Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 11, Evidence - April 30, 2012
OTTAWA, Monday, April 30, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 4:01 p.m.
to study the issue of cyberbullying in Canada with regard to Canada's
international human rights obligations under article 19 of the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. (topic: Federal programs to
support sports and recreation for children and youth with disabilities.)
Senator Mobina S. B. Jaffer (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, this is the 13th meeting of the
Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights of the Forty-first Parliament. We
have a mandate from the Senate to study human rights issues in Canada and
around the world.
My name is Mobina Jaffer and, as the committee chair, I would like to
welcome you all to this meeting.
I will go to the members who are here and ask them to introduce
Senator Ataullahjan: I am Salma Ataullahjan, and I represent
Senator White: I am Vern White, representing Ontario.
Senator Hubley: Elizabeth Hubley, Prince Edward Island.
The Chair: On March 15, 2009, the Senate amended its rules to
create a new standing committee, the Standing Senate Committee on Human
Rights. The committee performs a number of duties such as educating the
public, ensuring that international laws and principles pertaining to human
rights are respected, and ensuring that Canadian legislation and policies
are enforced properly and in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights
and Freedoms, and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
On November 23, our committee tabled a report on the sexual exploitation
of children. During that study, we endeavoured to examine the causes of
child sexual exploitation and focused on the role played by the Internet. We
pointed out the fact that the Internet had broadened the scope of the sexual
exploitation of children by facilitating direct, anonymous contact with
Having established the role played by the Internet in the sexual
exploitation of children, our committee decided to examine the other ways in
which the Internet endangers the safety of our children.
On November 30, 2011, the Senate gave our committee a mandate to examine
and report on the issue of cyberbullying in Canada with regard to Canada's
international human rights obligations under article 19 of the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights is aware that the face of
bullying has changed for it has moved from classrooms and schoolyards into
our homes by way of the Internet. In addition to the social, verbal and
physical abuse, many children today are forced to endure cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is defined by the Montreal police as "the posting of
threatening, offensive or degrading messages about someone using words or
images.'' It also includes harassment. Cyberbullying takes place through
emails in chat rooms, discussion groups, websites and through instant
messaging. This is a problem that many of our young people are facing. In
fact, recent studies have indicated that 25 per cent of young net surfers
say they have received hate messages about other people by email; and 34 per
cent of 9- to 17-year-olds say they have been victims of bulling during the
school year. Of these, 27 per cent were victims of cyberbullying. Without
protection and assistance, many children who are victims of cyberbullying
are left to face these new challenges alone. Our committee intends to
examine ways we can both protect and assist our children.
Today is the second meeting of the study on cyberbullying, and I would
like to introduce our witnesses. The first panel is Dr. Faye Mishna, Dean
and Professor, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of
Toronto, whose research includes bullying, cyberbullying and
cybercounselling. Joining her is Dr. Shaheen Shariff, Associate Professor,
Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University. Dr.
Shariff has written extensively on cyberbullying issues and how they relate
to educational settings and studies. With Dr. Shariff is Ms. Manveen
Patwalia, Research Assistant, McGill University.
We will start with introductory remarks by Dr. Shariff, and then go on to
Shaheen Shariff, Associate Professor, Department of Integrated Studies
in Education, Faculty of Education, McGill University: Thank you.
Honourable senators, thank you for the opportunity to present today. I am
here to draw your attention to a number of key policy and legal
considerations, which are detailed in my written brief.
Cyberbullying is a complex phenomenon and there is no evidence that
introduction of specific laws will prevent it. Media attention has resulted
in calls for harsher legislation to reduce cyberbullying. However, a number
of legal scholars internationally argue that big-stick sanctions, such as
specific anti-bullying laws, may not work. Cyberbullying is rooted in
discrimination and ignorance, and it is those deep-rooted societal causes
that we need to address instead of blaming youth or digital technologies. We
already have existing legal frameworks in place, such as the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms, provincial human rights codes, tort and
criminal law, which apply to various aspects of cyberbullying or are
relevant to the various aspects of it and can be interpreted within the
My research under the Define the Line project at McGill discloses that
digital natives, youth growing up immersed in digital media, cannot
distinguish the lines between jokes and entertainment for the sake of making
friends laugh and cyberbullying that inflicts emotional harm on others and
risks legal liability. Young perpetrators often post outrageous comments and
insults to make friends laugh without thinking about the impact on targeted
I am concerned with an element of the news media's focus on bullying
suicide, also known as bullycide. While they have raised awareness of its
devastating impact, these reports should not be misinterpreted to believe
that digital media are dangerous all the time or that filters, bans and
censorship will successfully prevent it — nor are all young Canadians using
them in negative ways.
New provincial legislation in Canada appears to be contradictory because,
on the one hand, it obliges schools to put in place sustainable
anti-bullying safety plans without adequate resources to educate teachers
and school staff, while giving principals too much discretion to expel or
suspend students who perpetrate cyberbullying. There is also the risk that
digital natives who do not realize the legal risks may be punished too
harshly when school officials do not understand the complexity of
cyberbullying and rely heavily on zero-tolerance policies. This is
especially important given the introduction of the Safe Streets and
Communities Act, which take a hard line on crime, with longer and harsher
sentences. Such reactive responses may contravene the essence of youth
protection under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Our research indicates that young people avoid reporting victimization
from cyberbullying because of a perceived lack of support from adults and
fear of repercussions from perpetrators. It is important that youth feel
safe and know that their privacy needs are protected if they want to bring a
defamation suit against perpetrators.
There is currently a debate in Canada on the dilemma between protecting
plaintiff privacy and the public's right to know in the open court system.
The Supreme Court of Canada will be setting the standard soon when it hears
the case of A.B. v. Bragg Communications, where a Canadian teen has
applied to remain anonymous as a plaintiff in a case of cyberbullying.
The dilemmas and opportunities for Canadian policy-makers reside in how
well we learn to balance and navigate free expression, privacy, safety,
supervision and regulation, and also meet Canada's obligation to protect
young people under Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I am convinced that Canada can take the lead in meeting the provisions
under Articles 19 and 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I
would therefore urge honourable senators to consider the following
implications and recommendations.
Canadians need to ensure that the provisions of Articles 19 and 12 are
applied to the protection and participation of all Canadian youth, including
perpetrators of cyberbullying and not just victims. These are exchangeable —
they are sometimes victims and sometimes perpetrators.
Rethink Canadian legal responses. There may be no need for specific
anti-bullying laws as we already have substantive frameworks in place, as
Increase government investment in advancing the following research
priorities, as I believe these to be the key areas that will help develop an
effective response to the cyberbullying phenomenon.
Encourage legal literacy and digital citizenship that will help youth
develop the filters to define the line between fun and cyberbullying, and
define the boundaries between public and private online spaces.
Encourage government support of collaboration between legal, educational
and corporate communities to determine the applicability of constitutional
human rights, tort and criminal law to various facets of cyberbullying, and
develop compendiums of the most commonly adopted legal responses across
As an aside, before I came into this meeting I learned that we have been
granted a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant to
do just that, to research this aspect.
Spearhead international research and provide resources for longitudinal
studies on digital natives and how their lived realities are changing to
accommodate the blurred lines of online and off-line social spaces.
Finally, support evaluation studies of Canadian policies and programs to
Thank you once again for this opportunity to present to the committee.
Faye Mishna, Dean and Professor, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social
Work, University of Toronto: Good afternoon, chair and honourable
senators. Thank you. I will highlight some of the points that I made in my
Cyberbullying can be devastating for children and youth and is of growing
concern for parents, educators and society. I think a really important point
is that we can only understand cyberbullying in the context of the cyber
world and also in the context of traditional bullying. We cannot think about
it otherwise. The dramatic technological advances that have occurred in
recent history have forever changed how we communicate and interact.
Youth are digital natives. They have never experienced a world without
technology. Adults are immigrants; it is very new for us. Ninety-eight per
cent of Canadian youth use communication technology daily. They acquire
technological competence much faster than their parents and they know much
more. Technology has outpaced legislators, politicians and parents, and now
they must grapple with how to maximize the benefits of technology and how to
minimize the risks.
As technology has moved from home desktop computers to personal handheld
devices, parents are faced with having to accept their children's
unavoidable autonomy in the cyber world. They must also monitor their
activities, and, critically, parents must absolutely maintain open lines of
Traditional bullying is a form of aggression in which there is an
imbalance of power between the individual who bullies and the individual who
is targeted. There is often repetition, as well as intent to harm. Until
now, there have been three broad forms of bullying: physical, social and
verbal. Now we have cyber.
A universal definition of cyberbullying does not yet exist, which is very
important. One definition of cyberbullying is that it is the use of
communication and information technology to harm another person. It can
occur on any technological device and it can include countless behaviours to
do such things as spread rumours, hurt or threaten others, or to sexually
One thing that we do know about cyberbullying is that there is an overlap
with traditional bullying. Youth who bully or are bullied online are also
more likely to bully or be bullied off-line. Again, we need to think about
cyberbullying in the context of traditional bullying.
However, we also know it is distinct, so what are some ways that
cyberbullying is distinct? First, it can be incredibly difficult to escape
because it can follow a child from school to home — and actually anywhere.
The other thing we know is that it can cause distress and effects over and
above traditional bullying, which we know can have very serious effects.
Also, if we look at the profile of those youth who both bully and are
targets in cyberspace, it seems that they may be different from the youth
who both bully and are targets in traditional bullying. Therefore, in
cyberspace, it may be they move back and forth between target and
perpetrator more frequently, and that is very important for us to
How prevalent is cyberbullying? The prevalence rates throughout the world
range from about 6 to 10 per cent to as high as 72 per cent. There is a
wide, huge variability. This is due in part to inconsistent definitions,
samples or context.
Cyberbullying can be devastating and it can affect the well-being of a
perpetrator and the target. They move back and forth, but both are
vulnerable. A very serious concern is that, like traditional bullying, youth
are very reluctant to tell adults about cyberbullying and it seems they may
be more so. Part of that is because they are afraid that adults will not
know about it and cannot do anything, but they are also afraid that their
parents will take their technological device from them and that means taking
away their social connection.
We are finding out that, contrary to the view that it is anonymous,
cyberbullying actually often occurs in the context of social relationships
and that it is often not anonymous; it is often within their own group.
Why do young people cyberbully? They do so for many reasons: to gain
attention, to look cool and tough, to satisfy jealousy, or to feel popular
or powerful. Our study at the University of Toronto found that 25 per cent
of cyberbullying occurs in the presence of observers. In cyberbullying, we
know that material can be viewed far and wide and it can be distributed by
anyone with access. It can be almost impossible, if not impossible, to take
When we talk about cyberbullying, we tend to refer to younger children
and high school students, but being in a university, I have become aware
that it is actually starting to happen in universities as well. We do not
know how much, but we need to look at that.
I can provide an example not of bullying but of the significance of the
interactions in the cyber world in universities. In our master program in
the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, for the first time this past
year, there was a Facebook page for all MSW students. That is a lot of
students on one Facebook page. This is very common throughout undergraduate
and graduate programs, and I think we have not thought about the
implications of that, and we need to.
It is very important to know the motivations for cyberbullying and to
know how pervasive bullying motivated by prejudice is. Biased-based bullying
is persecution of an individual or group based on actual or perceived
membership in a group — for example, gender, sexual orientation, race,
religion and ability, among others. Such bullying creates a hostile climate,
particularly for marginalized youth, which we know will affect their
learning as well as all aspects of their social and psychosocial
functioning. Importantly, it is a basic violation of rights.
Biased-based cyberbullying, as well as traditional bullying, is linked to
larger social and public policy issues. While homophobia, racism, sexism and
other forms of marginalization are apparent in cyberbullying, we must
confront these biases in society. We must not only confront them with the
children involved, but we must confront them in society.
There is not a single solution to address cyberbullying so that the
rights of children and youth are promoted and protected. As a first step, we
must understand the perspectives of youth; we must include them. I know you
are bringing them here, which I think is excellent. We must also understand
the absolute importance of technology in their social lives.
Adults must become safe havens for youth. This can only happen, however,
if youth can turn to adults about troubling cyber experiences. The
coordinated efforts of individuals, schools, communities and representatives
from all levels of government are needed. Multiple tools and resources must
be utilized for prevention and intervention. In doing so, we must make sure
that our responses transcend technology because it is always moving so we
cannot keep up with it.
What do we do? Youth, parents, teachers and significant adults in the
lives of children need education to develop critical thinking and
problem-solving skills, and we must provide opportunities to ensure that
youth develop safe and responsible online practices and behaviours.
It is important not to blame technology. Cyberbullying is embedded in
For the younger generation, relationships are embedded in the cyber
world, so we must develop a knowledge base in order to increase cyber safety
and reduce cyber risks.
In closing, I would like to reiterate the four recommendations that
appear in my brief. One, we need to support existing work in Canada that
addresses cyberbullying and start to address cyber risk and safety. Two, we
need to develop a national cyberbullying research agenda. Three, we need to
engage in knowledge mobilization activities to ensure that the information
and evidence that are known are made available and very accessible to
children, parents and the adults who work with children. Finally, it is
crucial that we promote education and awareness about cyberbullying and
about the cyber world in general.
The Chair: Thank you very much to both of you. We will now go to
questions from senators, and we will start with Senator Ataullahjan.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you, Dr. Shariff and Dr. Mishna, for
the work you are doing on this important new threat that children are
facing. I have a lot of questions but I will start off with a couple.
The attitude about bullying is that everyone does it, and we sort of feel
that kids will eventually grow out of it. Does cyberbullying differ from
The responsibility I find should be with society as a whole. We must have
teachers trained in the acceptable use of social media. Parents have to be
aware. Since I proposed this study, I have sat next to people flying back
and forth from Toronto and have spoken to parents, and some of them were not
even aware that this was an issue. I suggested it is a conversation they
should be having with their 14- and 16-year-olds.
The parents should be involved, but do you feel the media holds a bit of
responsibility as well? The media puts out what the norm is, and it is being
too fat or too skinny or dressing in a certain way. I think it is a
responsibility that belies everyone in society.
Ms. Shariff: Those are very good questions, senator. One thing we
need to consider is that cyberbullying is an extension of traditional
bullying. The assumption that everyone bullies and that it is a part of
growing up has been addressed in research for the last decade, where it has
been made very clear that bullying should not be accepted as something that
happens all the time.
