The hurt caused by cyberbullying is known all too well by young Canadians and it’s time for the federal government to coordinate an anti-bullying strategy with provincial and territorial counterparts says a report by the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights. Cyberbullying Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age, calls for Canada to meet its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, by taking necessary actions to protect children from all forms of physical and mental violence, including cyberbullying.
A coordinated strategy should include a plan for promoting awareness throughout Canada about cyberbullying and the relevant support programs available for children and parents. Additionally, it should seek to ensure that anti-cyberbullying programs and resources are available in every region of the country. Without a universal definition of what behaviours constitute cyberbullying, it is necessary to develop and deliver consistent and clear messages for children and youth regarding cyberbullying and other inappropriate behaviour when using telecommunications technology. The sharing of best practices and evidence-based assessments concerning anti-cyberbullying programs and policies across jurisdictions is imperative. Equally important is the development of mechanisms to facilitate further cooperation among relevant stakeholders.
The committee heard that as children and youth are still developing emotionally, socially and psychologically, they may not fully understand the short-term and long-term consequences of their online actions, on themselves and on others. Also, many young people have experiences with cyberbullying as a victim, a bully or a bystander. Restorative approaches to combating cyberbullying and initiatives which focus on education, empathy-building, inclusion of vulnerable groups and community engagement are key to fostering meaningful change in online behaviours.
“Cyberbullying hurts Canadian children and it hurts Canadian communities. We heard that cyberbullying is a 24/7 phenomena from which children often feel there is no escape. Many have personal telecommunications devices they can carry everywhere that keep them in touch with each other,” said Senator Mobina Jaffer, chair of the committee. “It takes a whole community approach, the teaching of human rights and digital citizenship by parents, teachers, governments and by youth themselves to change online behaviour. Our committee created two companion guides to accompany our report, one for parents and caregivers and one for youth, because we believe citizens of all ages have a role to play in stopping the hurt caused by cyberbullying.”
“Our study examined cyberbullying as a violation of the human rights of children under the UN Convention. When a child has been bullied, or cyberbullied, his or her right to be free from violence has been violated. If the child’s studies suffer or he or she fears going to school, his or her right to receive an education and to develop to her full potential may also have been violated,” said Senator Patrick Brazeau, deputy chair of the committee. “Children have the right to receive the information and care needed to help them understand the full consequences of bullying behaviour, and the negative impacts it can have on them and their community. In keeping within the principles of the convention, children need to be active participants in the formulation of anti-bullying strategies and initiatives.”
“During our study, we heard about the complexities of life online for today’s generation of young Canadians and the struggles they face to make sense of it all. Parents and caregivers have a key part to play in helping children have a safe and healthy digital life. As we heard from more than one witness, parents wouldn’t buy their child a car and hand over the keys without making sure they’d had driver training first. Unfortunately, many people will buy their child a smartphone without preparing them for the risks that come along with the opportunities,” said Senator Salma Ataullahjan.”
The Committee recommends that the federal government work with provincial and territorial governments to help establish a coordinated strategy to address cyberbullying, that:
- is implemented in accordance with Canada`s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child;
- is developed through consultations with Canadian children;
- includes a plan for promoting awareness throughout Canada about cyberbullying and the relevant programs available for children and parents;
- seeks to ensure that anti-cyberbullying programs and resources are available in every region;
- develops consistent and clear messages regarding cyberbullying and other inappropriate behaviour when using telecommunications technology;
- seeks to publicly share best practices and evidence-based assessments concerning anticyberbullying programs and policies; and
- establishes mechanisms for further cooperation among relevant stakeholders.
The Committee recommends that the promotion of human rights education and digital citizenship be a key component of any coordinated strategy to address cyberbullying developed in partnership by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.
The Committee recommends that the promotion of restorative justice initiatives be a key component of any coordinated strategy to address cyberbullying developed in partnership by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada prioritize working with relevant industry stakeholders to make the Internet safer for children and support these stakeholders in finding ways for removing and monitoring offensive, defamatory or otherwise illegal online content in a manner that respects privacy, freedom of expression and other relevant rights.
The Committee recommends that the federal government explore the possibility of working with the provinces and territories to establish a task force whose terms of reference would be to define cyberbullying and to establish a uniform manner of monitoring it nationally.
The Committee recommends that the federal government work with the provinces to support long-term research initiatives to enhance our understanding of the phenomenon of cyberbullying and to provide us with information about gender differences, risk factors and protective factors linked to cyberbullying and about the influence of information and communication technologies on the social and emotional development of young people.