Nova Scotia’s Cyberbullying Task Force recently released its recommendations. The Report contains some valuable data and some strong recommendations to help protect children against bullying both online and offline. However, the province’s response to the Task Force recommendations has been underwhelming.
Nova Scotia's proposed anti-bullying legislation contains very little in a way of enforcement. The draft legislation requires schools to collect data for the government to consider before coming up with further anti-bullying legislation.
There are no provisions in the proposed legislation to force telephone companies or internet service providers to provide police with access to information during the investigation of cyberbullying cases.
No reporting requirement
The most surprising omission is the fact that there is no requirement for schools to report incidents of bullying to police.
Essentially the province of Nova Scotia has acknowledged that bullying is bad but is taking a "wait and see" approach before moving to address the problem.
Stronger approach needed
New anti-bullying legislation in Ontario allows schools to expel bullies. Speaking as a member of my son’s School Advisory Committee for the last six years, I know how difficult it is for schools to actually suspend or expel students. So I fully support anything that makes it easier for schools to address problematic students.
The inadequacy of our current laws was reflected by reports last month that a man bragged on Facebook about his role in a group that bullied three Nova Scotia girls to commit suicide. The stomach-turning allegations allege that the man, who goes by the online name of Justin McKay, claims to be the leader of a Facebook group that bullies teenagers and encourages them to commit suicide.
Police are said to be investigating the allegations; although, it is not clear what crime McKay would be charged with if he is caught.
Victim takes matters into own hands
In the United States, a bullied teen turned to the Courts to try and stop online bullying when complaints to her school failed.
Fourteen-year-old Alex Boston sued two of her classmates, and their parents, for libel and harassment after the teens created a false Facebook page attributed to Boston and posted obscene, derogatory and racist comments that they attributed to Alex.
Many Canadians bullied
A recent poll suggested half of Canadians claim to have been bullied as children. Many of us who were bullied as children think: "I turned out OK, and my children will too." Perhaps that is why we have not taken bullying as seriously as we should.
Unfortunately, when we were children the bully was usually just one person and the harassment usually only took place in the school yard. Children could return to their home for safety and refuge. Now with social media, bullying is everywhere and the bully can enlist the aid of others from anywhere in the world to harass and intimidate vulnerable children even in their own homes.
Time to change our attitudes
When we were growing-up, drinking and driving was common place and tolerated. Now, it is rightly viewed as a dangerous and selfish act that has been criminalized in every province and state.
Laws now exist that require persons in authority to report suspected cases of child abuse. As media reports of teenage suicides have shown, bullying can have the same catastrophic affects as child abuse. We need legislation to criminalize online bullying and to require persons in authority including teachers, schools, and parents to report cyberbullying when it occurs.