05/05/2015 06:49 EDT | Updated 05/05/2016 05:59 EDT

Quebec town makes it illegal to insult its cops and workers online

MONTREAL - A Quebec town has made it illegal to insult a police officer or any of its municipal employees on the Internet.

Under a local bylaw, anyone who insults municipal employees in Granby could be fined between $100 and $1,000 for a first offence.

It ranges from $200 to $2,000 for a second offence.

"For at least 20 years, we've had an article in a municipal regulation that forbids anyone from provoking, insulting, blaspheming or molesting a peace officer or a municipal officer in the exercise of their functions," deputy mayor Robert Riel said in an interview Tuesday.

On Monday, town council unanimously approved an addition to the bylaw to include insults that show up on the Internet or social media.

Riel said Granby, which is about 80 kilometres east of Montreal, is the first Quebec town to have a bylaw that extends to the Internet.

Riel said the tougher regulation stems from a French Facebook account that was set up more than two years ago that referred to the "zealous police of Granby." The site disappeared a few weeks ago after an article appeared in a local newspaper.

Insulting people online is no different than insulting someone who is standing right in front of you, he argued.

"If, for example, on Facebook or Skype or elsewhere, I write on my keyboard it's almost like I'm directly attacking you," Riel said.

"The municipal council is there to protect our municipal employees and we can't accept that people are using social networks to tarnish them and their families."

He added he understands lawyers might argue about freedom of expression.

"We have a right to express ourselves, but there are things that not acceptable," Riel said, citing online intimidation.

"That has to stop...I think our government leaders have to put their foot down."