01/09/2014 12:32 EST | Updated 03/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Cyberbullying targeted in new TV, online ad campaign

Justice Minister Peter MacKay says the federal government will use television and online advertising to raise awareness about cyberbullying and the possible legal consequences of using the internet to torment people.

MacKay announced the national campaign to hundreds of students Thursday at Fairview Junior High School, in a suburb of Halifax.

"This is a genuine effort that will require everybody to get involved," MacKay said.

"I'm concerned that we have greater understanding about the consequences of how we use the internet, about having the advantages and the opportunities that it provides but at the same time, making sure that we use this technology for positive purposes."

The first phase of the campaign, called Stop Hating Online, includes television and online advertisements that focus on when cyberbullying amounts to criminal activity.

Brooke Laroche, a 13-year-old student at Fairview Junior High School, said she was bullied on a site called and wants something to be done to stop bullies from hiding behind the internet.

"People can ask anonymous questions and they can be really rude and no one will know who it is, so they feel like they can just say whatever they want without getting called out for it," she said.

"They were telling me that I was ugly and all these things that really started to get to me after a while. They also say that words don't hurt but it's not true."

Glen Canning, the father of Rehtaeh Parsons, said he knows many of the students listening to MacKay's announcement have been victims of cyberbylling.

"It's surprisingly and shockingly easy to find victims of cyberbullying. It really is," he said.

"That's disappointing."

'She never recovered'

Parsons died in April after she was taken off life support following a suicide attempt. According to her parents, the 17-year-old girl was bullied relentlessly after a digital photo — of an alleged sexual assault — was circulated at school and online.

Parsons was admitted to hospital in March 2012, about five months after the alleged assault. She became suicidal.

"It was so upsetting for her that she never really went back to school and she never recovered from it," Canning told the gymnasium packed with students.

"It destroyed her life so much she felt in the end that she would never have a semblance of happiness again and so she ended her life."

The public outcry that followed Parsons's death — as well as the suicides of other teenagers bullied online — prompted the federal government to introduce a wide-ranging bill in November designed to make it illegal to distribute "intimate images" without consent and easier to get such images scrubbed off the internet.

The legislation, known as the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, would also give courts the power to seize computers, cellphones and other devices used in an offence, and help victims recoup part of the cost of removing the images from the Internet.

The bill applies to adults and young people alike who find themselves targeted for online harassment or intimidation.