British Columbia to restrict cellphones in schools to protect children from online dangers


WARNING: This article contains details about sexual extortion and may affect those who have experienced it or know someone who has.

British Columbia is considering restricting the use of cellphones in schools in measures that Premier David Eby says will help protect young people from online threats.

Eby said the government would also launch a service to remove intimate images from the internet and “go after predators”, as well as introduce legislation to hold social media companies accountable for the harm they have caused.

A release from the province says all schools will have policies in place to restrict student cellphone use in class by the start of the next school year.

He said he would work with school districts to make sure that happens.

The release also said two new services will launch next week to help people prevent explicit images from being distributed online without their consent, as well as sue predators for damages.

WATCH | Parents of sextortion victim Carson Cleland make emotional appeal to young people:

‘You’re never alone’: BC parents speak out after son dies due to online sextortion

Ryan Cleland and Nicola Smith urged young people to speak up when they find themselves in dangerous situations at a press conference announcing measures to keep children safe online. Their son Carson Cleland, 12, committed suicide due to online sextortion in October 2023.

Attorney General Niki Sharma said the services would help people, especially young adults, remove their private images from websites.

The statement said these services “will improve access to justice and provide a clear path to prosecution.”

“Technology can be an extremely useful tool, but when used by bad actors, it can have devastating impacts on people’s lives,” Sharma said in the release.

“That’s why we help people, especially young adults, remove their private images from websites and take legal action against predators.”

WATCH | Law professor says social media companies must be responsible to young people:

British Columbia’s plan to protect children from online harm confirms youth concerns, law professor says

Kristen Thomasen, a professor at the University of British Columbia and an expert on artificial intelligence laws, told BC Today host Michelle Eliot that the province’s plan to hold social media companies accountable for wrongdoing online sends an important signal to young people.

Legislation to hold companies responsible for harm caused to the public will be passed in the spring, the statement added.

The law would allow the government to “recover costs” associated with online harm.

“The government could use these recovered funds to provide treatment and counseling programs and establish monitoring systems and educational programs on the harms of using these products and services,” the statement said.

WATCH | Niki Sharma announces new services for victims of online sextortion:

British Columbia Attorney General announces services to stop distribution of explicit images

Attorney General Niki Sharma announced that two new services will come into effect on January 29 through the Intimate Images Protection Act. These services will help stop the distribution of explicit images without people’s consent, and provide victims with easy access to legal support and tools.

Warning about sharing intimate images

Education Minister Rachna Singh said mobile phones in classrooms can distract children from “focused learning” at school.

“There is also a time and place for cell phones, including when they are used for student accessibility purposes,” she said.

“By learning in a safe school environment how to use their cell phones responsibly and respectfully, including when to put them away, students will be better able to develop healthy habits around technology and social media use in their everyday life.

A white man and woman cry at a podium, while a white man behind them holds a photo of a young boy.
Prime Minister David Eby is pictured with Ryan Cleland and Nicola Smith, parents of Carson Cleland, at Friday’s press conference. Cleland was a 12-year-old boy who committed suicide following online sextortion. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The moves come after Eby said last month the government was planning changes this year to honor the memory of Carson Cleland of Prince George, B.C., who police say died in October after experiencing online sexual violence.

The Prince George Police Department issued a statement in November, more than six weeks after Carson’s death, warning parents about the risks young people face online.

The release said officers went to the boy’s home on Oct. 12 and found him with self-inflicted injuries. Their investigation later determined that he committed suicide following online sextortion.

For anyone who has been sexually assaulted, assistance is available through crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Canadian Association to End Violence Database. ​​If you are in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.

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