First their three-year-old boy disappeared. Then, these parents say, the cyberbullying began

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: a child goes missing; the search turns up empty.Then, the lawyer for one Nova Scotia couple says, the cyberbullying began.It was last May when three-year-old Dylan Ehler reportedly wandered off from his grandmother’s house in the community of Salmon River, just outside of Truro, N.S., after she became distracted momentarily by her dog, according to the boy’s parents.The toddler’s disappearance triggered a massive manhunt, with search-and-rescue teams and divers combing the banks and the depths of the Salmon River, where it flows out into Cobequid Bay, at the easternmost tip of the Bay of Fundy.Nothing was ever found of Dylan, save for two small, muddy, rubber boots along the water.. After several days, search teams gave up trying to find him. Police have said they don’t believe any foul play was involved in Dylan’s disappearance.In the subsequent months, thousands of people online have attacked Dylan’s parents, Jason Ehler and Ashley Brown, with insults, threats and accusations of negligence — even accusing the pair of orchestrating the disappearance of their boy, their lawyer says.Next week, the parents will head to court in hopes of stopping the online abuse and getting the offensive online material removed — a move that will put Nova Scotia’s relatively new Intimate Images and Cyber-Protection legislation to the test.“They’re already in the midst of one of the worst imaginable tragedies you can think of: a three-year-old son being missing — and you don’t know where he is,” said lawyer Allison Harris, who will take the case to court on behalf of the parents.“And yet every time they open up their Facebook, they’re getting messages of harassment from people. So, it’s really taking away from their efforts to search. And it’s compounding their grief.”The parents have never stopped searching, said Harris, refusing to believe their son is gone for good. Ehler and Brown have spread flyers with Dylan’s picture, made phone calls and offered rewards for his return or for any information on his whereabouts.They also turned to online forums for help. At first there was nothing but support. But as time wore on, some of those supporters turned hostile, accusing the parents of, at best, bad parenting, and at worst, something more sinister.“There’s a lot of really vulgar language, just accusations,” said Harris. “To use a mild one, there’s comments like: “You disgusting b---- . I hope you get it in jail.” In screengrabs captured by Harris, other posters commented: “She killed the kid i heard through the grapevine...” and ... “They are known satan worshippers…”Harris said the online harassment has spilled over into the physical world, leaving her clients worried about their physical safety.“It’s affected their relationships with their friends and family, because people don’t necessarily know what to believe anymore,” she said. “It’s potentially impacted their work prospects and their jobs, not to mention their mental health.”Harris is using Nova Scotia’s 2018 legislation to attempt to convince a judge to order the cyberbullying stopped and to take down or disable access to the Facebook groups that have been hosting those making the comments.Whether the courts will be able to offer a remedy to the parents is unclear.The legislation is its second iteration. Its predecessor, the Cyber-safety Act — the first of its kind in Canada — was created in 2013 after the attempted suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons who was being bullied and abused online.That act was quashed two years later by the province’s Supreme Court, which ruled that the law’s broad definition of cyberbullying was unconstitutional. That legislation was determined to have too much power in restricting free speech.The revised Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act is intended to balance freedom of speech on the one hand with preventing harm to people being targeted by malicious online postings on the other.It does that by offering a more narrow definition of what constitutes cyberbullying, said Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University in Halifax.“Generally, it’s about causing harm. That, of course, is always there. But the main difference is it needs to be intentionally and malicious causing of harm. None of which was in the Cyber-safety Act.”“So now you have to prove it’s malicious.”MacKay said the nature of the new legislation makes it a little more difficult for people who are being cyberbullied to seek relief.“Many people, myself included, when that act was introduced back in 2017 were critics of the fact that they’d kind of gone too far. Maybe the Cyber-safety Act was too big, but now this pendulum has gone so far to the other side, that maybe they narrowed its powers too much.”“And the best illustrations of that is that all the real tough remedies can only come by going to court. ... So, the accessibility for people without a lot of money and resources for the new act is far more re

First their three-year-old boy disappeared. Then, these parents say, the cyberbullying began

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: a child goes missing; the search turns up empty.

Then, the lawyer for one Nova Scotia couple says, the cyberbullying began.

