Bill C-13 -- known as the “cyberbullying bill” -- was first introduced on Nov. 20, 2013. On the surface, the bill seeks to combat online harassment by making it illegal to distribute intimate images of a person without their consent.

Public interest in the bill has been spurred by high-profile suicides of cyberbullied Canadian teens. In two separate cases, teenaged girls took their lives following harassment by schoolmates when intimate pictures of the girls were circulated throughout their communities.

What’s wrong with the bill?

Though most people want to see an end to online harassment, Bill C-13 introduces measures that critics say could violate citizens’ privacy. In addition to prohibiting distribution of intimate images and empowering courts to remove those images from the Internet, the bill would bolster police powers to investigate Canadians’ online activity.

For one, the bill would make it so police would only need “reasonable grounds for suspicion” to qualify for a warrant to obtain information about an Internet user. “Reasonable grounds for suspicion” is a lower threshold than the “reasonable grounds for belief” police must show to obtain a warrant for searching a house -- though police only require reasonable suspicion to obtain telephone records.

The government has already experienced one major setback in the form of a Supreme Court ruling: in June, the court ruled that police need a search warrant to get information about a subscriber from an Internet service provider. A 19-year-old Saskatchewan man charged with possessing and distributing child pornography won an appeal after his lawyers argued police obtaining details from his online service provider without a warrant constituted an unlawful search and seizure.

What the experts are saying

Internet and privacy lawyer David Fraser thinks police already have the means to combat cyberbullying without the additional powers Bill C-13 would grant.

“Certainly I think the criminal code provides the adequate tools in order to do it,” said Fraser. “We have the criminal code that gives the police the ability to obtain production orders and search warrants in order to get material that’s necessary for their investigations.”

Fraser said there are also ways for police to go through international channels to access information outside of Canada. The criminal code -- which Bill C-13 seeks to amend – is also adequate to punish those who commit these online offenses, he said.

“The offences that are necessary -- criminal harassment, defamatory libel – have been on the criminal code for decades,” said Fraser.

“And so whether or not they need new offences related to online crime, I’m not convinced.”