Adults are often negative models of bullying. If you look everywhere in
society, if you look at what is happening globally in terms of violence,
hockey violence or intolerance, for example, those are things that young
One thing we do need, as you mentioned, is improved teacher education,
certainly. We need improved teacher education programs, and we also need to
be aware that one-time anti-bullying programs do not work — the occasional
inviting of an expert in or having a bullying guest come to talk about
bullying. What works and what will work is integrating and modeling
respectful behaviour and online and off-line social communication in every
aspect of school life and the school curriculum. This is a challenge.
One concern is that schools sometimes see anti-bullying initiatives as an
add-on. They find this is just one more thing they have to do. It does not
have to be that way. It must be a part of a child's education throughout.
The best way we can see to address these issues is to engage digital
natives, the experts in technology, with digital immigrants, adults who are
less familiar with technology, and get them to work together.
In addition, give young people a voice and ownership. Empower them to
work and even contribute to codes of conduct. Under Article 12 of the
Convention on the Rights of the Child, we need to address participation
rights of children, and we do not have an excellent record of doing that in
Canada. We need to do better.
One way is to engage young people, give them ownership and
responsibility, and ultimately this will help them change their behaviour.
That is a better way than suspensions and expulsions because they will
always access the technology.
Ms. Mishna: To respond to the first question about "it is so
common, and people grow out of it,'' one of the big myths we have believed
for many years is because so many kids have engaged in bullying and it has
happened to so many others that it is normal. Just because it is common does
not mean it is okay. I think that is a very important myth. The research, as
Dr. Shariff has pointed out, has shown that in fact kids did not grow out of
it; they grew on with it and it had an effect. That is important; just
because something is common does not make it okay.
The other issue is that when we notice bullying, when the media has
noticed it is when there are extreme cases. The irony about cyberbullying is
because it is dramatic and can be seen on YouTube, we take note of the
dramatic cases. On the one hand, the good news about that is that at least
we notice it and know it is serious; but on the other hand, it is only the
extreme cases, and that can cause a very reactive kind of situation. Again,
as Dr. Shariff has said, it might not be the best scenario. We only want
that for extreme cases.
What is ignored are the everyday kinds of situations, whether bullying or
cyberbullying, the "common little things'' that we think of as not a big
deal. We used to have the old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my
bones, but names can never hurt me,'' but now we find out that is not true,
and it is the same for cyberbullying. What we need to do for education, and
I think that is important in terms of the media, but not noteworthy because
it is not a great headline, is address the fact that these everyday minor
common things start young.
In kindergarten, many kids are saying homophobic kinds of comments. They
do not even know what it means, and often it gets ignored because the idea
is, "Oh, that is so cute,'' or "They do not mean anything or know what it
means.'' That may be true that they do not know. We have to find a way to
address it without shaming them or humiliating them, just educating so that
by the time they are in the higher grades it is not acceptable, but it did
not have to happen in a negative kind of way.
Teacher education is very important. One thing I found in my research is
that teachers are struggling so hard to teach the curriculum and teach
everything else. We need to include it in the curriculum, and I think one
way to include it in the curriculum is not always anti-bullying but
pro-social and pro-positive behaviours. In respect to digital, it is a
question of how to be digital citizens and how to interact safely. There are
some programs. There is one program I am working with now, OPHEA, that has
an interactive fun program that is administered in a number of schools in
Ontario, and we are evaluating it, to see if it helps them react, problem
solve and think about it so they can act positively.
We also need to include more than the schools. It is not just a school
problem; it is a community issue. We need to include parents, corporations,
school teams — all the NGOs. This is a societal issue that must be addressed
and cannot be left with the schools.
Senator Andreychuk: On that point about growing out of it, is it
not fair, however, to say that bullying is one of those issues that children
deal with as they mature, and they are testing limits in a social context.
If there is not a response to help them grow out of it, understand it, not
do it and deal with the consequences, if they are on the receiving end, then
you run into problems. Bullying becomes an entrenched behaviour that
continues, a school behaviour. You said parents and the community had to be
One of the difficulties about cyberbullying, which makes it different for
me than any of the other bullying, is that we do not have limits put on yet.
In other words, we do not have a social behaviour context for the use in
cyberspace. We do not know what privacy is, and we do not know what the
consequences are, not just for children but also for adults: What is
acceptable and not acceptable? Therefore, it is the full brunt of that on
children that, to me, is the difference of cyberbullying compared to all the
other types of bullying. It is a process of maturation, but in this new
context where the adults have yet to set the rules, whereas, previously, it
might have been conflicting social behaviours we were talking about. Here it
seems no behaviours yet have been fixed in the trenches. Am I correct or
Ms. Mishna: I think you are correct, and that is one of the big
challenges. The one thing we can do in trying to set these behaviours is
that children and youth can help us. We need them to be part of helping to
identify what is problematic and what is not. I think it needs to be
included in the school curriculum, but adults also need to learn about it.
One of the common responses of adults is to say, "I do not know that. I
do not understand it.'' Another common response is to say, "Kids are not
really interacting because it is not as real.'' Adults need to understand it
is real, and they have no choice. They have to learn about it, and the more
they learn about it, they can learn about helping set the behaviours. It is
an opportunity to include youth because in this situation they do know more
than we do on the one hand, but on the other hand, because developmentally
they are still young and do not know how to use what they know, they still
need the guidance. We need to have both.
In our studies, kids have often said they would not talk to parents or
teachers because they felt it was not taken seriously or understood. If they
feel they will be taken seriously and understood, then they can be used.
More and more research is using them as advisers for that same reason.
Ms. Shariff: One of the issues is helping kids to realize their
own inner filters of what they post online. This is different ages of
maturity. What the kids are doing is not thinking about what they are
posting online. Just as we help young people understand why they should look
both ways when they cross the road, we have to help young people develop
those inner filters and think about what they are doing when they post
In my brief, I have given examples with sexting, the distribution of
intimate photographs without thinking, and that can spread virally. We have
had devastating examples in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, where a girl was
raped and that was spread virally. You mentioned that adults have not yet
developed boundaries or ways to respond to these issues, so the police are
now applying the Criminal Code and calling it "distribution of child
pornography.'' However, many times the young people do not realize that and
had no intention. They are not distributing child pornography. They are
doing it just to make their friends laugh.
We have to start much earlier, as Ms. Mishna mentioned, at a very early
age, to begin to develop these inner filters among youth and help them
understand the boundaries. What is gossip about? Spreading rumours can get
you into trouble, and posting photographs and modifying them online can get
you into trouble. Where is that line?
Our project, Define the Line, is now supported by a grant from Facebook.
In terms of working with the corporations, that is important. It is good to
see a shift that corporations are now concerned about providing a safe
platform for young people. Researchers and corporations need to work
The other aspect is enhancing the legal literacy of not only young people
but also teachers in the school systems and the public. About 20 years or so
ago, Chief Justice Bora Laskin commented that we need to improve public
education. Unfortunately it never caught on, and now we are dealing with
these issues that need that kind of attention.
Senator Ataullahjan: I believe you answered my following question.
Electronic bullying is a violation of rights. Should there be laws in place?
There is a worry that any kind of policy on cyberbullying would infringe an
individual's constitutional rights to freedom of expression. The lines are
How do we determine what falls under freedom of expression in private
from cases of cyberbullying in the context of behaviour? It is particularly
important in these cases.
Professor Shariff, perhaps you can talk more about your Define the Line
project. It is very new. People are talking about monitoring software. Is
that the answer? How much do we infringe on people's rights, and how far can
the government or anybody else go?
Ms. Shariff: We have guidelines from the US. It is more litigious
in the US, and they have heard more cases of cyberbullying, especially in
the areas of free expression. Where, especially for young people, do the
rights to free expression end, and when can schools or institutions
intervene? Where is that line?
The courts have said that if the forms of expression materially or
substantially disrupt learning in the classroom, because this kind of
bullying goes back and forth in the classroom and online, then the school
has the right to intervene. Kids might tease each other or joke about a
teacher on Facebook or any other kind of social media and when they come
back to class, they all have seen it and are joking about it. That can
impact learning. If it interferes with the educational mission of the
school, then they have the right to intervene. If there is any kind of
nexus, and these are based on landmark cases in the U.S., involving
teachers, for example, than the school has the right to intervene. If it is
being carried out on school computers or websites, even at the university
level, then educators have a right to intervene. Those are some of the
boundaries we have.
In our project, Define the Line, we are trying to inform stakeholders,
such as policy-makers, parents and educators, and to engage kids and youth
online in dialogue about how to address these issues. Our website is
informed by research. These issues are evolving so quickly all the time, and
when new issues come up, such as privacy or censorship, we have a team of
researchers, including law students and education students, who go out and
research the issue. They look at all the studies, case law and any emerging
legislation and write an analysis of that. We are trying to keep that
updated and to find ways to inform the public.
Ms. Mishna: The only other thing I would say, not really about the
legal component, is that we need to understand that as in traditional
bullying, kids have ranges of vulnerability. Education for everybody will be
helpful for a lot of kids, but we need to identify those kids who are more
at risk of being victimized or of perpetrating. This is where social
services, school guidance counsellors, social workers and psychologists are
important to assess for that and to intervene. Research is showing us which
kids are more vulnerable so that we can work with them before it gets to the
point of being a legal situation. The interventions need to identify and
address those kids. While education might be enough for most kids, it may
not be enough for those kids because other factors affect them.
Senator Hubley: We are learning a great deal about cyberbullying.
My question has to do with what we know about critical ages, how bullying
affects different age groups and how we identify what age is probably most
at risk of cyberbullying. You mentioned kindergarten where there was
knowledge of words but not the understanding, and you mentioned
universities. Is there a different form of bullying that takes place at
university? I sort of understand the younger person who might be vulnerable
and not as self-assured. It is devastating because some of it is so cruel.
You are bringing forward information that it is also in the universities.
Can you share what you have learned about how different ages are affected by
Ms. Mishna: That is an important question. The research on
cyberbullying is fairly recent, so I do not think we know enough. One thing
we have to do is follow it longitudinally. One study I have started is one
which we are following for three years. We need to find out at a
developmental level which kids are affected by cyberbullying and what ages
are affected and their gender. We do not know enough. We know it will be
different. We also know that until recently, kids in middle schools would be
more involved in cyberbullying. It decreased in grades 7 and 8 and then
increased again in high school. As cyber technology keeps changing, that
keeps changing. Kids at much younger ages will be involved. That is a real
priority to be looked at.
In terms of university, I do not know of research on it, although there
might be. Anecdotally, people have come to me as a social worker and as a
dean to talk about some of the concerns. I cannot answer the question except
to say that it was concerning.
Ms. Shariff: We have seen patterns in our research across these
generations of young people growing up immersed in digital media, which
means young adults up to age 28 as well as the very young kids. One pattern
we are seeing specifically among adolescents and young adults is similar,
and you were asking whether there was a difference in how they bully. The
pattern is the impulse to share information publicly without thinking about
public and private spaces.
One of my colleagues at McGill, Claudia Mitchell, did some work in South
Africa with 15-year old girls. She asked them to develop personal diaries to
post online. They posted all kinds of very private information from their
bedrooms and actually called them public-private diaries that were only
meant to be shared with their friends. We see a lot of kids joking about
their teachers or demeaning teachers or their peers. When they have been
challenged on it by the schools, they have said basically that it was just a
private joke between them.
We had a situation at our university where a young undergrad was at a
meeting and was not happy with the content of the meeting. He decided to
Tweet his frustration and as he tweeted his frustration, he talked about
wishing he had an M16 so he could shoot everyone. When he was asked about
it, he said, "I was just venting.'' This is a concern. We need to work with
young people and get them to think about what they are putting out there and
what is public and what is private. Although the lines are still blurred,
there have to be ways of defining the limits.
My take on that is this: We have the substantive legal boundaries
available to us and the legal principles on which we can rely to help young
people understand the congruence of our Charter principles and how to
balance free expression, safety and privacy. Madam Chief Justice McLachlin
and the Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, have weighed in on this. It
is a real concern because young people are afraid to report victimization
and afraid to become plaintiffs in actions because they are worried about
their privacy. These concerns are being considered at the highest levels
along with how to define the boundaries. While we do not have any clear
answers, they are starting to emerge. I am convinced that we have the
principles in place; we do not need to reinvent the wheel.
Senator Hubley: At what age do children understand the term
"bully'' or "bullying'' and that what they have done is hurting someone
else? Is it a random act, or is there some aggression behind it?
Ms. Mishna: That is an important question. Often there might be
aggression behind it, even at a young age. However, developmentally, it is
not until they are probably 12 or 13 that they can understand the effect on
someone else. Therefore, even though they are intending to be aggressive,
that is different from knowing the effect.
That is one reason education needs to include the effect and help them to
understand and have empathy. The program Roots of Empathy is critical.
Understanding the need for tolerance is important because they might be
aggressive and they might mean to hurt, but that does not mean they really
understand the impact. When we talk about them doing things impulsively, we
need room for them to be able to make mistakes and for us to help them learn
from them rather than for it to be irrevocable. That is a fine line, and it
is difficult for us to figure out — especially when it goes to the media.
Consider this recent incident with Tyler Clementi. They had just entered
university — had just come out of high school. Nobody would ever say that
what he did was okay, but it is not clear whether he was being made a
scapegoat. There is a big debate among researchers and scholars asking
whether it was bias or whether this was a teenager who was doing bad
behaviour. He was hurting someone and there is an audience in there. We know
also that as soon as an audience gets in there, it gets revved up.
We need to be very careful in those situations. That is not to excuse it,
because we need to take it seriously, have consequences and help them.
However, we need to ensure there is room for mistakes as you grow because,
otherwise, we are not helping them. We need to help them with strategies,
and that is the role of adults.
Senator White: One thing was that I was pleased to see us talking
about conflict resolution skills rather than punishment. I think restorative
justice in the school environment over the past five years or ten years
regarding cyberbullying has been successful. You can look at work that has
been done in Trenton in a high school by a principal who I think is having a
real impact in relation to cyberbullying.
We talk about cyberbullying, and it is almost that our media now is
participating in it. You can read hundreds if not thousands of extremely
offensive comments instantaneously on a media website. They will look at
them later, if flagged, but they are still there initially. It is as if it
has become a sport, honestly.