It was last May when three-year-old Dylan Ehler reportedly wandered off from his grandmother’s house in the community of Salmon River, just outside of Truro, N.S., after she became distracted momentarily by her dog, according to the boy’s parents.

The toddler’s disappearance triggered a massive manhunt, with search-and-rescue teams and divers combing the banks and the depths of the Salmon River, where it flows out into Cobequid Bay, at the easternmost tip of the Bay of Fundy.

Nothing was ever found of Dylan, save for two small, muddy, rubber boots along the water.. After several days, search teams gave up trying to find him. Police have said they don’t believe any foul play was involved in Dylan’s disappearance.

In the subsequent months, thousands of people online have attacked Dylan’s parents, Jason Ehler and Ashley Brown, with insults, threats and accusations of negligence — even accusing the pair of orchestrating the disappearance of their boy, their lawyer says.

Next week, the parents will head to court in hopes of stopping the online abuse and getting the offensive online material removed — a move that will put Nova Scotia’s relatively new Intimate Images and Cyber-Protection legislation to the test.

“They’re already in the midst of one of the worst imaginable tragedies you can think of: a three-year-old son being missing — and you don’t know where he is,” said lawyer Allison Harris, who will take the case to court on behalf of the parents.

“And yet every time they open up their Facebook, they’re getting messages of harassment from people. So, it’s really taking away from their efforts to search. And it’s compounding their grief.”

The parents have never stopped searching, said Harris, refusing to believe their son is gone for good. Ehler and Brown have spread flyers with Dylan’s picture, made phone calls and offered rewards for his return or for any information on his whereabouts.

They also turned to online forums for help. At first there was nothing but support. But as time wore on, some of those supporters turned hostile, accusing the parents of, at best, bad parenting, and at worst, something more sinister.

“There’s a lot of really vulgar language, just accusations,” said Harris. “To use a mild one, there’s comments like: “You disgusting b---- . I hope you get it in jail.”

In screengrabs captured by Harris, other posters commented: “She killed the kid i heard through the grapevine...” and ... “They are known satan worshippers…”

Harris said the online harassment has spilled over into the physical world, leaving her clients worried about their physical safety.

“It’s affected their relationships with their friends and family, because people don’t necessarily know what to believe anymore,” she said. “It’s potentially impacted their work prospects and their jobs, not to mention their mental health.”

Harris is using Nova Scotia’s 2018 legislation to attempt to convince a judge to order the cyberbullying stopped and to take down or disable access to the Facebook groups that have been hosting those making the comments.

Whether the courts will be able to offer a remedy to the parents is unclear.

The legislation is its second iteration. Its predecessor, the Cyber-safety Act — the first of its kind in Canada — was created in 2013 after the attempted suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons who was being bullied and abused online.

That act was quashed two years later by the province’s Supreme Court, which ruled that the law’s broad definition of cyberbullying was unconstitutional. That legislation was determined to have too much power in restricting free speech.

The revised Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act is intended to balance freedom of speech on the one hand with preventing harm to people being targeted by malicious online postings on the other.

It does that by offering a more narrow definition of what constitutes cyberbullying, said Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“Generally, it’s about causing harm. That, of course, is always there. But the main difference is it needs to be intentionally and malicious causing of harm. None of which was in the Cyber-safety Act.”

“So now you have to prove it’s malicious.”

MacKay said the nature of the new legislation makes it a little more difficult for people who are being cyberbullied to seek relief.

“Many people, myself included, when that act was introduced back in 2017 were critics of the fact that they’d kind of gone too far. Maybe the Cyber-safety Act was too big, but now this pendulum has gone so far to the other side, that maybe they narrowed its powers too much.”

“And the best illustrations of that is that all the real tough remedies can only come by going to court. ... So, the accessibility for people without a lot of money and resources for the new act is far more restricted than it was under the Cyber-safety Act.”

In an interview with the Star a month after his son disappeared, father Jason Ehler said he believed the boy was still alive.

“I believe he was kidnapped, but it’s hard to say what really happened because all they have are the boots,” said Ehler at the time. “I feel like he was kidnapped, a lot of people feel like he was kidnapped, but we don’t know. That’s the problem. Nobody knows.”

Steve McKinley is a Halifax-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @smckinley1

Source : Toronto Star More