March 1st, 2024

B.C. to restrict cellphones in schools to protect kids from online harm

By The Canadian Press on January 26, 2024.

B.C. Premier David Eby speaks during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. The B.C. government is taking three major steps to protect children from online threats, including restricting cellphone use in schools, setting up a service to remove photos from the internet and pursuing predators and creating legislation to hold social media companies accountable for harms they have caused. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

SURREY, B.C. – British Columbia is moving to restrict the use of cellphones in schools as part of measures Premier David Eby says will help protect young people from online threats.

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

A statement from the province said all schools would have policies in place to restrict students’ classroom cellphone use by the start of the next school year.

It said it would work with school districts to make sure that happens.

The statement also said two new services will start next week to help people stop or prevent distribution online of explicit images of them without their consent and to pursue damages from the predators.

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

The statement said the services would “improve access to justice and offer a clear path to legal action.”

“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 statement.

“That’s why we are providing supports for people, especially young adults, to take down their private images from websites and pursue damages against predators.”

Legislation designed to hold companies accountable for harm caused to the public would be coming in the spring, the statement said.

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

“The government could use those recovered funds to provide treatment and counselling programs and put in place monitoring systems and educational programs about the harms of using these products and services,” the statement said.

Education Minister Rachna Singh said cellphones in the classroom can distract children from “focused learning” in school.

“There also is a time and a place for cellphones, including when they support student accessibility purposes,” she said.

“By learning in a safe school environment how to use their cellphones 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 lives.”

The measures come after Eby said last month that the government was planning changes this year to honour the memory of Carson Cleland of Prince George, B.C., who police said died in October after being sexually victimized online.

Eby said he spoke with Carson’s father, Ryan Cleland, who told him that parents of Carson’s classmates said their children were also talking online with strangers.

Mounties in Prince George issued a statement in November, more than six weeks after Carson died, warning parents about the risks youth face on the internet.

The statement said officers went to the boy’s home on Oct. 12 and found him with a gunshot wound, and their investigation later determined he killed himself as a result of online sextortion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2024.

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