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Nova Scotia to table online bullying bill

HALIFAX - Legislation aimed at cyberbullying to be tabled Wednesday in the Nova Scotia legislature is being described by the education minister as a first step in the government's approach to bullying in schools.

Ramona Jennex announced the government's intention to bring forward amendments to the Education Act after the opposition Progressive Conservatives introduced three bills to combat bullying amid calls for faster government action from the family of a teen who committed suicide.

Jennex didn't reveal details about the legislation, but she said it would address recommendations set out by a task force on online bullying last month. She said the legislative changes would set the stage for further measures to deal with bullying in schools.

"Our legislation is really putting things in place and providing a framework ... for the continued work that we are doing," she said.

The family of Courtney Brown, a 17-year-old Parrsboro girl who took her own life in March 2011 after she had been bullied online, said they want the government to act quickly.

"When there are lives at stake, nothing is ever fast enough," said Tom Brown, Courtney's father.

The Brown family appeared at the legislature to support the Tory bill.

An emotional Chad Brown, Courtney's 26-year-old brother, said strong measures are needed to prevent further tragedies, although nothing could dull the pain of losing his sister.

"I'd rather have her with us today trying to fight the bullying," he said.

Asked about the time it has taken to react to the task force report released a month ago after gathering information for nearly a year, Jennex replied: "We are working through the recommendations very carefully so that when we put action in place, we know that it's going to be the action that is appropriate."

The Tory legislation would define cyberbullying in law and allow a series of fines to be levied. It would also hold parents liable if they are aware that a child is involved in online bullying and they fail to act to prevent it.

Judges would be allowed to order restrictions on the use of electronic devices such as cellphones and to confiscate those devices when it's deemed in the public interest.

Tory Leader Jamie Baillie said he hoped the legislation would be considered as the government prepares to table its bill because many of the initiatives in it were recommended by the anti-bullying task force, including making parents assume more responsibility for a child's bullying.

"This is a very important effort and it's non-partisan," said Baillie. "And so if the government brings forward other reasonable measures that achieve the same objectives we would be very open to supporting theirs."

The task force made 85 recommendations in its report to the province.

Among other things it said that bullying should be defined in law and made an offence, that teachers and other staff be required to report bullying and that the province consider a cellphone ban in the classroom.

However, Jennex has already said she's not interested in a cellphone ban.

She also challenged another recommendation to create a co-ordinator to oversee the government's anti-bullying strategy, saying she didn't want to add another layer of bureaucracy.

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