I have to say that as much as it is a concern with young people, it is a
concern with the population overall. It is an accepted behaviour now. I can
see how young people will look and say, "You expect us to behaviour one way
and yet adults can apparently write anything they want until someone at a
newspaper or media outlet decides to challenge it after it has been
flagged,'' which might take minutes, hours or days.
One of my greatest concerns right now is the acceptance we Canadians have
that this type of behaviour is ongoing. I understand why young people do not
get it. I do not have a question. I am done. Thank you.
Ms. Mishna: I would agree. That is critical. That is why we need
to deal with it on the whole, on every level. It is not just children.
Ms. Shariff: I agree, as well. I think the societal norms have
shifted, and we are more tolerant of negative forms of behaviour. As I said
earlier, adults are sometimes the worst models of these kinds of behaviours.
We also need to work with the media and to maybe sensitize them to being
less sensational. They are doing a much better job of raising awareness, but
in some cases, especially when they are reporting suicide, there are some
scholars who are writing about the fact that young people might be
influenced when they see the media reports where young people have put their
last words to their families on YouTube before they commit suicide.
We need to be careful about how things are reported because it really
might perpetuate things.
Senator Meredith: Thank you for this presentation. This is near
and dear to my heart. I have dealt with young people who have been bullied.
Ms. Mishna, you mentioned about giving them the opportunity to learn from
mistakes. What happens when the mistake is detrimental and somebody commits
suicide or harms himself or herself in some way? Where do we draw the line?
As an activist, I have engaged with young people and encouraged them.
Once the remarks made through cyberbullying were brought to my attention, I
brought that to the attention of parents and then I got the police involved.
I believed there should be consequences to that individual's actions. I do
not think we need to wait.
My other question is about parenting, which is a different ball game.
First, though, you mentioned giving them time to learn from mistakes, but
what happens when that becomes detrimental?
Ms. Mishna: I agree that we need to bring in the police at times.
We need the continuum.
However, I think we need to understand that if someone commits suicide,
it is very multi-determined; there are many issues that go into that and we
know that there are many factors. Not to minimize the bullying, but that
might be the final factor.
Among the factors, we know that when kids are cyberbullied or bullied, if
it is not addressed or if they are not believed or not validated, that makes
the trauma worse.
However, I think it is a very complex question and we need to understand
it is complex. The big concern is how we do it. One of the ways I think we
need to do it is to address it along the way and not wait until it is the
end. These behaviours do not just automatically escalate; they have been
escalating. When we do not address them before they are obvious, by the time
they have escalated, at that point it might be important to bring in the
One of the things we know is that the police or the law can be brought in
at an earlier time and not in a punitive way, but to work with kids and
schools. We need to be doing that along the way before it gets to that.
I agree that there is a time when they have to bring in the law. When
kids act in a way that is a not safe, they need limits. The more serious it
is, the more serious the limit has to be. I think it is very complicated.
Senator Meredith: There has been talk about parents and their
responsibility when a child does something, and they are under age 18 and
the youth should be under parental supervision. What are your thoughts on
that in terms of the education around parents and what needs to happen
there? There is a lack of information being transmitted to parents.
Going back, I will ask you another question with respect to the
curriculum and the school boards and whether they really get the message
that people's lives here are being destroyed. You said earlier that teachers
seemingly feel that it is an add-on — that it is an added responsibility to
their day-to-day activities. Comment on that for me.
Ms. Shariff: There were several aspects to your questions.
Senator Meredith: There is a lot going through my mind.
Ms. Shariff: I will try to address them. Your earlier question to
Professor Mishna took me back to my PhD research on the legal obligations of
schools to address traditional bullying. I found that the kids who fell
through the cracks and were caught perpetrating bullying and the victims
that fell through the cracks and committed suicide were not supported as
well as they could by the schools. Also, the role of parents was not well
understood by the schools, either; the parents were seen as being difficult,
demanding and aggressive. There was the assumption that the victims brought
it on themselves. Therefore, it was more about the school's reputation:
"Oh, that does not happen at our school.'' The victims had to actually
leave and go to other schools. This was a repeated pattern.
We see the same kind of thing with cyberbullying, especially now with the
complexities. This was 10 years ago, and now, with all of the awareness
about bullying and cyberbullying, they are changing. I believe most schools
are trying to do a better job of addressing it.
I think more resources must be placed to give schools more information or
mobilize knowledge a little more with teachers. With the new act that
Premier McGuinty has put in place, the anti-bullying law as well as Bill 56
in Quebec — and I can speak from the Quebec perspective. I have met with
school boards, and they are very concerned that while they are being
required to develop plans on safe schools and report at different levels to
the Ministry of Education, they do not have the background to know how to do
this. How do they develop sustainable plans that will work?
As well, at least the Quebec bill is contradictory in that it also gives
principals a lot of autonomy to expel kids who are caught cyberbullying. As
I found in my PhD thesis, many times the kids who are expelled are the ones
retaliating against bullying; they have been bullied and then they are
provoked. It gets quite complex. My concern is there could be a lot more
kids expelled because they will not comply with the law.
That is where I think more resources need to be put into supporting the
schools. I know the Quebec Ministry of Education has put more resources into
an awareness campaign in the form of a public service announcement. Those
funds could have been much better used to support the schools.
Again, in terms of a parental responsibility, it is a joint
responsibility. In the schools where cyberbullying or bullying takes place
the least is where the parents and kids are engaged in developing programs,
working out the consequences and working together. It is a community effort.
Senator Meredith: You are so right with respect to parents and
their involvement. When this particular case came before the school with
respect to these students that were being bullied, the parent of the bully
was someone antagonistic towards the school. You are right. They said, "How
could my son be doing this? My son would never engage in such activity.''
Therefore, some parents are fighting against the school, when they should be
working together to recognize the evidence because it was all posted.
Ms. Shariff: In some cases, the parents are frustrated because the
schools are not doing enough. We had the case of Azmi Jubran in British
Columbia a few years ago where for four years they had spoken to the school
to do something to help him as he was being horrendously bullied and
cyberbullied. They were pouring acid on his shirt and he endured just
horrendous forms of bullying.
He finally brought an action under the B.C. Human Rights Code because
they were teasing him as being gay and he was not gay, so that is the route
he took. Ultimately, it went to tribunal and then the courts. They said
there is an obligation on the schools to provide an environment that is
conducive to learning. I think schools realize that more and more. How they
go about that is the challenge.
Ms. Mishna: In response to your question about the parent who
says, "My child would not do that,'' that is a challenge for schools
because there are those parents and they do not cooperate, so we need
resources to address that. When that gets ignored and is dropped, then the
child who was victimized, as well as everyone else, is in trouble and it
will only escalate. There is that kind of parent, and we need to find a way
to get through to them and not to be intimidated by them. That is critical,
and it will have huge effects for their child as well as the others who come
Senator Zimmer: Keeping in that vein, and taking a bit of a
different pathway, when I went to school, you took the bullying because it
was many years ago. If you did go to the teacher or the priest, you were
considered a tattletale, a squealer, and in fact it made it worse and very
hard to get support. They may go along and say, "We will stop,'' but they
will get you in the back alley.
What safeguards do you have nowadays that can guard against that? In the
meeting the bullies will say, "Okay, we will stop it,'' but at night in the
back alley you will get it worse, number one.
Number two, does your research show that there is more bullying by males
or females, or are they about the same?
Ms. Mishna: On the first question, that is an ongoing concern. In
our research and in other people's research, one reason bullied kids do not
tell is they believe that even though the principal and the parents think it
will be helpful, in fact it will make the bullying worse. That is an ongoing
I think research is finding that the best way to address that is you
cannot just deal with it in one meeting; it must be a whole-school approach
so that the other kids are involved. We know bystanders are very important,
and we are learning that to be true in cyber as well, so it is not just up
to that one child who is victimized. In the past, I do not think we realized
The whole school needs to be involved in terms of policies, teachers,
parents and bystanders so when that child might come to retaliate, there is
more support and more barriers against that. That is definitely an ongoing
Senator Zimmer: If I may add another question.
The Chair: Before you do that, did you want to respond, Dr.
Ms. Shariff: You asked how we get them to not continue the
bullying in the back alley and that kind of thing. One way to reach digital
natives is to use media and digital tools. For our project on our website
www.definetheline.ca, we have developed bilingual video vignettes that are
only two or three minutes long, but they provide different scenarios of
bullying and cyberbullying. Teachers love them because they are able to use
these in the classroom to get kids to dialogue about what they would do if
they were this character and to think about it.
Also, we talk to young kids in grades 5 and 6, and we ask them to tell us
how they define the line. We are doing a lot of that with the Facebook
project, where we will be developing online student-centred interactive
projects for kids between the ages of 9 and 12 and then teens between the
ages of 12 and 17. That is yet to come.
For our earlier project, we had some classes in Vancouver tell us how
they defined the line. Those pictures are on the website. The website is
currently under redevelopment, but if you go to the existing website, kids
have told us how they define the line.
Honestly, if we give young people the benefit of the doubt, they can come
up with some amazing ideas of how to explain to other kids that they need to
step back and stop. If we engage kids in developing the boundaries
themselves, then they understand why they are doing it, they are proud of
it, they take ownership and they will ensure that happens in the school
Senator Zimmer: What about the female and male proportion?
Ms. Mishna: In terms of traditional bullying, typically boys were
found to bully more. Part of that was because bullying was often considered
to be physical. When we started to recognize that there is a relational kind
of bullying, then we saw girls also bullied.
In terms of cyberbullying, there is mixed evidence. In our study, we
found there was not a difference in how much they were bullied or
victimized, but the way they did it and the way they were victimized
differed. There seems to be some variation.
Some research studies find that girls are more involved in cyberbullying
but that, in the last couple of years, boys are catching up and are more
involved in it. I think it is different than traditional bullying, but there
seems to be a difference in the nature of it. Girls are more likely, for
example, to be bullied in cyberspace by receiving sexual pictures, being
asked to do something sexual or being coerced through pressure to send out a
picture, whereas boys might be more likely to be bullied through
name-calling or threatening.
Senator Zimmer: If we are led into the area, you get the bully and
you get the gang. Do you find that there is a better reaction once the
friends of the bully step up and say, "Listen, this is wrong,'' because
then it is done internally and the blame cannot be placed on the person
complaining? If the bully sees he has lost his posse, it is much more
difficult for him to continue. Do you find that in your research?
Ms. Shariff: Yes, we do, and there are some very public examples
of that. That is where social media and social networking like Facebook can
be used in positive ways. We have seen the power of social media in the
Middle East recently in the Arab Spring.
However, I will give an example of where young people have stood up for
each other, and this is at the university level. When there were the
shootings at Virginia Tech university a few years ago, the shooter was of
Asian background. There was a big discussion on Facebook where a number of
people started saying, "Oh, well, all Asians are bad.'' It was a racist
kind of discussion. A number of students pushed back and said, "No, this is
not about race. You are being racist. This is not about race; it is simply
about one individual losing his mind and shooting everyone.'' In fact, there
was a lot of support for the grieving students.
I know you will hear from Cathy Wing from Media Awareness Network. I know
she has presented at other conferences some very good examples of this
happening online where young people have stood up, even at the school level,
and said no. This is where we need them to take ownership and say, "No,
this is not on. This is not acceptable,'' and they can only do that if they
can come to those understandings within themselves, if they can gain those
inner filters from within.
Ms. Mishna: I agree; it is very powerful. The research has been
powerful to show that when other kids step in, the bullying stops very
The other thing we need to remember is that for us to help the kids be
empowered to be able to do that, they need to be supported by the adults in
their world. That is critical because asking them to do it without having
that support for them is too much, but if they have that support and do it,
it is dramatic.
Senator Zimmer: I was bullied in college many years ago, and I
never went to the teachers or the priest. How I fought my way out of that
bag was I excelled in sports, and by doing that and representing the
college, it seemed to bring out the best of other students supporting my
cause, but I did it in a different way. I did not confront. I excelled in
another way and that brought me into the atmosphere of a new way of dealing
with the issue, and I was very fortunate to go through that.
The Chair: I have a question regarding international human rights
obligations to protect children.
Dr. Shariff, you touched on that. As you know, Article 19 of the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires state parties to take
all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures
to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence. In your
view, is Canada meeting its obligations under this article?
Ms. Shariff: In my view, I think we have some way to go. One of my
concerns is that simply the way schools are dealing with this is the way
that the provincial legislation has emerged. Also, I have concerns over the
Safe Streets and Communities Act, which will affect kids if they end up
being sentenced under this kind of legislation. I think we are to some
extent meeting it, but certainly there is a lot of room for improvement.
We are concerned about victims and we ought to be; we need to better
protect victims, and we will have, hopefully, judicial guidance from the
Supreme Court of Canada in the A.B. v. Bragg Communications Inc. case
on young people wanting to sue their perpetrators. As well as that, we also
need to work with the perpetrators because they can also get themselves into
a lot of trouble. We have to ensure that we balance both sides, and that is
why I am always talking about the need to balance free expression and
privacy as well as supervision, regulation and safety. It is very difficult.
I think Canada is doing much better than the United States because in the
U.S. there is a much larger emphasis on free speech at the expense of
victims. We do not have many legal precedents, unfortunately, in Canada, to
give us guidance. I am hoping that once the Supreme Court starts to set some
judicial direction, given the track record of the Supreme Court of Canada, I
suspect that we will do a better job than the U.S. of at least meeting
Ms. Mishna: I think we are in the right direction. As we focus
more on the anti-bullying and anti-cyberbullying, I think, at the same time,
we need to also focus on prevention. We need to focus on both. We need to
provide education in a comprehensive way, and when I say in the curriculum,
it is not about anti-bullying but about how to behave, have empathy and
interact. That is not easy to do because teachers need help to add that into
the curriculum. Parents and our whole society have to be involved in that.
When we think about bullying and cyberbullying, if we live in a society
where there are certain attitudes, discriminations and prejudices, even
though that might not be bullying per se, it sets an atmosphere that gives a
message to kids that it is okay.
For example, if we have discussion about how gay marriage is not okay and
that is not happening here, does that give a message to kids that it is okay
to do that, to talk about that? I think we need to address that more
comprehensively so we are not just focusing on the bullying. That is already
after the fact. We need to do both.
