Following the increased occurrence of bullying in schools among Canadian youths aged 11 to 16, and high-profile suicides of young persons due to bullying, several jurisdictions in Canada are in the process of enacting anti-bullying laws. The aim of the laws is to make educational institutions safer by bringing awareness of the issue and consequences of bullying, and promoting tolerance in all public schools.
According to BullyingCanada.ca, a national anti-bullying charitable organization:
Bullying happens when someone hurts or scares another person on purpose and the person being bullied has a hard time defending themselves. So, everyone needs to get involved to help stop it. …
Approximately 1 in 10 children have bullied others and as many as 25 percent of children in grades 4 to 6 have been bullied. A 2004 study published in the medical Journal of Pediatrics found that about 1 in 7 Canadian children aged 11 to 16 are victims of bullying. Studies have found bullying occurs once every 7 minutes on the playground and once every 25 minutes in the classroom."
So what is being done to stop it?
In Canada, only Ontario and Quebec have tabled proposed legislation to that effect and Manitoba's initiative is included in their Safe Schools Charter. Details on each initiative is found below.
On November 30, 2011, the Ontario Government introduced Bill 13, Accepting Schools Act, 2011 in the legislature. The Act would amend the Education Act to create bullying awareness week in schools and provide instruction regarding issues of bullying and dealing with situations where bullying occurs.
The preamble of the Bill says it all: it describes the consequences and effects of bullying such as emotional and mental scarring and struggles with self-esteem, and sometimes even death. Moreover, it explains that bullies may experience psychological problems in adulthood that can lead to behaviour such as harassment at work and spousal or child abuse. It also recognizes that a whole-school approach is required, and that everyone — government, educators, school staff, parents, students and the wider community — has a role to play in creating a positive school climate and preventing inappropriate behaviour, such as bullying, sexual assault, gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia.
The Bill defines "bullying" as repeated and aggressive behaviour by a pupil where,
- The behaviour is intended by the pupil to cause, or the pupil ought to know that the behaviour would be likely to cause, harm, fear or distress to another individual, including psychological harm or harm to the individual’s reputation
- The behaviour occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance between the pupil and the individual based on factors such as size, strength, age, intelligence, peer group power, economic status, social status, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, family circumstances, gender, race, disability or the receipt of special education
Bullying behaviour includes the use of any physical, verbal, electronic, written or other means.
The Bill proposes the following:
- To designate a week to express Ontario's opposition to bullying and to take measures to raise awareness and prevent bullying in all of its many forms in the school environment. The week beginning on the third Sunday in November in each year would be proclaimed as Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week
- School boards must support pupils who want to establish and lead activities or organizations that promote: gender equity, anti-racism, awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people with disabilities, awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name
- To provide instruction on bullying prevention for every student
- To require every school board to develop and implement an equity and inclusive education policy. The policy should promote a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils, including pupils of any race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability, and promotes the prevention of bullying. Specifically:
- To create schools in Ontario that are safe, inclusive and accepting of all pupils
- To encourage a positive school climate and prevent inappropriate behaviour, including bullying, sexual assault, gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia
- To address inappropriate pupil behaviour and promote early intervention
- To provide support to pupils who are impacted by inappropriate behaviour of other pupils
- To establish disciplinary approaches that promote positive behaviour and use measures that include appropriate consequences and supports for pupils to address inappropriate behaviour
- To provide pupils with a safe learning environment
- To survey students once every two years on the effectiveness of the equity and inclusive education policy and any established guidelines. When collecting information from pupils, the board must not collect any name or any identifying number, symbol or other particular assigned to a pupil
- To establish guidelines and policies based on the results of the survey
- The code of conduct must specifically include actions, behaviours and conduct for the prevention of bullying in schools
- School staff must report to the principal as soon as reasonably possible or, if a different time period is specified by the policies or guidelines, within that time period of any incident of bullying
- All third parties doing business with a school or school board must be informed of the policies and guidelines and enter into an agreement to follow standards that are consistent with the code of conduct
The Bill allows the Ministry of Education to establish policies and guidelines with respect to prevention strategies, training for all teachers and other staff, early and ongoing intervention strategies, procedures that allow pupils to report incidents of bullying safely and in a way that minimizes the possibility of reprisal, disciplining pupils, including policies and guidelines respecting the use of disciplinary measures and appropriate consequences for pupils who engage in inappropriate behaviour. These measures will also include progressively more serious consequences for repeated or more serious inappropriate behaviour.
The Ministry policies and guidelines would also cover how to support pupils who are impacted by inappropriate behaviour, and for pupils who engage in inappropriate behaviour, how to assist them in developing healthy relationships, making good choices, continuing their learning and achieving success.
Every school board must establish their policies and guidelines with respect to bullying prevention, intervention in schools, disciplining pupils, according to the Ministry policies and guidelines mentioned above. The Ministry can review the school board's bullying prevention policies and guidelines and require changes if necessary.
If enacted, Section 5 "Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week" of the Bill comes into force on the day this Act receives Royal Assent and all other sections come into force on September 1, 2012.
