In family law matters, communications between parties can sometimes be quite negative. In high-conflict disputes, parties can receive negative communications that are intended to harm them. If you are a recipient of these negative communications, you may have redress.
In 2019, the Ontario Supreme Court wrote an important decision regarding cyberbullying in the family law context.
In the case, called Yenovkian v. Gulian, 2019 ONSC 7279, a father cyberbullied the mother on websites, in online petitions, in YouTube videos, and in emails to her. He posted photos and videos of the mother and her parents online and accused them of various illegal acts including child abuse, kidnapping, assault, drugging children, death threats, forging documents, and defrauding governments. He bullied the mother for years.
Despite court orders prohibiting him from continuing this behaviour, the husband continued anyway, abusing the wife and her parents. The case started out as a family law application, but then led to a civil law cross-claim for harassment, invasion of privacy, nuisance, and intentional infliction of mental suffering.
The Ontario Supreme Court defined cyberbullying in family law as “the use of electronic technology, including social media, text messaging, websites and email, in a manner that is intended to cause, or should reasonably be known to cause, fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other forms of harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property…”
In Nova Scotia, we have specific legislation dealing with cyberbullying in general, called the Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act. Similar to how the Ontario Supreme Court defined cyberbullying in Yenovkian v. Gulian, 2019 ONSC 7279, under the Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act, cyberbullying occurs when an individual makes an electronic communication, directly or indirectly, and that communication causes or is likely to cause harm to your health or well-being. The person must have either intended to cause you harm or have been reckless with regard to the risk of harm to you.
If you believe you are a victim of cyber-bullying, you can apply to the court for redress. The court can make various orders, including ordering that the person take down or disable access to a communication they made, that they not contact you or any other person in the future, and that they pay you damages (a money award) for the harm they have caused. In a 2020 decision out of Nova Scotia called Candelora v. Feser, 2020 NSSC 177, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court found that the Defendants had cyberbullied the Plaintiff, and ordered $50,000 in general damages, $20,000 in aggravated damages, and $15,000 in punitive damages.
If a person breaches an order made under the Act, the person may be found guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to $5,000, or imprisonment for a term of up to six months, or both a fine and imprisonment.
How this may impact future family law cases
The broad definition of cyberbullying in Yenovkian v. Gulian in addition to the Intimate Images and Cyber-protection provides family law litigants an avenue for protecting themselves against many different forms of electronic communications. While the law is still developing, this is a good step towards addressing the all-too real problem of cyberbullying in heated family law disputes.
Cyberbullying is a serious allegation which can have serious consequences. Lawyers at BOYNECLARKE LLP can help you navigate the legal issues to deal with your parenting disputes.
If you think you need assistance navigating a parenting dispute, or have any further questions about family law matters, please call 902-469-9500 to schedule your consultation with a member of our Family Law team.