The Chair: Are there any other countries or states parties that
are doing better than Canada?
Ms. Mishna: I think Scandinavia is, but we need to remember they
are smaller and more homogeneous, and it is, therefore, easier to address
that. However, I think we can use the model. One of the great things about
our country is that it is so diverse. I know in traditional bullying Canada
has slipped in terms of where we were, and, so I do not know the answer
about cyberbullying, but I do think there are other countries that we can
use as models where how to be tolerant is just part of the education system.
It is not an add-on because it is inherent. That is more complicated to do
because when talking about Canada, urban, rural, Aboriginal and so on, we
need to take all of that into account. There are some basic core principles,
but if we do not tailor it both developmentally and to the communities, it
will not be effective.
Ms. Shariff: We are in the process of conducting and mapping what
is emerging globally for UNICEF in terms of how cyberbullying is being
addressed internationally. Scandinavia, the U.K. and Australia are doing
some excellent work as well to address cyberbullying. Brazil, interestingly
enough, has some really good emerging programs. We have found other
countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are still dealing with it only
in terms of child online trafficking and grooming and are not looking at it
in terms of cyberbullying as we are discussing it. There are opportunities
for Canada to develop some excellent models internationally as these
countries grow in their use of technology in schools.
The Chair: The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the
key rights and principles intended to promote and protect the best interests
of children. In your view, is there a way that a rights-based approach
developed on the principles of the convention can be used to help children
who are affected by cyberbullying?
Ms. Shariff: Yes, I believe that. As I mentioned earlier, if we
can show some congruence with the principles under the CRC and our Charter
of Rights and Freedoms and develop educational models that work with those
principles, we would go much further than we would if we put in place
control-oriented legislation. Case studies that have applied these
principles are very useful.
In my book, Cyber-Bullying: Issues and Solutions for the School, the
Classroom and the Home, I have put in place a plan where we can use
human rights principles to engage young people in the curriculum.
Ms. Mishna: I would agree. The human rights perspective is very
helpful, and it is very powerful for children and youth. When they find that
they have been bullied or cyberbullied and learn that they have the right
not to be, it changes how they feel. They have not thought about that. As
well, perpetrators do not realize that they are violating someone's rights.
It is a very helpful and important perspective.
Senator Ataullahjan: It is interesting just listening to Senator
Zimmerman talk about how he was bullied. It makes me think that traditional
bullying was done in the schoolyard and then you went home and that was it
because at home you were in a safe environment. However, when I was
interested in cyberbullying and having a discussion with my daughter, a
remark that she made stuck with me. She said that it is like a prison
sentence: It does not leave you because it follows you no matter where you
go. When I think of cyberbullying, it is like you are not safe anywhere.
Traditionally, you went home and were away from the bully and you felt safe,
but no longer.
I know it is a relatively newer form of bullying. Do we know of the
long-term effects of cyberbullying as children develop and become adults? Is
it too new to know the psychological and social consequences? Do we have any
figures or studies on that?
Ms. Mishna: It is too new to know the long-term effects but not
too new to know that the effects of it are more serious. We know that the
effects of cyberbullying are over and above traditional bullying. In our
study, kids also labelled it "nonstop bullying.'' The idea is that you
cannot escape it. We know that bullying always happened with an audience but
the audience might have been a few kids or a classroom or a school, which
can be humiliating and devastating enough. However, when you do not even
know who it is and how widespread it is, it is so much worse.
When kids have had something posted online, every time they turn on their
computer or laptop, they often go searching for it. They cannot help it
because they know it is out there. We have to find out the long-term
effects, but we know that in the short term, it definitely has serious
effects that are over and above.
Ms. Shariff: I agree that it is too soon to know. Based on the
effect of traditional bullying, earlier research from a study conducted in
England that I had looked at for my PhD suggested that people who had been
bullied for a long time ended up having difficulty finding jobs and
concentrating; and school dropout rates increased. One researcher
interviewed a prison population and found that a large number of them had
experienced bullying. It does have long- term consequences. We have heard
that there is difficulty concentrating, and kids have reported feeling
physically ill, and they drop out of school. Those are impacts, definitely.
Ms. Mishna: Another thing is withdrawing socially because they
become depressed and anxious. We know that in order to learn and develop,
you need to feel safe. The long-term effects can be huge and also for the
youth who bully. We know that they are more likely to become criminals and
to be involved in later kinds of violence in workplaces and with romantic
relationships. We know there can be long-term effects, so there is no reason
to assume it would not be with cyberbullying.
Senator Ataullahjan: Do you find in your research that when kids
get older — youth at university level — they are quicker to come to each
other's aid if they see an offensive comment being posted on line as
compared to the younger children?
Ms. Shariff: No, unfortunately not.
Ms. Mishna: No.
Ms. Shariff: I think it is actually worse, but I do not think we
have the data on university-level kids. There is an urgent need for research
at the post-secondary level because we are hearing so much more about
cyberbullying at the university level, which is different because university
officials are not in loco parentis. These are young adults, so the
supervision is different. I know that much of it takes place in
undergraduate residences. No, unfortunately, they do not go to each other's
Ms. Mishna: I would agree, unfortunately.
The Chair: I want to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Shariff,
Dr. Mishna and Ms. Patwalia for being here. We were looking forward to
hearing from you because we know the depth of knowledge you have on these
issues. You have certainly started us off by giving us many things to think
about during our study. I know I speak for all members of this committee
when I thank you for taking the time to be here.
Ms. Mishna: We are thrilled that you are doing this.
The Chair: We are pleased to welcome our second panel. We have
before us Ms. Cathy Wing and Mr. Matthew Johnson from Media Awareness
Network. The Media Awareness Network is a Canadian non-profit organization
established in 1996. In 2000, Media Awareness Network began conducting a
research project surveying children and youth regarding their experiences
using the Internet.
Ms. Wing and Mr. Johnson, welcome to our committee. We will have
questions after your opening remarks.
Cathy Wing, Co-Executive Director, Media Awareness Network: Thank
you for inviting us to participate in this meeting today on this important
topic. The Media Awareness Network is a Canadian not-for-profit centre for
digital and media literacy. For those unfamiliar with our history, we are
the result of a CRTC initiate on television violence in the mid-1990s. We
started life under the auspices of the National Film Board of Canada when
the CRTC directed the NFB to create a clearing house of information on media
issues affecting children.
In the CRTC's 1996 notice on TV violence, public awareness and education
were cited as the most effective solutions for addressing the issue of media
violence. Education as a practical response to media issues of concern is
still the guiding principle for our organization.
The three main pillars of our work are digital and media literacy
resources and programs for the K to 12 education sector; awareness programs
and resources for parents and the general public; and research on Canadian
children's and teens' Internet use.
Digital literacy is a term we use to describe a wide range of complex
skills that young people need today in order to make wise, informed and
ethical online decisions. Exercising good judgment and acting as good
e-citizens is central to the development of digital literacy skills.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of support for learning these skills in
our schools. In research we conducted last year with the Canadian Teachers'
Federation that looked at how technology can enrich students' learning,
teachers told us that a lack of digital literacy skills was the main barrier
in this happening. Many blame school policies that ban or restrict cell
phones, websites and social media platforms for taking away the authentic
learning experiences and opportunities kids need to develop skills such as
good judgment and responsible Internet use.
One teacher told us: "Children do not learn how to make good choices by
being told what to do and following instructions. They have to be given the
opportunity to make bad choices as often as good ones, and they need adults
to be caring allies in helping them make good choices and to learn from
Students agree that authentic experiences make for better learning. In
focus groups we conducted last fall with parents, children and teens across
Canada in preparation for a national survey, which we will be doing next
year, almost all the youth participants spoke disdainfully of their school's
anti-cyberbullying efforts. We were told repeatedly by the students that
their school programs, usually one-time assemblies, not only failed to
resonate with them but made them take the issue less seriously.
In many cases, they had problems with their school's entire approach and
felt strongly that the kind of interventions available tended to escalate
conflict. Many said they were reluctant to report online bullying because
they felt that teachers were likely to escalate a situation into more than
it was, most likely due to zero-tolerance policies that teachers were bound
Another concern the youth had with anti-cyberbullying programs was they
pathologized a great deal of their everyday behaviour, and that many of
their day-to-day communications were redefined as bullying by school
authorities. The term "cyberbullying'' in fact has little resonance with
young people. As Danah Boyd of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society has
noted, what adults may consider cyberbullying youth will describe as getting
into fights, starting something or simply drama.
Online bullying as an area of research, as we know, is fairly new, and we
have heard of the excellent work being done in Canada by Dr. Craig, Dr.
Pepler, Dr. Shariff and Dr. Mishna. Researchers are building our knowledge
base to support the development of successful interventions in this area.
There are some approaches that look promising for addressing cyberbullying
behaviours, and I will outline these briefly.
With respect to the digital literacy approach, digital literacy is not
about technical proficiency; it is about developing critical thinking skills
that are essential to lifelong learning and citizenship in a digital
society. The exhaustive report of the Nova Scotia Task Force on Bullying and
Cyberbullying, which was released this past February — I urge everyone on
the committee, if you have not read it, to read it because it is excellent —
called for schools and boards to implement digital literacy programs for
students, parents and community members.
Teachers have to be supported in this approach with professional
development, and we have been providing PD tools about online bullying for a
decade to Canadian schools. Many ministries of education have licensed these
programs, but how well they are being implemented is a big question because,
of course, support for PD is increasingly scarce.
Another approach is a social norms approach where students evaluate their
own behaviours against a shared set of social values. This kind of approach
is very important because many news reports and anti-bullying programs that
try to communicate the seriousness of the program may actually encourage
youth to overestimate how common bullying is. Youth are then more likely to
use negative terms when talking about how other youth behave online, even
while reporting their own experiences as being positive. This is significant
because if youth believe that bullying is the norm, they are more likely to
exhibit and tolerate this kind of behaviour. On the flip side, when youth
are made aware of how uncommon bullying is, bullying rates drop.
Another approach is building resiliency in young people to minimize harm.
Many of the youth in our study actually demonstrated strong resiliency when
it came to cyberbullying. They had very clear strategies they had developed
for dealing with situations. They would ignore and block a person, for
example. If it continued, they would actually talk to the person
face-to-face because they felt it was easier to call someone to account in
person. Finally, if that did not work, they would turn to their parents for
help, not the school but the parents.
Cultivating healthy school cultures, as we have heard from all the
witnesses that have previously spoken, is extremely important. We need to
create cultures of respect and empathy in our schools, which will permeate
all aspects of school life and the student-teacher and administration
relationships. Parents and the wider community must be included as integral
members of this culture.
The Canadian Teachers' Federation guidelines on cyberbullying state:
"Safe and caring schools that promote healthy workplaces for teachers and
healthy learning environments for children and youth should be a national
Restorative justice approaches are also a growing movement in schools
that examine social issues in terms of relationships between individuals,
and they could play a very important role in online bullying programs.
There are rights-based approach models, such as the Rights Respecting
Schools program in the U.K., which shows promise as well. This program,
which is being introduced into Canada by UNICEF, does not specifically
address bullying, but what they have seen in schools in the U.K. that
participate is that bullying does decrease.
Finally, involving students as mentors and leaders while recognizing that
adults are co-learners, not experts in this area, is critically important to
any successful approach.
In 2010, we worked with the Landon Pearson Resource Centre for the Study
of Childhood and Children's Rights on the Shaking the Movers project, which
looked at child rights and the media. The recommendation from the students
that took part in that project can be applied to any program targeting
youth. The students told us, "We are not stupid; we are savvy and we know
what we are doing. We want to be educated, we want our rights to be
respected, we want to be engaged in the conversation and we want to hear
about the positive side of media and how it benefits us.''
Thank you very much. Mr. Johnson and I welcome your questions.
The Chair: Mr. Johnson, will you have any remarks?
Matthew Johnson, Director of Education, Media Awareness Network:
No, thank you. Ms. Wing really said everything.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentation. When we talk
about children and their rights, as we know, zero tolerance does not work;
those are the statistics we are seeing. However, do you feel that teachers
should be trained in what is acceptable behaviour where social media is
concerned? It is a joint effort; parents, teachers and everyone must make an
effort to teach children responsible digital citizenship.
Ms. Wing: Absolutely. We found in our study with teachers that
they are not being allowed access to these very platforms to teach those
authentic experiences. In most schools, they are blocked if they want to use
Twitter, Facebook, go to news sites or leave comments. There are a lot of
things that can teach ethical behaviour by using the tools that young people
are using every day. That is one of the biggest issues.
Mr. Johnson: Moreover, what we found in our own research is that
younger teachers, who may be expected to be more familiar with digital
technology, are actually less comfortable than older teachers with either
bringing that technology into the classroom or dealing with the issues that
this technology raises, such as cyberbullying.
Other recent research has shown that pre-service teachers here in Ontario
are particularly concerned about their ability to deal with cyberbullying
when they begin teaching and very much want training on how to deal with it
and how to teach young people the very skills you are talking about.
Senator Ataullahjan: I am surprised by that. I would have thought
the younger teachers would be very aware because they tend to use computers
and the Internet more than older teachers. Why is that?
Mr. Johnson: It really goes to our general philosophy around
digital literacy, which is that technological understanding of the devices
of the technologies does not necessarily translate to literacy; it does not
translate to being able to use it in a meaningful, safe or ethical way.
Therefore, these teachers, although they are familiar with the technologies
as the young people they teach are, they do not feel they have the necessary
teaching skills or the background to be able to integrate these technologies
meaningfully into the classroom or, as I say, deal with the issues that come
up. Just because you understand the technology does not mean you understand
how to deal with the ramifications of that technology.
Senator Ataullahjan: Many children who use the Internet have very
little supervision. What kind of tools should we be providing to these
children? What kind of understanding do they need to have to be responsible
for what they put out there?
Ms. Wing: Tools for parents or for the children?
Senator Ataullahjan: For the children. What do we need to provide
for them to be responsible digital citizens? When children are online, a lot
of times it is without any supervision. At what age does one start teaching
children about responsible digital citizenship?
