PUBLIC POLICY CONCERNS
Bullying is a societal concern. It is not simply a problem for schools to address, nor a rite of passage for children, and thus a “children’s problem”. Many reasons reveal why bullying is of concern to all Canadians and should be a focus of policy agendas, including:
- Bullying has been shown to cause negative health effects (See PartI of the Dealing with Bullying blog series).
- Children do not necessarily grow out of bullying. Without intervention, bullying may transform into new types of aggression, affecting relationships throughout a person’s life.
- According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada has a duty to educate children to respect others and to act with peace and tolerance (art. 29); and to “protect [children] from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation” (art. 19).
- A recent cross-national research study shows Canada is lagging in bullying prevention compared with other countries.
This post by Manveen Patwalia at Define the Line, a McGill-based research centre focused on cyberbullying and digital citizenship, does an excellent job of demonstrating how bullying is a concern not only for schools, but for families, policymakers, the judiciary and society at large.
HOW IS CANADA RESPONDING?
In Canada, six provinces (BC, ON, NB, NS, QC, AB) have established anti-bullying laws. Other provinces are considering doing the same.
On November 21st, Parliament voted against a motion introduced by NDP MP Dany Morin to study types of bullying and to share best practices for dealing with bullying. While this motion fell short of demanding federal anti-bullying legislation, it did raise the question of whether Canada should consider adopting a national anti-bullying strategy, like other countries such as Norway and Finland.
Bullying prevention polices exist in Canada in many provincial departments of education. Many of these policies focus on creating safe and inclusive school environments. For example, Ontario began implementing its Equity and Inclusive Education Strategyin 2008. This policy promotes inclusive and safe school environments, aims to create procedures so that students and teacher can report incidents of bullying safely, and seeks to provide guidance to school boards on how to monitor bullying. Other examples include Newfoundland and Labrador’s Safe and Caring Schools Initiativeand British Columbia’s Safe, Caring and Orderly Schoolspolicy.
WHAT IS THE BEST APPROACH?
Alberta’s new anti-bullying legislation has sparked fierce debate over the merits of addressing bullying through law since coming into force on November 19th. Alberta’s law requires students not to tolerate bullying and to report it, whether it happens on school grounds or on the Internet. It would allow schools to suspend students who are complacent bystanders to bullying. Reactions to this new law, which some argue is too extreme, show how legislation is being questioned as the best way to addressing bullying:
- A report from the Institute of Marriage and Family, a socially conservative lobby group, suggests forcing children into reporting bullying places too much responsibility on children to enforce anti-bullying acts, and may actually make them more vulnerable to harm.
- Brenda Morrison, a criminology professor at SFU, says we need to empower students to report bullying as good citizens rather than create a culture of fear in schools with heavy sanctions.
However, a poll earlier this year revealed that a large number of Canadians believe that bullying should be considered a crime, even when violence is not a factor. These individuals see the potential for strict legislation to be an effective deterrent to bullying.
Nonetheless, many voices disagree, and feel that anti-bullying laws is the wrong approach.
- Addressing bullying on a case-by-case basis through law does not help students develop an “ethical barometer” to understand the consequences of bullying behaviour.
- Empathy, as opposed to legislation, has been called “Canadian education’s best weapon against bullying”. Children are not born empathetic, but teaching empathy through early intervention and repetition can help them learn the harmful consequences of bullying others.
- Some provinces have looked to restorative justice models to deal with bullying. This fall, Nova Scotia invested in expanding anti-bullying policies to include restorative justice methods. Restorative models “aim to hold children who hurt others accountable for their actions through meaningful consequences that restore damaged relationships, repair hurt feelings, and re-integrate these children into the social group” (Canadian Education Association).
It is clear that Canadians agree bullying is a serious societal issue requiring government action. While it can be tempting to address serious problems with serious penalties (see Alberta’s new anti-bullying law), an appropriate response to bullying should include the expertise of academics and educators, who deal with bullying on a more local level. Their views largely signal that teaching empathy and good citizenship, including good digital citizenship, through educative methods over many years is a better way to foster attitudinal shifts toward bullying in society. This point should not be forgotten by provincial legislatures, as they discuss provincial anti-bullying strategies.