Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 13, Evidence - May 14, 2012
OTTAWA, Monday, May 14, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 4:02 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.
Senator Mobina S. B. Jaffer (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, this is the 15th meeting of the
Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights of the 41st Parliament. We have a
mandate from the Senate to study human rights issues in Canada and around
My name is Mobina Jaffer, and as the chair of this committee, I am
pleased to welcome you to this meeting.
I would like to welcome you to the committee. I would like to introduce
the members of the committee and I will start with the deputy chair.
Senator Brazeau: Senator Patrick Brazeau from the province of
Senator Ataullahjan: Senator Salma Ataullahjan from Ontario.
Senator Harb: Senator Mac Harb from Ontario.
The Chair: On March 15, 2001, the Senate amended its Rules to
create a new standing committee, the Standing Senate Committee on Human
Rights. This committee has a number of duties, such as educating the public,
ensuring that international laws and principles pertaining to human rights
are applied and respected, and ensuring that Canadian laws and policies are
enforced properly, in compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
On November 23, our committee submitted a report on the sexual
exploitation of children. During our study, we examined the causes of child
sexual exploitation and focused on the role played by the Internet.
It was brought to our attention that the Internet has broadened the scope
of sexual exploitation by facilitating direct and anonymous contact. After
identifying the role the Internet plays in the sexual exploitation of
children, our committee decided to look into the other ways in which the
Internet compromises the safety of our children.
On November 30, 2011, the Senate gave our committee the 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.
On November 30, 2011, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights was
authorized by the Senate to examine and report upon 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.
On April 18, 2011, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated
that mental violence as framed in article 19 of the convention can include:
Psychological bullying and hazing by adults or other children,
including via information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as
mobile phones and the Internet (known as "cyberbullying").
The permanent standing committee on human rights is aware that the face
of bullying has changed. For now, bullying has moved from classrooms and
schoolyards into the security of our homes by way of the Internet. In
addition to the social, verbal and physical abuse many children today are
forced to endure, cyberbullying is yet an additional challenge to a young
Cyberbullying is defined by the Montreal police as the posting of
threatening or degrading messages about someone using words, images and it
also includes harassment.
Cyberbullying takes place through emails, in chat rooms, discussion
groups, web sites 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 young people via email.
Over the past decade we have watched bullying move from our classrooms
and playgrounds into our homes by way of the Internet. With the popularity
and wide use of handheld devices and smartphones today, it has become very
difficult, if not impossible, to escape cyberbullies. One can make the
argument that hand held devices like BlackBerrys and iPhones have become a
part of many young people's anatomy, as they are rarely separated from these
Without protection and assistance, many children who are victims of
cyberbullying are left to face these challenges alone. Our committee intends
to examine ways in which we can protect our children.
We are pleased to welcome you to the Standing Senate Committee on Human
Rights. We look forward to your presentations. We want to thank you for
giving us your time today. I want to let people watching us to know that in
our first panel, we are being joined by Stu Auty, President of the Canadian
Safe School Network; Paul Taillefer, President of the Canadian Teachers'
Federation; Sandi Urban-Hall and David Birnbaum from the Canadian School
Boards Association; and A. Wayne MacKay, Professor and Associate Dean of
Research, Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, by video
conference. Mr. MacKay has just written a report on cyberbullying for the
provincial government of Nova Scotia.
We look forward to hearing from all of you. I understand Mr. Auty will be
Stu Auty, President, Canadian Safe School Network: Thank you for
convening today. From the Canadian Safe School Network's position, I do not
think we can really overstate the importance of what we are talking about
From my position, it is particularly pleasing that there is recognition
at this level. It appears that the Canadian government — certainly the
Canadian Senate and this committee — is looking at some form of action that
will make a difference. I am very happy to see that. I am very happy to be
part of that initiative.
I think virtually everyone understands and appreciates what bullying is
all about. That was not necessarily the case a number of years ago, as I
think most people realize and recognize. A number of years ago, it was
something that everyone supposedly went through as a young adolescent.
Hopefully, you came out the other end in one piece when you got through
adolescence, and everything was fine. There is a recognition today that is
universally accepted or becoming so, but that is not necessarily true. By
virtue of situations and what we are talking about today, this kind of a
setting underscores that reality.
The mandate of the Canadian Safe School Network is to reduce violence in
Canada's schools. Our clients are the vulnerable kids that are often the
prime targets of what we are talking about today: cyberbullying. What they
are going through in adolescence is clearly a time in their lives with peer
pressure and the need to fit in. As you can imagine, a little girl in grade
8 or a 12 year-old boy needs to fit in. Whether it is the dress that they
wear or the way that they look, it is an extremely important time of their
lives. If you could imagine these children who are the prime targets of
cyberbullying, if they are labeled — either posted on the Internet, posted
or labeled as being too fat or too thin, too big or maybe too small, or if
they are struggling with their sexual identity — these kids are potential
victims. They need to get through this time. To be posted is, in many cases,
a form of torture for some of them. If you are an LGTB young person and you
are faced with identifying yourself in one sexual reference or another, you
can imagine the difficulty there. We know that suicide now is not uncommon.
We are hearing about it today; we did not hear about it yesterday. I think
that underscores the sort of impact that cyberbullying really has.
The Canadian Safe School Network works at achieving its mandate through
early intervention and prevention. The reason why we focused on early
intervention and prevention is quite simple: the earlier you get to children
having behavioural difficulties or difficulties of some sort in school, the
better chance you have of turning them around. Once they learn the
difference between right and wrong — and maybe they do not get it at home or
on the street, but maybe at school — when these children turn 15, 16, 17 or
18 years old and get into conflict, it is highly unlikely that they will
pick up a gun or a knife to solve a conflict because they know the
difference between right and wrong.