Ms. Wing: As soon as they go online, and some go online by the age
of 2. From our research, we find that young children are well supervised,
but being more supervised is not the same as being taught these critical
skills. For instance, the parent may sit with the child when they are on
Club Penguin and say this is a safe environment, but in fact, there are
marketing aspects to that environment and aspects where they have to give
You can talk to strangers on part of that website. There are multitudes
of skills that need to be used as soon as children start going online. We
produce a lot of games for kids on our website. They start teaching these
skills at a very young age. I do not think children would seek out our
educational games on their own. They are meant to be played with the adult,
with the child, and then all those lessons are reinforced every time they go
Mr. Johnson: Club Penguin is one the earliest places where
children may encounter cyberbullying because there have been quite a few
reports of bullying, particularly in the form of social exclusion and
name-calling happening on Club Penguin. You almost have to admire the
ingenuity with which the young people on it get around the various anti-
bullying safeguards set up by the designers of the game.
It is certainly true, as Ms. Wing said, that there is supervision early
on, and I think the issue is that as the supervision lessens as children get
older, there is not necessarily an instruction in the skills young people
need. That is what Ms. Wing was talking about, namely, the games and the
various other parent and teacher resources we make available to help parents
and teachers give these skills as they are reducing the supervision of
Senator Meredith: Thank you so much for your presentation, Ms.
One of the things we heard from the last presenters was what teachers are
doing or not doing within the school system in terms of talking about
bullying in the context of cyberbullying. It was almost sort of overbearing
on them and the education system was not pushing it down to the teachers to
see the relevance of it.
In your presentation, you talk about a restorative justice approach to
ensure that this approach is brought into the relationship between
individuals. Can you elaborate more on that? I believe in talking to
perpetrators, letting them know the consequences of their actions and how
they are making others feel, which is very valid. You put them in a
classroom setting, and say, "This is how you made these individuals feel.''
Can you talk about not only excluding them from the classroom or from their
peers but also letting them how they are making their peers feel by their
acts of bullying?
Ms. Wing: It is an interesting approach. Restorative justice
programs are in schools, and they are well integrated in Nova Scotia when
you read their report, but it is just starting to be used in areas of
cyberbullying, so we do not know how effective it will be.
The idea is that you have the whole school culture, and everybody is
responsible as an individual for his or her actions and how they impact on
everyone else in the school. It is all part of the whole school culture that
everyone who has spoken here has talked about, where, right up to the
principal, everybody has to be treating everybody else with empathy and
We know that does not always happen in our schools, unfortunately, but
the idea is that people take responsibility for their actions as
individuals, but it is not punishment involved. It is important that we are
not criminalizing our children's actions and that we are looking for the
most caring solutions that we can. That is our role as mentors, teachers and
Mr. Johnson: One of the reasons why restorative justice may be
particularly appropriate for cyberbullying is that cyberbullying
relationships often are very complicated, and it is not usual for both
parties in a cyberbullying relationship to feel they are the victim, or to
deny that either one is a perpetrator or a victim in a relationship that
seems from the outside clearly to be cyberbullying.
That is one the reasons as well why the zero-tolerance approach fails. If
you have zero tolerance and you are unable to determine who is the
perpetrator, or if it is simply unclear whether both have shared
responsibility, as seems to be the case in many cyberbullying situations,
then you have no choice but to impose those penalties on both parties,
which, obviously, will not have a positive effect for anybody. That is why
the more flexible approaches that respect the rights of students, things
like the Rights Respecting School and social proof, are much more effective
in dealing with cyberbullying.
We have also seen that, even in cases that are much more clear-cut,
strategies that allow the two parties or the multiple parties involved to
communicate rather than simply imposing a punishment on one of them have
been more effective. One of our more recent projects has to do with fighting
hate on the Internet, and studies of interventions for young people involved
in hate have found as well that giving them an opportunity to communicate
with the targets or the victims, and vice versa, of course, giving the
victims the opportunity to communicate with the perpetrators, is much more
effective than taking a heavy-handed punitive approach, even in an extreme
case like that.
Senator Meredith: Another question that you spoke about is hate
online. We know the cases where people talk about freedom of expression and
that it is their right to be able to say what they want to say without being
Do you think our laws are strong enough to ensure that individuals are
not victimized further by the fact that we do allow people to say what is on
their mind within context? Do you feel that we need to be able to look at
strengthening our laws around that in terms of how it relates to
Ms. Wing: Our laws are very strong in protecting individuals, but
it is important for us to understand that most of the hate on the Internet
exists on servers outside of our country. It does not matter how strong our
laws are, our children are coming across inappropriate content, and there is
nothing we can do about it.
Senator Meredith: There are laws that come into play when they
take that information when it comes into the Canadian environment,
irrespective of whether it is coming from the United States or from
overseas, and that information is then repeated or put against someone else
who is Canadian. Our laws would then come into play there.
Ms. Wing: Young people are stumbling across hate on sites over
which we have no jurisdiction. That is why we promote the educational
approach over everything.
This is the thing about using filters in our schools. One of the teachers
told us they do not have filters in their school, and they came upon the
hate site. The students did not recognize the information because it was
very subtly done. It was an anti-Holocaust site. They did not know what they
were looking at. This teacher had a wonderful teachable moment that the
students were totally engrossed in because they had been completely taken in
by this site. They did not know how to authenticate the information. It was
a great teachable moment to show them, first of all, authentication skills
for the Internet, and second, to understand how people can post anything
online and there are no gatekeepers.
Mr. Johnson: Unfortunately, many of the organized hate groups
active on the Internet have become extremely sophisticated in concealing
their message, pretending to be legitimate sources of information and
debate. In doing so, they present themselves as a resource frequently to
students, and they also adopt a lot of the markers for reliability that we
know students look for. Such groups will select, for instance, a .org web
address. They will have very professional looking websites which we know
from research students place a lot of weight on. In these cases, because of
the care with which they disguise their message, it would be hard for all
but the most draconian hate laws to apply against them. In our approach to
hate, we certainly do teach students about legal approaches, and we teach
them about the legal options they have available and also the options they
have available through environments such as Facebook and YouTube, which are
fairly active in fighting hate when it occurs on their sites. The bulk of
our efforts is teaching young people how to recognize the ideologies of hate
so that they can distinguish the difference between a site that is
educational or contributing to political debate, even if we may not
necessarily agree with them — a site making legitimate, logical arguments —
and a site that has the intention of misleading, of manipulating emotions
and of dehumanizing one or more groups.
Senator Zimmer: Do you find any interrelationship between bullying
and drugs and gangs? It is a game of power: "If you do not sell my drugs,
you do not join the gang. I will get you one way or the other.'' It is a
form of applying pressure and power. Have you found anything like that in
the interrelationship between the three?
Mr. Johnson: I have not, but that is not to say that such a
relationship does not exist. I have not seen any research relating
cyberbullying to that, and I am not aware of any research that has looked
for such a relationship.
Ms. Wing: We will look into that and send it to you if we find
Senator Zimmer: Would you, please? I am not saying that I know of
any, but it is a way of using power and getting people to do what you want.
You cannot get them on the street so you get them on the Internet.
Mr. Johnson: There is a well-established connection between school
culture and bullying level. There is evidence that making a change in school
culture, for instance how hierarchical a school culture is, will have
significant effects in reducing bullying. Based on that, it would not
surprise me that a school at which gangs had significant presence might have
worse problems with bullying; but I cannot say that there is any evidence
specifically to that point.
Senator Ataullahjan: With regard to what Senator Zimmer said, is
it a certain culture? Do you find that kids who take drugs and drink alcohol
are more likely to be cyberbullies? Are there any research results regarding
Mr. Johnson: Not directly. We know that those are markers for
greater risk of online sexual exploitation. Certainly, one of the other
markers is having participated in bullying. There is a connection or
association, but the research I have seen does not show that there is a
direct relationship between those activities and bullying. Those activities
and bullying are all risk factors of being sexually exploited online or
being a target of online sexual exploitation.
Senator White: You describe the challenges, in particular with
young people. They are focused on their learning in a different way than
probably 10 years ago. Typically, it is not personal — not one-to-one — and
is more electronic. The skills needed to deal with the issues they face are
much more personal than they were 10 years ago. Have you seen any
information on how to make the adjustment from the skills that are being
taught in schools today to the skills of conflict resolution in dealing with
the issues that they end up facing as a result of those skills? Future
teachers who are in university today will tell you that in the challenges
they will have, their personal contact will not be as high as it was
probably a decade earlier. As a result, when they get into a classroom and
cannot deal with the issues it is because they have not had to deal with the
How do you make the leap from the challenges we are facing in this
electronic age to developing skill sets that we are not set up to develop
Ms. Wing: That is why we work with faculties of education quite
closely, and they license our resources. The question Mr. Johnson was asked
about teachers going into the classroom and not teaching technology and not
embracing cell phones in the classroom is interesting. Simply, it is because
they do not have the class management skills that the older teachers have.
We are looking at a bit of a disconnect — a generation of faculties who are
very savvy in some respects but when they get into the classroom, it takes
years to learn those class management skills. Therefore, they will not be
integrating technology in a meaningful way. They are actually afraid of
doing that. It is a huge challenge, and it is mostly the older teachers
doing the more innovative things.
Senator White: Would it not make sense to push technology out of
certain classrooms so that we can reengage the skill sets we are losing? You
just talked about university students, who are all technology when they
arrive. I teach at both universities in Ottawa, and I have had students
email questions to me in the middle of class because they do not want to ask
in front of the whole class.
Maybe we need to separate our skills and have technology be technology
and have the personal skills that we need for the rest of our life taught in
a different way rather than expecting that they will always be connected.
Mr. Johnson: I would tend to say that that is closer to our
reality today. One thing that students say consistently is that they feel
they have to leave a large part of their lives at the school door. There is
so little meaningful integration of digital technology in the classrooms
that school feels very much irrelevant to them because their whole lives are
online. They do not see a distinction between their off-line and online
lives; and certainly there can be problems with that. One element of digital
literacy that we teach is managing online communication and online
relationships, for instance, and understanding the difference between
interacting with someone face-to-face and interacting with someone online
and how those differences can lead to the kind of drama that turns into
What both students and teachers are telling us is that they want
education to be more relevant to young people and that in order to do that,
they have to integrate technology but in a meaningful way. One issue, which
comes from our own research, is that there is often a push to bring
technology into the classroom but there is no follow-up, training or
opportunity for mentorship. Again, the teachers told us that there was not
an opportunity for the older teachers, with their subject knowledge and
their classroom management skills, to come together with the younger
teachers, who know the technology, so that they could find ways to use this
in a meaningful way.
As long as technology is simply in the classroom, we will not be able to
meaningfully approach issues like cyberbullying that are raised by its
Ms. Wing: The other issue is that there has to be a huge shift
from the teacher that stands in front of the classroom as the expert. That
is happening in classrooms very slowly. The teacher is a co-learner with the
students; and the students are the experts in many areas. A dramatic shift
has to happen where students will have to become more involved in the
Senator Meredith: You talked about something that struck home with
me with respect to your research and marginalized communities, the
relationship between resources, certain schools and technology introduction
in certain schools not being there. Then you have the students who are being
bullied. Do you see a percentage of students or, in terms of the teachers
that you spoke to, was there an increase in the number of cases reported of
kids saying they were being bullied at home or what have you as you did your
research on this in terms of marginalized communities? I am curious about
Ms. Wing: The research that I was speaking about today is
qualitative research and what we are going to do with those findings. We are
going to create the national student survey where we will speak to kids in
every province and territory, French and English schools, rural, urban —
6,000 students; it is the largest study of its kind in Canada. We will try
to get at that demographic information when we do the survey, which we have
not done before. It is really important.
I sat in on the Calgary focus groups. We were in an extremely
disadvantaged community in Calgary where the parents were being completely
left behind because the kids were using devices —
Senator Meredith: — that they were not even familiar with.
Ms. Wing: Yes. They had to teach their parents how to use the
There was a platform in the province called Desire2Learn that the kids
had to go onto every night to get their homework. The parents did not know
how to use it. They were being completely marginalized by the technology.
They could not help their kids in the way they wanted to, and they were
frightened. I think we forget in Canada that there are a lot of people who
still do not have the technology they need to keep up, even with their kids.
Mr. Johnson: As Ms. Wing said, we have not had an opportunity to
look at our research in a quantitative way yet, but based on our survey of
cyberbullying done elsewhere, we have seen that being a member of a
disadvantaged group does increase the risk of being a target of bullying.
Particularly poverty, having a disability, being a member of a visible
minority group, and being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered increase
the odds of being a target of cyberbullying.
Senator Meredith: This would also relate to new immigrants as well
in terms of them coming in and assimilating into society. That would also, I
imagine, play a role in terms of the increased cases of them being bullied,
in terms of culture shock and individuals getting to know them and so forth.
I am making a general statement, but it would probably feed into your data,
Senator Harb: Thank you for your excellent presentation and for
the good research you are doing in a very important area.
I have a report here, though I am not sure whether you have it. It is
entitled Stop a Bully, and is a report from the front line. In this
report they talk about the education levels of kids who face bullying. It
looks like grade 7, grade 8 and grade 9 are where the majority of the
bullying is taking place. In grade 7, 19 per cent have reported being
bullied. In grade 8 it is 20 per cent and in grade 9 it is 14 per cent. If
you put that on a chart, it looks like age 12 to age 14.
Your studies have focused on the ages between 12 and 14, which is exactly
the same time when boys' voices start changing, beards start growing and
hormonal changes take place in the girls. Does that have any impact on their
Ms. Wing: In our last survey, we noted that those were definitely
the years when children are most at risk of many online risks. It was the
age at which they are exploring their identity, their sexuality; they are
looking for privacy from their parents and they are doing a lot of these
activities online. They are normal, developmental activities, and that is
important to understand. However, they are doing them in a completely new
environment that we do not fully understand.
It is also the time when parental supervision drops off dramatically. We
did find that girls had more rules than boys, which was very interesting
because the boys were definitely taking more risks online than girls.
However, that seems to be a cultural norm in our society.
Definitely those are very high-risk ages, and we target a lot of our
educational materials at those grades.
Mr. Johnson: Wendy Craig, who was a witness for this committee in
December, has released some recent research she has done where she compared
statistics from 2005 to work she did in 2010. It was interesting that she
found in 2005 that bullying peaked for girls in grade 7 and then declined.
For boys, it remained fairly steady. However, in 2010 it remained steady
among the girls throughout the grades and it climbed with boys from grade 6
to reach a peak in grade 10.