In addition, on June 15, 2010, provisions to prevent and deal with violence and harassment in the workplace came into force under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. These provisions require employers to implement policies, practices and procedures, education and training and control measures to protect employees from incidents of workplace violence and harassment which includes bullying.
On February 15, 2012, the Quebec Government tabled Bill 56: An Act to prevent and deal with bullying and violence in schools that would amend the Education Act and the Act Respecting Private Education in order to prevent and deal with bullying and violence in schools.
This Bill defines Bullying as any direct or indirect behaviour, comment, act or gesture, including through the use of social media, intended to injure, hurt, oppress, intimidate or ostracize, and includes cyber-bullying.
The Bill puts the obligation to create a healthy and safe learning environment on students, school staff and the governing body of the school. Schools would have to collaborate with staff to adopt an anti-bullying and anti-violence plan to prevent and deal with all forms of bullying and violence targeting a student, a teacher or any other staff member, in addition to any other elements the minister might prescribe by regulation. The plan with documented explanations must be distributed to all parents, and be reviewed and updated annually.
The anti-bullying plan would require the school to first assess the risk of violence and harassment within their premises, events and other school-related functions. Depending on the results, the school would have to implement prevention measures to put an end to all forms of bullying and violence identified during the assessment.
The plan must also include:
- Procedures for reporting, or registering a complaint concerning an act of bullying or violence and, more particularly, procedures for reporting the use of social media for cyber-bullying purposes
- The actions the school intends to take when a student, teacher or other staff member or any other person observes an act of bullying or violence
- The measures the school will take to protect the confidentiality of any report or complaint concerning an act of bullying or violence
- The supervisory or support measures in place for any student, teacher or other person who is a victim of bullying or violence, as well as supervisory or support measures for the perpetrator
- The specific disciplinary sanctions for acts of bullying or violence, according to their severity or repetitive nature
- The required follow-up on any report or complaint concerning an act of bullying or violence
The plan must also specify the form and nature of the actions taken by the principal toward a student who is a victim of bullying or violence and to his or her parents. It must also prescribe what action must be taken by the principal to deal with a perpetrator and his or her parents, and specify the form and nature of any undertakings to prevent further acts of bullying or violence.
The school principal must see to the implementation of the anti-bullying and anti-violence plan, and receive and promptly deal with all reports or complaints concerning bullying or violence.
In addition to the plan, the student code of conduct must include rules, procedures and consequences related to bullying.
The rules of conduct, the safety measures (plan) must be presented to the students during a civics session held each year by the principal in collaboration with the school staff, and must be sent to the parents at the beginning of each school year.
Each year, the governing board of the school must evaluate the results achieved by the school with respect to preventing and dealing with bullying and violence. A document reporting on the evaluation must be distributed to the parents, the school staff and the student ombudsman.
To ensure accountability and that the law is working as intended, the school board must prepare an annual report which states, for each school, the number of acts of bullying or violence reported by the principal to the director-general of the school board, and the nature of those acts. The school board must also describe the measures taken to improve the schools’ results with respect to preventing and dealing with bullying and violence and enhancing the quality of the learning environment.
This report would be sent to the minister of education and the student ombudsman not later than September 30 of each year.
Quebec has also enacted a workplace initiative. Under Quebec's Act respecting Labour Standards, psychological harassment at work is defined as “vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures: that are hostile or unwanted; that affect the employee's dignity or psychological or physical integrity; or that make the work environment harmful.” Bullying is included in that definition. The Act require employers to provide all employees, unionized or not, with the right to a workplace free from psychological harassment. It also provides a recourse for employees who believe they have been victims of such harassment.
Manitoba does not have legislated anti-bullying legislation in place; however, the province legislated the Safe Schools Charter in 2004. This Charter says that bullying or abusing someone physically, sexually or psychologically—orally, in writing or otherwise—is unacceptable. The Charter requires that all schools develop codes of conduct and emergency plans in consultation with school advisory committees. The Charter also requires school boards to provide safe and caring school environments, to establish email and Internet use policies, to establish codes of conduct and emergency response plans, and review them regularly.
The Manitoba government enacted measures to protect employees against psychological harassment in the workplace. Effective February 1, 2011, the Workplace Safety and Health Regulation added requirements to protect workers from all forms of harassment, including intimidation, bullying and humiliation.
Why are anti-bullying laws important?
According to BullyingCanada.ca, in the majority of cases, bullying stops within 10 seconds when peers intervene or do not support the bullying behaviour. I would add, that intervention by teachers and directing staff (including principals) also discourages the bullying behaviour.
It won’t be easy to stop bullying in or around schools; it has probably occurred since there have been schools, and a law or rule cannot give a victim the courage to come forward and admit that he or she is being bullied. But legal action and increased awareness are steps in the right direction. If students, teachers, school staff and parents understand that bullying has countless detrimental effects on everyone involved, if there is a framework in place to encourage victims and witnesses to come forward, and if there is a promise to protect and counsel victims and perpetrators, while threatening legal consequences, we should be better able to deal with bullying as it happens, and hopefully to prevent violence from escalating.