Very few days seem to go by, of late, without Canadians hearing about the alarming consequence of bullying in some form or another. This is particularly true in relation to children and youth. A number of high profile cases have garnered much discussion over the past few years, the latest of which is the tragic death of Rehtaeh Parsons. Studies and reports, campaigns and projects, and even the occasional uplifting triumphs, too, all do their part to keep this topic in the public eye.
According to Public Safety Canada, bullying is “characterized by acts of intentional harm, repeated over-time, in a relationship where an imbalance of power exists. It includes physical actions (punching, kicking, biting), verbal actions (threats, name calling, insults, racial or sexual comments), and social exclusion (spreading rumours, ignoring, gossiping, excluding).” Notably, a 2010 report for the Public Health Agency of Canada, on the Health of Canada’s Young People, found approximately 40% of adolescents to be both bullies and victims of bullying. And for all concerned, whether victim, bully, or both, the consequences can be many and long-lasting.
For those engaged in bullying, there may also be legal repercussions. While there is no offense termed bullying under the Canadian Criminal Code per se, many behaviours or incidents characterized as bullying fit the definition of criminal offenses. These include, for example, Criminal Harassment (CCC 264), Uttering Threats (CCC 264.1), Assault (CCC 265 & 266), and Sexual Assault (CCC 271), with perpetrators risking youth or adult sentencing depending on the circumstances of the crime(s). For more on this topic, see the John Howard Society for an accessible look at bullying and the law.
On a provincial level, a number of different approaches have been taken. At present, only some of the provinces have anti-bullying legislation in place, with mixed opinions as to their efficacy, while the other provinces and territories have opted to address bullying in different ways. What follows are recent legislative changes specific to bullying, as well as a quick look at the approaches taken by the others.
In Manitoba, Bill 18, which came into effect on April 15, 2012, amended The Public Schools Act specific to bullying and respect for human diversity. The term ‘bullying’ is defined, and school boards of publicly-funded non-religious and religious schools must both expand their policies about the appropriate use of the Internet and establish a respect for human diversity policy.
In Nova Scotia, Bill 30, the Promotion of Respectful and Responsible Relationships Act was introduced in April and received assent on May 17, 2012 shortly after the release of a task force report on bullying. The new Act resulted in bullying and cyberbullying being specifically addressed in the Education Act and the creation of a provincial school code of conduct. Bullying was further addressed on April 25, 2013 with the introduction of Bill 61, Cyber-safety Act to further address cyberbullying in particular.
New Brunswick’s Education Act was amended to address bullying and cyberbullying via Bill 45 on June 13, 2012. With an emphasis on “prevention, reporting, investigating and taking action,” bullying and cyberbullying were highlighted; the roles and responsibilities of principals, educators, parents, students and parent school support committees were clarified, along with protocols for discipline and intervention; and increased reporting at various levels was mandated.
On June 15, 2012, Bill 56 received assented in Quebec, amending the Education Act and the Act Respecting Private Education in relation to bullying and violence. Through these amendments, terms and responsibilities were defined, including the obligation of all public and private educational institutions to adopt and implement an anti-bullying and anti-violence plan.
Shortly thereafter, Ontario’s Education Act was amended on June 19, 2012 by Bill 13 with respect to bullying and other matters. New legal obligations exist for school boards and schools to prevent bullying; tougher consequences will be meted out for bullying; and students wanting to promote understanding and respect for all will be more so supported.
In Alberta, bullying is taken up in the Education Act, which received Royal Assent on December 10, 2012, and is specifically addressed by Bill 3. The term ‘bullying’ is defined; school boards will be required to establish a student code of conduct; and the National Bullying Awareness Week will be formalized as Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week.
Of the remaining provinces and territories, most have strategies in place to address bullying, and some have even tabled motions to consider anti-bullying legislation, too. In January 2008, Yukon passed the Safe and Caring Schools Policy, in which bullying in defined and clarification is provided around roles and responsibilities, standards and policies. British Columbia introduced ERASE Bullying (Expect Respect and a Safe Education) – a prevention and intervention strategy building on the province’s Safe, Caring and Orderly Schools Strategy – in June 2012. Saskatchewan announced an anti-bullying strategy in February 2005, which ties into the province’s Caring and Respectful Schools initiative. A year later, in May 2006, Newfoundland and Labrador established a provincial Safe and Caring Schools Policy. Nunavut, though, has neither legislation nor a broad strategy in place specific to bullying.
Finally, Prince Edward Island is presently considering legislation, just over a year after a motion was passed in April 2012 to encourage government in the adoption of anti-bullying legislation. Shortly thereafter, the Northwest Territories also passed a motion, in June 2012, recommending the establishment of a territory-wide anti-bullying campaign and the review of anti-bullying legislation across Canada.