That supports the choice we have made to focus heavily on the 7 to 10
range regarding producing our resources that deal with bullying and related
Senator Harb: The committee will at some point produce a report.
My second question is twofold. First, are you aware of best practices in a
country or a system that we can look at and recognize that they have done
something good and we can learn something from them? Second, if you were to
sum up a recommendation to this committee in two or three specific
recommendations, what would they be?
Ms. Wing: I think you have heard from many experts that there are
best practices around the world, but Canada is unique and we are not a
homogeneous country in our makeup. Also, one of the biggest challenges we
have as an educational organization is that we have 13 educational
jurisdictions in our country. Most countries have a national curriculum and
a national department of education, and we do not have that in Canada. It is
extremely difficult to get national buy-in in school boards across the
In a way, it makes a lot of sense. We are very diverse and we have
different community standards all across the country. One-size-fits-all
solutions do not always work. In Canada, I do not think it would work. I
think any kind of approach has to be tailored to the needs of the community.
It is very complex.
That means we cannot just take a practice that has worked somewhere and
plunk it in here. However, there are many best practices, and I went through
some of them. One that comes up over and again is Roots of Empathy. I am
sure you are all aware of that program. It has been studied all around the
world and could easily be integrated into schools across Canada, and it is;
it is being used extensively.
Mr. Johnson: One feature of Roots of Empathy that points to the
characteristics of a successful intervention is that it is not a
one-time-only program. It is something that is done consistently with
students multiple times — ideally several times over their school career. We
know that kind of timing is effective. We know that one-time interventions
and interventions that focus heavily on scare tactics or on very dramatic
possible consequences of bullying are ineffective. We know that from
research done elsewhere and from our own research, as well, where we heard
that those tactics not only failed to resonate with students but also made
them take bullying less seriously.
Programs that are planned to go on through the entire school year and
programs that involve the entire school and the entire community are
effective. Get parents involved. Doing a program that gets the school
involved but where the parents do not even know about it means that students
are not getting the same message at home necessarily as they are getting at
school. We know that every level of the school needs to be involved.
Obviously, the students must be involved. Teachers need to receive training
on how to deal with these issues. They also need to have clear channels and
procedures for how to deal with it, so that they do not feel it is all on
their shoulders to make judgment calls and so that they understand how to
deal with it in the classroom but also know consistently how to deal with it
in terms of handing it up to the administration.
They need to be provided with classroom anti-bullying materials. There
must be an effort on the part of everyone in the school, including the
administration, the parents and parent organizations, to change school
culture in a variety of ways to show that bullying is not acceptable and to
show that bullying is almost certainly less common than it is believed to be
Some of the other really successful interventions that we have learned
about were programs to educate students about how uncommon bullying and
related behaviours actually were in their schools. That had a measurable
effect in making cyberbullying decline.
The Chair: We have found out that many young people are also
watching these hearings. You are using some terms that our audience might
not know about. Can I ask you to define what you mean by Roots of Empathy?
Ms. Wing: Roots of Empathy is a program developed in Canada where
they take babies into classrooms. For a year, a baby will go in with the
mother, and the children will nurture the baby, watch it grow and take a
large part in the baby's life over the course of the year. It has been
proven to develop empathy and sensitivity among students in all different
types of situations.
Mr. Johnson: One reason this may be particularly effective in
fighting cyberbullying is that one of the issues with cyberbullying is we do
not naturally feel empathy for people whom we do not see or who do not have
a physical presence before us. We miss a lot of the physical cues, such as
body language cues and the tone of voice, which trigger our empathy and tell
us when we have stepped over the line and tell us it is time to back off to
make an apology or to defuse the situation. That certainly is one way that
we know situations can spiral into cyberbullying.
Ms. Wing: I wanted to add to what Mr. Johnson said about the way
these things have to be rolled out over the course of a year and that the
connection with the home is so important.
We had a great example of how not to do a bullying program in our office.
A young mother in our office, her son came home from school one day — he is
in a school board in Quebec — and he had a button on that showed the word
"bully'' with an X through it. She asked, "What is that?'' and he said,
"I do not know.'' Apparently they were doing an anti-bullying program at
his school that week, but the parents knew nothing about it and the children
did not understand what was going on. It was almost like, "We have done our
bullying program this week so we can move on.''
Senator Hubley: Thank you for your presentation. I am going to ask
another age-related question.
As I look at the three main pillars of your work, in the first one you
tend to group K to 12. In all the work you are doing, are you finding there
has to be a breakdown in the ages and how the programs are directed towards
that particular age group within our schools?
Ms. Wing: That is interesting. One of the programs we have is
called Growing with the Net, and it takes a developmental approach to
children's use of the media. We break them down. We start at age 9 and go to
age 17 because there is a huge difference between those ages and the
developmental stage that children are at, how they respond to media and the
types of interventions we should be doing with them at those specific ages.
Our work in this area is based on Dr. Arlette Lefebvre, who is a
psychiatrist at SickKids Hospital in Toronto and who wrote one of the first
books about taking children online.
The program is extremely successful. We ask teachers to take this program
before they even start to take the more in-depth programs about privacy,
cyberbullying and safety. It is to really understand where children are at
Senator Hubley: Are there books written for children on the use of
digital and media literacy items, using the Internet and how they should be
careful? Are there actually any library books that are written for children
on those topics?
Ms. Wing: Yes, there are. I remember the first media literacy book
that I bought was entitled The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV. My
kids did not enjoy that book at all.
There are many books out there, and there are lots of really good media
literacy books as well for children. Sherrie Gradin is a Canadian author who
has written wonderful books that are very engaging. Whether kids would be
drawn to those books on their own or not, they are wonderful tools for the
The Chair: Ms. Wing, you said that children go onto Internet sites
where Canada does not have any jurisdiction, especially around hate. Can you
both expand on your study on hate?
Mr. Johnson, you spoke about the ideology of hate. How do you teach
people to understand the ideology of hate from the Internet message?
Mr. Johnson: That is part of a large project that we just
released. I do not want to take too much of the committee's time with it,
but essentially we teach young people to read texts critically. Of course,
those could be visual texts as well, but to read critically and to look
critically at what they see online and to recognize, first, situations where
people are trying to manipulate them emotionally and, second, places where
people are either dehumanizing a group or using other elements of ideology
to justify that dehumanization.
From our survey of research on both online hate and hate ideology in
general, we found that there are characteristic elements of hate that are
found in almost every hate group. Not every hate group's material will have
all of these characteristics, although some are almost universal, but these
are found in any kind of hate you can find. Certainly one thing we found in
our research is you can find hate on the Internet against almost any group
you can imagine and authored by any group you can imagine.
Certainly the core of it is dehumanization or "othering.'' It is
portraying another group in such a way that they seem less than or other
than human in order to justify hating them and, by extension, to justify any
action you might want to encourage against them.
Most of the other elements of an ideology of hate are in support of
othering. You will frequently see, for instance, an appeal to a glorious
past of the hate group or the group that they associate themselves with. You
will often see an appeal to either a divine or a scientific sanction.
Frequently you will see pseudo-science being used in support or you will see
a false appeal to a particular religion in support.
As I said, I could easily take our entire time going into this, but we do
go through this in a fair amount of detail both in our professional
development resource on online hate and also in our classroom resources on
digital literacy so that young people are able to recognize hate speech,
even when it is very skillfully concealed.
Ms. Wing: One thing we found in our 2005 research, which I think
was quite seminal and quite surprising to us, we asked kids what their
favourite websites were. We then went through thousands and thousands of
websites, and the University of Ottawa did the analysis. We found that one
of the top sites for young males, grades 4 to 9, was a site called
www.newgrounds.com, which was totally off the radar screen of adults. While
this site does not contain hate, it contains a tremendous amount of
inappropriate content, much of it racist, bigoted and hateful. It is a
consumer- created site where people create little flash games and post them.
It has misogyny. You name it, it is on this site, and we found out this was
the top site that kids were going to in Canada. It was the top site in
Quebec as well, so all across Canada.
We really do try to sensitize young people to what we call the spectrum
of hate, so they do not just think of this as humour online. There is a real
culture of cruel humour online that they are immersed in, and we have to
sensitize them to the fact that much of this material is extremely hateful.
We will be interested in seeing, when we go back into the classrooms next
year, what the top sites are and whether there has been any change or shift
in these sensitivities.
The Chair: The earlier witnesses and you have spoken about humour,
young people finding humour in bigotry and racist and hate statements. How
does that happen? Where is the humour in that? I see Senator White raising
his hand. Maybe he can help me, but I will ask you first. I find it very
troubling that young people find these things humorous.
Mr. Johnson: Really, there are two elements. It is obviously the
charge of the forbidden, that people are aware that this kind of language is
not acceptable and that indulging in it gives a charge. Certainly, we see a
lot of that in young people who are exploring the web, that one place they
seek out is extreme content such as that, whether it is extremely violent
content, gore, pornography or hate.
Of course, there is also the humour, if you would call it that, of
humiliation, the effect of laughing at someone else, selecting a target and
mocking them. Certainly, that is where it ties back to cyberbullying, that
whatever the reason for targeting someone, whether it is what we would
consider hate or whether it is more individual, there is a group mechanic
that leads to cyberbullying.
That is one of the reasons why, for instance, the role of witnesses in a
cyberbullying relationship is so important. We know that witnesses can have
a tremendous effect on how a cyberbullying relationship develops. We know
that the presence of witnesses is likely to make a perpetrator of
cyberbullying more aggressive, but witnesses can, if they choose to do so,
defuse a cyberbullying relationship or cyberbullying scenario.
That is one of the reasons we take our digital literacy approach to
cyberbullying because it teaches that we have a responsibility not just when
we are the target of cyberbullying or when we are perhaps being a
perpetrator or considering that we might be a perpetrator, but also when we
witness cyberbullying, to take action against it. That includes hate, and a
big part of the resources on online hate are teaching young people how to
take a stand.
Ms. Wing: Put-down humour is popular in popular culture as well,
certainly, in the shows that young people watch. The type of humour that you
see online has changed a lot in the last twenty years. A lot of it is
put-down humour. Adults, I think, are just as guilty of this type of humour,
and I think they feel it should not be taken as seriously, so that is the
sensitivity we have to develop in our culture and society.
Senator White: I had a discussion earlier around the immediate
online opinion that we are seeing through the media today. As I am sitting
here, if an article showed up online, we could have 10 online opinions, of
which some could be hatred, actually, and all of them could be a put down.
Do you not see that playing some role as well, namely, that immediate
response to media today and whether it is influencing the manner in which we
behave? First of all, there is this lack of accountability. If I say
something publicly, I am accountable for what I say.
However, I can put in a log-in name and can write almost anything I want.
It might be flagged and removed later, but it is there in immediacy. Are we
perpetrating it as well? As adults, are we perpetrating this different value
system around saying what we want or saying what we feel, even though it may
not be appropriate?
Ms. Wing: Absolutely, it increases impulsivity as well as the
anonymity factor. We certainly saw the hateful Tweets that went around after
the hockey game. It is a platform for people to spread hate, and adults are
doing it as much as young people. We have to respond as a society to it.
Senator White: A couple of years ago, we had 4,000 demonstrators
in front of Parliament Hill for 14 days. Publicly, almost no one would speak
out against that group; however, in response to articles, we would see
hundreds and sometimes more responses that were absolutely inappropriate
floating across the airwaves. It did not surprise me at the time that in
schools young people were saying some of the same things that we were
reading through our local media, that it was okay because it is anonymous,
and if it is flagged, we will remove it. That still does not make it okay.
I am challenged by whether or not we are at the wrong end of the stream
here, trying to pull kids out and telling them what they should or should
not be doing when adults probably are worse than children right now when it
comes to this. I perceive that anyway.
Ms. Wing: We are the models.
Mr. Johnson: In fact, among youth, cyberbullying is relatively
infrequently anonymous. In most cyberbullying cases among youth, the target
knows or believes that he or she knows who the perpetrator is.
It is certainly true that not just anonymity but also the sheer volume of
online postings is definitely an issue, particularly when we talk about
hate. One of the places you will see hate in mainstream outlets is in the
comments sections of articles because there are simply frequently too many
to manage, or even if they do get deleted, they are there for a while. It is
the same issue with places like Facebook, YouTube and iTunes. In places like
that, hate content can survive because there is too much content being
created for the hosts to keep track of it. There are thousands and thousands
of hours of content being posted on YouTube every day. They rely on users to
flag and alert them when they encounter something that is hateful or
otherwise inappropriate. That is one of the reasons we teach young people
their responsibility to speak out, and we teach them about those tools, like
flagging a video, that they can use to make a difference.
Senator White: I think with YouTube, Facebook and others, there is
not an expectation of the public, young or old, that it is always truthful
or always respectful.
However, I think with our mainstream media, we are starting to lose that
expectation with them as well. I actually do not expect that all of the
commentary is respectful any more in mainstream media. That is too bad
because in the past there would have been five responses to the editor that
would have been looked at for four days and then determined whether they
were appropriate. Today, there will be hundreds within seconds or less; no
determination will be made for appropriateness because that is someone
else's job, even though they are the ones managing it. I would question
whether or not they have a civil responsibility at some point to actually do
more than just when flagged. I would argue, in fact, that from a hate crime
perspective they might find themselves now or in the future being
investigated for allowing it to propagate rather than stopping it quickly
Ms. Wing: Some news organizations are looking at not allowing
anonymous posting anymore as a response to that.
You do find that there are very pro-social responses in those types of
forums as well, so people are calling others to task for what they are
saying. We like to highlight those with young people, especially the kind of
forums they are going on.
Senator White: If I may, the pro-social is sometimes as offensive
as the original. Sometimes it becomes a battleground between adults as to
who can be more offensive to the other. The perfect example was the Boston-
Washington game. The Tweet was offensive, absolutely, and the responses were
just as offensive at times. I just find that we are allowing it to continue,
and I am concerned about the mainstream media, in particular. I do not want
to look like I am bashing the media or bullying them, so I better stop.
Ms. Wing: It is a good example of the role of the bystander, and
that is what we do show to youth. We have examples of forums where kids were
posting extremely hateful comments, and then someone else would come online
and call them to task, and then other people would be emboldened because the
first person stood up to these people. Those are the kinds of behaviours we
have to encourage.
