How is online harassment defined and treated?

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Online harassment is often referred to as cyberbullying. There are many times of situations that could give rise to potential criminal charges where online bullying occurs. For example, repeatedly contacting someone online whether it be by social media or by text messages or emails can result in criminal harassment charges. If the messages contain threats, then a charge of uttering threats could also apply.

Sharing intimate images can also be seen as a form of online harassment. The Criminal Code charge for such offences is “sharing intimate images without consent”. Distributing intimate images and videos without the consent of the person in them does occur frequently. Oftentimes the offence occurs after a breakup or fight. What constitutes an “intimate image” is an image that depicts a person engaged in explicit sexual activity, sexual organ, anal region or breast. The image must also have to be one where the person depicted had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time of the recording and they did not give up their privacy interest at the time of the offence.

Other examples of cyberbullying:

  • Impersonating someone by using their name or photos.
  • Sending someone’s personal or embarrassing information to others after receving it through deceit.
  • Posting someone else's embarrassing pictures online without their permission.
  • Sending rude or intimidating messages.


Cyberbullying (online harassment), and especially sharing intimate images without consent, are very serious offences. This is because of the devastating image the offences can have to a person’s self-esteem, reputation and mental health.

The potential penalties for such offences can include jail time, depending upon the seriousness of the offence. It may also include forfeiture of the device that the image was located on, and restrictions on the use of computers and smart phones.

There are also other Criminal Code offences that you may be charged with that are related to online bullying:

  • Criminal harassment – making intimidating phone calls or sending messages that make someone fear for their safety.
  • Child pornography – sharing or posting intimate images/videos of someone under the age of 18.
  • Assault – threatening to or actually using violence to harm someone or destruct their property.
  • Identity theft – impersonating someone by creating fake profiles.


Do not engage in communication with the accuser. Each online harassment case is different and the defence depends on the specific situation. It is not uncommon for someone to be mistakenly accused of cyberbuylling so therefore it is best to contact a criminal defence lawyer to help you determine what steps to take.