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After B.C. sextortion tragedy, online harm bill expected ‘soon’: LeBlanc

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc says he hopes the federal government will be in a position to introduce its long-promised online harms legislation “soon” in the wake of the death of a 12-year-old B.C. boy whose family and police say was a victim of online sextortion.

The Prince George RCMP first reported 12-year-old Carson Cleland’s death as being linked to sextortion on Monday. The northern B.C. police detachment says it has received 62 complaints of sextortion this year, up from 56 in 2022, and experts have warned it is part of a growing trend.

“I hope and think we’ll be in a position to introduce that legislation soon. But this is a tragic reminder that some of the harms done online are very real and that a 12-year-old boy in British Columbia takes his own life in such a horrible way. He should remind all of us that the online world can be very dangerous and vulnerable people can be preyed upon,” LeBlanc said Tuesday.

The government first promised legislation to better address online harms in 2019, but legislation has not been tabled yet.

Carson, who took his life on Oct. 12, largely used Snapchat to talk with others, his family said. His mother told CKPG News in Prince George, B.C., that she and Carson’s father were already talking to their son about online safety and how to protect himself before he died, but urged other parents to be “more active” with their own kids.

Advocates are calling on governments and tech companies to take further action, saying too often complex issues like online safety fall solely to parents.

In a statement extending condolences to the family, Justice Minister Arif Virani says he is working with Heritage Minister Pascal St. Onge and LeBlanc on this to get legislation introduced as soon as possible.

“We are working hard to ensure everyone in Canada is and feels safe in their homes, neighbourhoods and communities. We need to do the same in the digital world. This loss is a devastating example of how online threats can too easily turn into real world harms with tragic consequences,” Virani said in a statement.

“I will continue to work with my colleagues and the Ministers of Canadian Heritage and Public Safety to introduce legislation as soon as possible to combat the sexual exploitation of children and other online dangers – but we must take the time to do this properly. Too much is at stake.”

Virani’s statement also emphasized the addition of sextortion to the list of what can land someone on the National Sex Offender Registry through a piece of legislation introduced by the Senate.

LeBlanc said drafting legislation for a future online harms prevention act is challenging, but deferred to Virani for specifics.

“(The internet) is a complicated space to legislate in and on. But the urgency of moving, I think, is real. And I have every confidence that the minister of justice and the government will be in a position to move soon,” LeBlanc said.

— with files from Global News’ Sean Boynton. 

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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