The Chair: I want to thank you both, Ms. Wing and Mr. Johnson, for
being here. As you can see, we can take a lot more time learning about this
issue from you, and we appreciate your taking the time to be here with us
We will move to our third panel. From Stop a Bully, we have Mr. Trevor
Knowlton, President; and Mr. Hal Roberts, Vice-President. We look forward to
your opening comments, after which we will have questions. Welcome.
You are from my province, which makes me proud. It is not often that we
have witnesses come all the way from British Columbia. I am happy to have
Trevor Knowlton, President, Stop a Bully: We would like to thank
the Senate committee for inviting us to Parliament Hill. It is an honour to
present to you today. We know that this committee has received information
about bullying and cyberbullying already from Canada's top researchers as
well as the key individuals who are working hard to make change. It is our
goal today to give you more insight into the seriousness of youth bullying
and cyberbullying from the perspective we see providing help to students and
parents and schools across Canada. I personally present to you this evening
as the president and founder of Stop a Bully. As well, I am a teacher at
Summerland Secondary School and a father of three fantastic children. It is
from these roles that I gain my experience and motivation to try to provide
assistance to students being bullied either at school or online.
The origin of Stop a Bully can be pinpointed to one day: May 7, 2009. On
that day I arrived at school to find an email that began a significant shift
in my life. That morning, each staff member at our school received an
anonymous email from one of our students about a bullying video. The student
had the email because they wanted to show us a video that would be passed
around Facebook that evening. The attached video showed an assault that had
taken place at our school grounds the previous day without any knowledge of
After reading the email and watching the video several times, I was angry
for two reasons. The first was that this assault had taken place at our
school, involving our own students. The second reason I was angry was
because the student who finally had the courage to stand up and report it to
staff had to go through so much trouble to simply give a heads up to what
was going on.
Four days after receiving this email, I launched an online bullying
reporting program that allowed any student in Canada to use if and when they
needed it. Stop a Bully gives students and parents the ability to safely
report bullying and cyberbullying to school officials without need of
further involvement or risk of becoming a target themselves.
Since launching Stop a Bully three years ago, I have learned more than I
ever wanted to about the pain and suffering that is caused by youth
bullying. Over these years, I have heard the sheer desperation from parents
who are trying protect their children, and the message since the beginning
has been loud and clear: More needs to be done to stop this.
As a high school teacher, I understand the great complexities of youth
bullying, in particularly cyberbullying, but it is imperative that all
structures within our society work to ensure safety for all students. We
believe strongly that Stop a Bully has proven it can be one of the tools
used to help protect young people against ongoing bullying, whether it be at
school or online. Thank you.
Hal Roberts, Vice-President, Stop a Bully: Madam Chair and
senators, as my colleague has indicated, we are most appreciative of the
invitation to appear before this Senate committee today. We are honoured
that our work with the Stop a Bully program may play a role in your
consideration of the complex issue of youth bullying and the evolution of
cyberbullying in Canada.
I appear before you this evening as a member of the board of directors
for the Stop a Bully program, a child protection social worker for the
province of British Columbia and as a father and grandfather. I count myself
fortunate to have gained some degree of awareness about the experiences of
youth in the Internet age from my own children and from the children and
youth I encounter on a daily basis in my employment.
For most adults, childhood bullying is a shared experience from one's own
developmental years. It is undeniable that many of us have at one time or
another played the role of victim, perpetrator or observer in a bullying
scenario during our childhood or adolescence. Hopefully your experience in
this regard, like my own, was resolved successfully, and, if so, it is
likely that that positive outcome involved the intervention of an
This traditional concept of bullying was very often tied to a school
setting and is commonly termed as schoolyard bullying. Social scientists
tell us that traditional schoolyard bullying is usually marked by three
characteristics: an imbalance of power between the victim and the bully, an
intentional targeting of the victim and a pattern of ongoing aggression.
What we are learning about the concept of bullying in the age of social
media is that cyberbullying defies this accepted definition. Most notably
the imbalance of power between the victim and the bully is no longer
strictly delineated, and the roles that the children and youth play online
may move quite fluidly among each of the roles of victim, perpetrator and
witness. Accordingly, many of the intervention strategies that were formerly
applied with a certain degree of success with traditional or schoolyard
bullying no longer apply.
The truths that do stand today in common with our accepted concept of
bullying intervention are these: First, most incidents of childhood bullying
are tied to the school experience of the involved parties. Outside of their
homes, most school-aged children and youth spend a significant portion of
their daily routine in some form of school setting. It goes without saying
that this attendance in school will involve many aspects of their social
interaction and interpersonal experiences. Second, the professionals
involved in child development tell us that the key to amending undesirable
behaviour with a child is to apply a consequence immediately so that in the
plasticity of their developing brain the connection between action and
outcome becomes successfully hard-wired.
With the Stop a Bully program, we would argue that these truths hold true
when considering intervention to combat cyberbullying. By default, the
school system is the only social structure that provides the physical
setting to address the issue of cyberbullying. Students are regularly
present in a safe and structured environment where they may have trusting
relationships with skilled educators. In the relentless cycle of social
media afforded by the accessibility of electronic technology, the potential
for cyberbullying exists 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year.
The immediacy for protection and intervention can realistically best be
provided in the school setting, as long as the tools for identification and
response can be present and accessible.
This is the premise of the Stop a Bully program, and it is cited in our
mission statement as follows: Stop a Bully aims to enhance and foster a
school's ability to address bullying incidents in a proactive and timely
manner by providing detailed reports of bullying incidents, as well as
education and prevention strategies.
In our testimony this evening, we hope to share with you information that
may serve to convince you that our strategy has merit. We firmly believe
that if given the right tools and support, then children and youth will take
responsibility to combat cyberbullying. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentations. We are
aware that you are a non-profit, Canada-wide program that allows students to
report bullying to school officials confidentially by way of an online
reporting system. How does your online reporting system work?
Mr. Knowlton: At this point, any student in Canada can go on the
website if they are either a witness or a victim of bullying. Parents can
also go online. If they do not feel comfortable approaching their principal
or teachers at their school, or even their parents themselves, and we are
finding that many students, for a number of reasons, are not feeling
comfortable reporting it to adults around them, they can go online and
submit a detailed report of what has been going on in terms of the bullying.
That is then forwarded to the principal of that school. It not only gives a
detailed report of what happened but also gives the principal the history of
what has happened.
Often principals in their day-to-day lives are dealing with a minor issue
that might happen in the school, where it might be a name call or a push in
the hallway. They are not often seeing the big picture of what is going on.
They might deal with that on a day-to-day basis in dealing with a particular
student, but in a bully report, the student who is having the issue is able
to fill in the report and say, "Yes, I was pushed in the hallway today and
we dealt with that, but it has been going on for three years,'' and then
that changes everything for the principal. This is not just a simple push in
the hallway or a name calling, let us get on with it and get to the next
class. Seeing that bully report and seeing the history and the details of
what is going on gives a much broader perspective for the principal.
The Chair: We have heard from witnesses, and this is only natural,
that some schools are more aware of cyberbullying and are taking proactive
action, and some schools still have to do a lot of catching up. How do you
deal with that? Some principals may not be as proactive as you would like
them to be. You have a very successful program. How are you going about
convincing principals to pay attention to the issue of bullying?
Mr. Knowlton: We put it on the students and parents of the
communities to be proactive. On the website, they can submit school join
requests. The parent or the student and even the staff member at times can
submit a school join request, which essentially says, "We would really like
you to take a look at this program. We really think it would help our
school.'' They can add additional comments after that. That is forwarded to
the principal for their consideration.
It has been an enormous challenge to get responses from the principals.
Whether it is because they do not think bullying is an issue at their school
or they think it is in another school, one of the biggest challenges is
getting the principals on board with the idea that it is an issue in every
school. If I could give one example, there was a great principal that
contacted us, and he said, "We do not have bullying at our school, and it
is not an issue, but I am going to join and sign up so you can send the
posters just in case there ever is an issue.'' The first week that they
signed up, he had two reports. I think that goes to say that even if the
principals are doing a fantastic job, quite often there is a disconnect
between what the students know in terms of bullying going on in the school
and what the staff know is going on in the school.
Senator Ataullahjan: For the benefit of the viewers, I would like
you to tell us how effective your program is. Of the submissions you have
received, how many have resolved the situations at hand?
Mr. Knowlton: In passing along the information to the schools, we
do not follow up for a number of reasons. In terms of our program, we pass
along the information to the principal. We do not know which student makes
the report, so we are not able to follow up on that particular student. In
terms of that side of success, we do not often see that.
There is a fantastic example in the handout that we provided. This was a
few weeks ago. This is just to show once in a while we do get a glimpse of
success when things are made public. When it is dealt with in school, we do
not see the success. We get feedback from the principal saying it is
working, but we do not hear about the individual cases.
This particular example was incredible for us to see because it shows
just how effectively the reporting can work. It is on page 7. I will give a
bit of an overview of what happened.
This was on a Friday evening. It started at 3:45 on a Friday afternoon.
Students were made aware of a website of which the sole purpose was
essentially to make fun of and harass other students at the school. The
first report came in at 3:45 on a Friday, and there were two subsequent
reports that came in at 5:27 and 6:06. Normally, we would not know anything
beyond that because we pass along the information and it is then up to the
principal to deal with. This particular principal sent out a public tweet on
Twitter at 9:03 p.m. that Friday evening, and it said, "Thank goodness for
Stop a Bully tonight. Thank you.'' That was amazing for us to see because it
was verification that on a Friday night things were starting to happen.
It gets even better, actually. On Saturday morning at 10:04 a.m., the
principal sent out another public tweet: "Thank you, Stop a Bully and the
person who submitted the report. The site in question has been shut down.''
I think that is a perfect example of just how quickly and effectively a
situation can be dealt with, especially with students reporting it and
principals that are proactive. Obviously, this principal was given the names
of who made this website and who was in charge of it that evening, contacted
those homes, and rather than going through the weekend and have the website
spread, it was shut down by Saturday morning. It was pretty amazing.
Mr. Roberts: After providing the facility for the children and the
parents to report, our second initiative, if we have a successful join
request from a school, is to provide a package of material to them, with the
hope that they will look at creating a safe environment. We have heard this
afternoon a number of times the concept of the whole-school environment by
engaging the school administration, the staff, the teachers, the students,
the parents and the parent advisory committees, and we hope we can influence
them to create a safe environment for reporting and possibly addressing
Senator Hubley: Thank you for your presentation this evening. How
does the message get out to the principals? Are the principals the ones to
access your program, or is it a program that they buy and then run within
Mr. Knowlton: There are two parts to that answer. First, any
student can use it regardless of any school. When I originally built the
program, I wanted to ensure that regardless of what the adults thought of
whether bullying is an issue in their school, if a student in that school
needed to report something that was going on and they were in serious need,
the program would be there to use.
When a school joins the program, there are a number of things that take
place. They receive a number of materials, such as posters, that they can
use to promote the program within the school, and then it is easier for
students to make reports online. They usually link it off their website as
In terms of joining the program, a principal needs to join. We have had a
number of teachers trying to convince their principals to join the program
for various reasons. It is still a challenge trying to get everyone on
Senator Hubley: You say it is accessible to all students. How then
do you deal with a student who is perhaps within a school that does not have
the program available or the principal is not responding?
Mr. Knowlton: We have to find the contact information for the
principal. We go through a number of different means to try to find the
direct email address. The bully reports will only be sent to the principal
of the school, so we go through a number of different avenues to try to
obtain the direct email address.
If that does not work, the bullying complaint is printed out and it is
physically mailed to the principal to ensure that that principal gets the
information of the student or the parent that wanted the school to know what
was going on.
Senator Hubley: Is it only the principal who can resolve the
Mr. Roberts: In our view, the principal is the final filter in the
Stop a Bully process. We are providing this information to them. It is their
school and their students; they know the population. It is up to them to
address things once we provide them the information.
It is our firm belief that the disconnect is between the students and the
school staff, that the students very often know what is going on. If they
transmit that information anonymously to us, then we can bridge that gap and
pass it on to the school official, the principal, who can take the primary
responsibility to deal with it.
Senator Harb: This is an absolutely excellent program you have.
Education is a provincial responsibility. In British Columbia, have you
approached school boards so they can make it mandatory for schools to be
part of your program?
Mr. Roberts: We have. We are not having a lot of success. We are
finding a lot of support in Professor Wayne MacKay's report from Nova
Scotia, the report they just completed. It is truly groundbreaking. He is
pointing along the same lines that we are, that obviously the school is the
most appropriate environment to deal with this.
Professor MacKay has pointed out that there is a responsibility coming to
school districts whether they like it or not and whether they get on board
and look at the preventive options they have now, or conversely, whether
they respond down the road to some sort of civil litigation brought on by a
victim or the parents of a victim.
We see a motivation here. We are just waiting for the schools and the
school districts to understand that.
Senator Harb: Have you approached, for example, the Ministry of
Education? School boards are the creatures of the province. Have you
approached the ministries of education in order to stress the importance of
making it mandatory? If so, what was the response?
Mr. Knowlton: We have provided information to various provinces
and we have been contacted by a number of them for information. We are
universally accessible through our website, and we do get a lot of
Senator Harb: It strikes me that this is something the committee
should consider not only publicizing but writing to the provincial Ministers
of Education in order to encourage them to subscribe to this. This is
absolutely outstanding what you are doing.
Mr. Knowlton: We think it is absolutely key to cross over the
information — in terms of cyberbullying, it is sometimes thought it is quite
private information, what is going on in bedrooms and so on, but it is very
public information. The students know what is going on. They see it. If you
ask any given student about what is happening online, they know who is being
picked on and they know who is doing it, but the information is not being
crossed over to the adults at the school. That can often be the problem of
them thinking they do not need a bullying program.
We are trying to link the information gap in terms of getting the
information and having those students being safely able to say, "This is
what is going on either online or at the school.''
Senator Harb: Absolutely. Thank you very much.
Senator Zimmer: It just dawned on me, irrespective of age or
position, in your dealing with bullying, have you ever experienced any
retaliation at you or any of your colleagues? I am not speaking about the
student, but the teacher or administration. Has that ever moved over with
them trying to bully or intimidate you?
