suppose he's so angry?", parents could ask. Boys don't need special training, Kindlon says, they need opportunities to show off their natural capacity for caring for pets, siblings, grandparents, elderly neighbors and others in the neighbourhood.
Express Your Feelings
Parents can also show their children how to express their feelings by doing it themselves. Start by sharing the highs and lows in your day. If you are facing a moral dilemma, talk about it with your kids. They don't need to know every detail to try to get the gist. If you make a mistake, apologize. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it shows kids how it's done. As Mary Gordon, the famed founder of <a href="rootsofempathy.org" target="_hplink">Roots of Empathy</a>, an award-winning organization that offers empathy-based programming for children in their classrooms, told us: attentive, loving and empathetic parents are the best role models for children. Gordon should know. Independent studies have shown her program's graduates are more socially sensitive, less aggressive and more likely to challenge injustice than other youngsters.
How Would You Feel If...?
It's a question that's perfect for every occasion. Ask kids to put themselves in someone else's shoes -- happy or sad. From the playground to the grocery store to the living-room sofa, our day-to-days are filled with moments that could be considered from someone else's perspective. At the park, for example, a power struggle at the swing-set could evolve into a lesson in sharing and perspective taking: "How would you feel if you weren't allowed a turn?" A bedtime story or children's movie that ends happily-ever-after might merit a follow up: "What do you think you would have done in that situation?" It's a lesson some rather accomplished people have learned. In his video introduction at the Democratic Convention in August 2008, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke of the only time he saw his mother angry. It was upon witnessing an act of bullying on someone who appeared to be different. "She'd said to me, 'Imagine standing in that person's shoes. How would that make you feel?' That simple idea, I'm not sure I always understood it as a kid, but it stayed with me."
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