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B.C. sextortion victim’s dad inspires Eby to target online predators

B.C. premier says changes in the new year will honour memory of Carson Cleland, 12
Premier David Eby is photographed during a year-end interview from his office at the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, December 21, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Premier David Eby says he had a heartbreaking phone call with the father of a 12-year-old British Columbia boy who killed himself after falling prey to online sextortion, and he hopes to honour the boy by seeking more online protections for youth.

He said the NDP government is planning changes in the new year in memory of Carson Cleland of Prince George, who police said died in October after being sexually victimized online.

The premier 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.

“I talked to Carson’s dad and the courage of him and his family to come forward, especially given the loss they faced over the holiday season, which has got to be just so awful, is remarkable,” Eby said.

“His dad said (they’ve) been contacted by three families from Carson’s class where the kids were talking with strangers through their social apps online just like (Carson) was,” he said.

“I think having had that conversation with him that there’s an opportunity for the province to make sure Carson’s memory is honoured and we actually go after the real threats that kids are facing.”

The changes might include finding ways to support parents, helping them monitor their children’s social media activity, and addressing how social media increases childhood anxiety, Eby suggested.

“I just really felt it talking to Carson’s dad because I’ve got a nine-year-old at home and already I’m hearing from him how important it is for him that he needs to have a cellphone,” he said.

Eby said people from across B.C. had contacted his office saying their children were in situations similar to Carson’s and they only found out due to publicity surrounding the boy’s death.

“A lot of it comes through the devices they are carrying around at school, through social media and the material they are fed and the predators who are taking advantage of that,” Eby said.

B.C. joined the federal government and Quebec last summer by suspending advertising on Facebook in response to the social media giant’s decision to block Canadian news after the federal government passed its online news act.

Mounties in Prince George issued a statement last month, 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.

Carson’s family said at the time he often used the social media platform Snapchat to communicate with others.

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