Mr. Knowlton: I think it has certainly happened. I cannot think of
an example right now. It was talked about earlier today that at almost every
level of society and in terms of adults and organizations, there is a level
of bullying at all times. It is unfortunate that it is happening and, at
some point, it has certainly gone on to extremes.
Senator Zimmer: I do not mean from someone else; I mean someone
has bullied a student and, because you tried to deal with it, they then
redirect their tactics at you. It is the same person, not someone else from
Instead of going after the student, because you tried to deal with the
issue, has someone ever come back on you or do you know of anyone who has
ever been treated that way?
Mr. Knowlton: No, I do not have examples of someone coming back at
us personally. Certainly it could happen in the future, but we do not have
any examples of that now.
Mr. Roberts: We find that simply by shining a light on the problem
— and we heard the other witnesses speak about it this afternoon — there is
an important role of the observers to this activity, especially online. If
you can shine a light on this activity and the hint goes out to the people
who are observing that it is inappropriate, then you lose the audience.
The key concept that we are looking at is if we can create a situation
where we are, like I say, shining a light on this behaviour and pointing out
that it is inappropriate. Then it often goes away. Again, we feel strongly
that if we can put this tool out there and give it to children and
adolescents to use, they will use it.
Senator Andreychuk: Thank you for the material. I apologize that I
had two conflicting commitments, so I did not catch the presentation
How did you build the confidence that you are acting anonymously and that
your intervention will not expose the more vulnerable people? How did you go
about that process?
Mr. Knowlton: On the technical level, we do not even know who the
reporter is, so it would be essentially impossible for us to expose anyone.
When they are submitting a report, they can have the choice of submitting it
completely anonymously or they can include a name if they want a staff
member to contact them; for example, if a student is having issues and
really wants to talk to a counsellor, or if a parents wants further
consultation with a principal, that name will be forwarded to the principal
at the time.
Therefore, in terms of keeping it anonymous, we do not know who is
reporting it. There are steps on the website to ensure a valid report — we
have a number of different steps to ensure valid reports — and that is one
key question we often get in terms of ensuring that these reports are valid.
We have a number of filters through our system to ensure that. The final
filter is the principal looking at the report and verifying the information.
It is ultimately their choice in terms of how to deal with it.
Senator Andreychuk: I am going back to older programs on anonymous
tips on criminality, et cetera. They were slow in starting because there had
to be confidence in them, but it was word of mouth in smaller communities.
Some people would say it works and they would know it because of the cases,
et cetera, that go through the system.
People are talking about it and saying it is anonymous and therefore it
gives some reassurance to the kids coming up that it will be okay.
Mr. Roberts: We post all our statistics and information on our
website so that anyone looking to use our website can see that we are
tracking that there are results; we are tracking the schools joining our
program; and we are tracking the requests that are coming in for the
schools. There is a visibility there and we put all our information there.
It is updated almost daily, so people can see there is a result.
There is a visibility to what we are doing in terms of us receiving
something, assessing it and passing it back to the school authorities.
Senator Andreychuk: I have another question. You shut down a
source and that stops the bullying in that particular way. However, if you
have not dealt with the bully, it will go somewhere else and it could be
even more harmful. Is there any way that you are tracking all kinds of
bullying activity? Shutting down a site just causes it to pop up somewhere
else, as we found with child pornography.
How do you ensure your success on what you are saying in your statistics?
Mr. Knowlton: It also comes back to student accountability. They
know that this program, when their school is involved with it, is holding
them accountable. Take this example on the Friday evening. It will send
ripples through the entire school population, knowing that the students that
set up this website to essentially harass the other students on a Friday got
a call on that evening at their home from the principal and had to shut
The accountability within the school will mean a lot with those students;
they will know that they will get called on it, whether online or at school,
and that it is not acceptable to do this sort of stuff.
Senator Andreychuk: Have you run into cases where the bullying is
not within the school? There are websites all over the place where kids are
harassed. It may not be within your own neighbourhood or environment.
Mr. Roberts: Bullying is a complex activity, so for most
school-aged children, somehow tendrils of it will reach into their
experience at school. Whether it actually takes place at school, it will be
discussed at school or their peers will be aware of it. They may be
accessing it through school equipment. However, we know that their school
experience will somehow factor into the equation.
Since it is complex activity, of course, the school principals and the
school staff understand there is no one, single solution to all this. They
will need a tool box, as it were, of various approaches to deal with
bullying, and they need to have the information and the ability to go to
that tool box when they have any various sort of example of bullying in
Mr. Knowlton: Along the same lines, we were talking about a
website shifting to another website and that sort of thing. One interesting
thing comes back to the idea that bullying needs an audience. Quite often
you think of school bullying, in particular a fight or so forth, and if the
students were not around — the audience — it probably would not take place.
There are also examples online where it can happen. For example, we have
had examples of a mock Facebook account set up under a student's name.
Trying to shut down a Facebook website would be nearly impossible and could
take months. Essentially the students set up a mock website using another
student's name and then pretended to be them. Other students in the school
were friending them, thinking it was actually that person but it was all a
The counsellor in the school, because of shutting down the website or
trying to figure out who was doing it, had a nearly impossible task. She
took a completely different approach. If you take away the audience, it will
not exist anymore. She approached one of the very influential people linked
to the site as a friend and said, "Do you know what is going on? This is
not that person. Can you go on there and tell everyone else. Unfriend the
account; it is not that person.'' She did it and because of the influence
that student had, the other people followed suit.
In a subtle role, you can take away the audience as well, in some
The Chair: I have a supplement to what Senator Andreychuk was
asking about. Is there a way you share with the school boards or the
provinces when schools are not responding to you? Do you do any kind of
Mr. Knowlton: It is all visible online through the school join
requests. Everyone can go online. Any student, parent and staff member that
submits a school join request can see the colour coding, so they can come
back and see the colour coding of their request. They can see it is yellow
and is being sent to the school. If it turns blue, then that school has
joined. In that sense, they can see the reports.
It is similar with the bully reports. For joined schools you cannot see
bully reports because students can feel safe that it is a member school and
it is going to the principal so they do not have to worry. If it is a
non-member school, again it is colour-coded, they submit a report and can
confirm that if it turns green, they know their principal has received a
report and they can go from that sense.
Mr. Roberts: With Professor MacKay's report, one of the
recommendations he is making to the Province of Nova Scotia is to take a
look at the programs that exist. If they are successful, perhaps there is an
opportunity to use them rather than going to the trouble and expense of
setting up your own. Go with a product that is proven. For a province like
Nova Scotia, it might well be within their best interests to take a look at
a successful program like ours. When we have an opportunity to discuss that
with school officials, we are suggesting that they take a look at what
Senator Ataullahjan: I want to know how kids find out about your
website. Do you advertise? How do kids find out that this website exists?
Mr. Knowlton: First, we have no money for advertising so that is a
quick no. A lot of it is through searching on Google. They find it and pass
it around. You can see parents passing it along on Facebook and students
passing it on. That online traffic has slowly built up our visibility. It
has been organic growth. Since the beginning three years ago, there has been
no budget to promote the program and send it out to schools or have people
phone schools to let them know. It was an organic growth passed along from
parent to parent in certain communities.
Senator Meredith: You have a really fantastic tool here, which has
been hidden. I will follow up on the question that was just asked by my
colleague in terms of how this information is getting out. You talked about
not having a budget for it. Have you considered looking at how to
incorporate the private sector in helping you to promote this — the large
companies of the world — to ensure that they are on board with this as good
corporate citizens? If you have not done so, I strongly suggest you do that.
We have been successful with our GTA Faith Alliance work because we have
reached out to several of these corporations with respect to introducing
technology to at-risk youth; and we have been successful.
One important question I have for you is about the severity of cases
reported and whether you take it upon yourself to alert local authorities
when a case is reported to you that is severe and you feel that a delay
would cause more harm. You do your report to the principal, but have you
done anything along those lines?
Mr. Roberts: If we receive a report of that magnitude, we
encourage the reporting process to involve local authorities. If we need to
assist a student in doing that, that is part of what we do.
Mr. Knowlton: We have had to do that in one case. A student found
Stop a Bully unfortunately three days after a friend had committed suicide.
She submitted her report about what had happened. Obviously, it is a sad
report. You always wonder what could have happened had she known about the
site four days earlier. In that case, we submitted to the principal and
informed them that we would be submitting it to the RCMP, who had an open
file on that case.
On your corporate sponsorship question, we have tried desperately. Almost
all of them they have told us that we need to register as a charity first.
Senator Meredith: What are you waiting for?
Mr. Knowlton: We got the lawyer just last week because we could
not afford the lawyer. The lawyer is going to help us out, and we have been
told it is a four- to six-month process.
Senator Meredith: That could be expedited; it should not take that
long. With respect to the severity of the issue and the good work you are
doing, that could be expedited through the directorate. I am glad to hear
you are looking for corporate support to further your great work.
Going back to the question with respect to the boards of education, do
you have representatives in each province in terms of organizations that
help to promote you or are you looking to the future to have certain
representation within provinces on a regional basis?
Mr. Roberts: We would hope to get to that stage. We would hope to
be able to set up something similar to the children's help line. We have the
ability to create a true national presence with this. We have a national
presence now, but it is a small band of volunteers who run it. We are hoping
to grow our program to be able to catch up and truly promote it. We are not
doing any active promotion of this right now, yet we are as busy as we can
Senator Meredith: You referred to the situations in Nova Scotia. I
know that a couple of youth committed suicide there last year and late last
year in Ottawa another youth committed suicide after being bullied online.
The statistics are alarming.
This is more of a comment than anything else because I see that you are a
struggling non-profit but going forward with some great work. My
organization started out 11 years ago in the same process of great work but
no funding. It is important to look at how you can broaden your scope by
having representation and at how to approach the boards of education. It is
important that the directors of education get hold of your information,
especially within the urban centres, such as Toronto where bullying is on
the increase. There is a new director of education that is encouraging more
technology and young people to become engaged with this.
It is important that you look at how you can speak to them. If you need
some assistance in that, I will be happy to provide those accesses for you.
We need to be able to save lives, and what you have is doing just that.
Thank you so much.
Senator Ataullahjan: I commend you for the invaluable tool you
provide to youngsters because these are the people whose lives are being
impacted by bullying.
You mentioned the fluidity of roles such that one child can be an
aggressor, a victim or bystander. Is there a cycle of abuse whereby children
who are bullied become bullies? What can be done to break the cycle?
Mr. Roberts: That is what we see. Again, because of the nature of
the developmental age of these children, much of what they are doing is
impulsive and they do not know what the consequences are. There is a real
minimizing of what they are doing. They often do not understand the
implications of taking something private and turning it into something quite
public. It requires the intervention of an understanding adult to help them
to understand that. We heard from some earlier witnesses about developing
that good moral responsibility when using online tools.
There is a fluidity between the roles. Often, they are not even aware
that in one scenario they may be instituting something and in the next
scenario, they may be observing it and passing it along. At some point in
the process, they may have been a victim. They do not understand the various
roles with the same kind of understanding that an adult would have. Often
they do not understand that some of things they do approach criminality. If
they are transmitting nude photos of someone who is underage, that is a
Criminal Code violation involving the distribution and manufacturing of
child pornography. We saw a famous case in B.C. where that was the outcome.
They often do not understand that, and it is up to the adults in their lives
to be able to tell them that.
Again, Professor MacKay makes the reference that you would not go out and
buy a car and hand the keys to your child the next morning without them
going through driver training and getting a licence and all the things that
go along with that. However, we have many parents who buy these devices for
their children and they really do not understand the implications of the
communication device they are putting into their children's hands. They do
not understand the potential for risk that this sort of communication can
put their children in. Again, if it is a hand-held device or the laptop is
in the bedroom, it is not being monitored.
When computers first came out there was a great deal of information to
parents about needing to make your computer location safe: It needs to be in
the kitchen or downstairs where you can observe it. However, with the hand-
held and portable devices, that is no longer possible. The children are
taking them away and using them in private, and often the parents have no
idea even how to access what is going on.
Mr. Knowlton: In the terms of the roles of victim and aggressor,
if I could share one example to show you the complexity of cyberbullying.
Often students on the weekend will post party pictures from cell phones. In
this example a young lady drank too much alcohol and a very embarrassing
photo was taken of her. Those photos were instantly put on the Internet and
now not only the people at the party have seen the scene, but the entire
student population of that school, because they are all linked on Facebook,
would, within hours probably, see that photo.
I am trying to get into the brain of this young lady. On that Sunday at
some point she would realize that the entire school population has seen this
photo of her. Depending on her supports within her family, her mental state
might be pushed to the utter limit when she is thinking about going back to
school Monday morning, knowing every single person had seen that photo.
Now you see the extreme of where that lady is possibly on that Sunday
night. Then, when you come back to that photo, there is a very good chance
that could have been her best friend who did it. That is the complexity of
it. Would that young lady who took the picture and posted it think she was a
cyberbully, or was she cyberbullying? She took what she thought was a funny
photo of her friend, posted it on the net and carried on with her evening.
That is an example of just how complex this can be. This case of
cyberbullying could push that student to the utter limit of her mental
health on that Sunday night, yet it could have been her best friend who did
it and would have no clue of the damage she possibly caused to this other
Senator Ataullahjan: Throughout the evening we have consistently
heard that parents need to be involved. How do we get parents involved? We
can pass laws and talk to kids, but nothing will change until the parents of
bullies know what their kids are doing online. When people sign on to Stop a
Bully, have principals gotten any of the parents involved? Have they ever
spoken to the parents to let them know what their child is doing online?
Mr. Knowlton: It is difficult for us to answer, because again it
comes back to the line. We are conscious of that line. We are the reporting
program. We pass along the information to the principal and then we do not
cross that line in terms of finding out what happened afterwards.
We think it is in the best interests of that school and that principal,
who knows the situation, knows the parents, to deal with it. I do not know
of any examples. I am sure there have been parents involved. I agree that
the parents are essentially the answer to this whole problem. They need to
be aware of what the students are doing and what devices they have and what
they are doing with them. It is difficult for us to answer that question in
terms of exact bully reports, I guess.
Senator Ataullahjan: We hear, and all the experts agree, that the
best solution for online safety is parental involvement, awareness and
The Chair: I want to thank both of you for coming. As you can hear
from the questions, we are supportive of your work and grateful that you are
doing all this work voluntarily. We wish you well and thank you for being