The Canadian Safe School Network focuses on early intervention. We do
programs for young children that focus on values. Values taught at schools,
if not at home, can have a tremendous impact on the future of our children.
To give you a bit of background about our organization, the Canadian Safe
School Network, we host safe school professional development conferences
across the country. We provide teacher training institutes for these issues.
We develop safe school classroom resources for grades JK to 12 and provide
behavioral modification classroom instruction to junior elementary schools.
We also have our ear to the ground through a web-based Q and A forum called
"When Nobody's Listening," which provides guidance and direction to
victims of bullying from around the world.
Quite frankly, we started that a number of years ago. We get a number of
hits internationally, from all over the place. There is little difference
between what is going on in other countries and in Canada; it is very
similar. Children are trying to get through life and, all of a sudden, they
are being blocked for some reason or another because of how they are being
I can tell you that cyberbullying is at the head of the list. We talk
about the physical bullying of the past and verbalization of problems that
one child has for another and other conflicts, but cyberbullying is at the
head of the list as far as we are concerned. The kind of information and the
hits that we get from all over the place indicate that it heads the list.
What can be done about this? That was the question. I understand I had
about five minutes, so I will maintain the five minutes.
What can we do? What can be done? My organization has looked at this. As
we all know, this is a very complex problem. From our position as an
organization that has been dealing with these kinds of issues for a number
of years, we know that we are not sufficient to the task any longer. We have
do not have the tools that we used to have to be able to develop. I
mentioned earlier about the resources we have. We develop resources for
school and train and that sort of thing, but we are not up to the task. With
cyberbullying we require new tools, we really do — tools that come from two
forms of identified regulations that we see are needed in this country. We
also need the political will. I do not know what the Standing Senate
Committee on Human Rights can do about political will, but maybe you can
shove it in the right direction in terms of Parliament. We are looking at
currently Canada's criminal harassment law that we do not think measured up.
The prohibitive conduct within the act does not sufficiently address, if it
addresses at all, electronically communicated messaging with a profoundly
I will repeat that. When you think about how antiquated that act is,
Canada's criminal harassment law does not measure up. The prohibitive within
the act does not sufficiently address, if at all, electronically
communicated messaging. That needs to change. I am not a lawyer, but it is a
simple thing in terms of Parliament saying let us change it, let us make a
difference, let us deal with this issue within the harassment act we
currently have. There is an amendment needed for that act.
The second recommendation that we are focusing on is there does not
appear to be an effective vehicle to allow service providers to remove
negative postings. You think about the importance of a negative posting.
When a little girl or a little boy gets posted on the Internet — for that
matter, if anyone gets posted on the Internet — the first reaction they have
is "get it off." There is no way to do that right now. We cannot get it
off. When you think about what bullying is, the standard definition of
bullying is that it is repeated. It is a repeated action that is negative
and that impacts people repeatedly.
Legally, if you post something, as I understand it — again, I am not a
lawyer — that is a one-off thing. It is on there. It is not repeated, is it?
It is once. Here is where the repetition comes in. It does not go away. The
impact of that negative posting is hurtful, time and time and time again.
When you think about that, something needs to be done about it. I cannot
tell you what, but I can tell you the result I would like to see is to get
it off; that is, some way that government, school boards, in particular
schools, teachers, parents can get that negative posting off.
I did a little research on our behalf on the harassment side of things,
and I have attached a couple of examples that may or may not be helpful for
this committee. One is the Massachusetts criminal harassment law, section
43A. I will not go into it; I am not an expert. However, in Massachusetts
they have done something to do something about this and they have created a
criminal harassment law that engages these kinds of electronic messaging.
That is in Massachusetts.
In Wisconsin, there is the Wisconsin unlawful use of computers law. They
have dealt with it. They have itemized the prohibitive areas we do not deal
with in Canada's harassment act.
Other civilized parts of the world are dealing with this. Canada can
surely be another one of those civilized parts of the world. It is just a
matter of getting the political will to do it.
Suffice it to say that if you as an organization focus on two things. The
summary is that we from the CSSN are asking that the Standing Senate
Committee on Human Rights recommend legislation to Canada's Parliament
first, to enforce service providers to remove negative postings and, second,
to change Canada's criminal harassment law to effectively address
The Chair: We appreciate your presentation. We will now hear from
the Canadian Teachers' Federation.
Paul Taillefer, President, Canadian Teachers' Federation: Thank
you, Madam Chair. I am accompanied today by Mr. Myles Ellis, Acting Deputy
Secretary General of the CTF.
By way of introduction, the Canadian Teachers' Federation is a national
bilingual voice representing some 200,000 teachers in Canada. We have 16
provincial and territorial member organizations and one affiliate member. We
are happy today to be part of the discussion on issues related to the misuse
and abuse of information and communications technology, in particular the
evolving digital technologies and social media.
At the CTF we have been looking at this for quite some time. We have
defined "cyberbullying" as "the use of information and communication
technologies to bully, embarrass, threaten or harass another person." It
also includes the use of these technologies to engage in conduct or
behaviour that is derogatory, defamatory, degrading or illegal.
The CTF began, as I said, addressing this issue in 2007. At our annual
general meeting in 2008, we adopted a comprehensive policy aimed at
addressing cyberbullying across Canada. The guiding principles are based on
the premise that safe and caring schools that promote healthy workplaces for
teachers and healthy learning environments for children and youth should be
a national priority. Individual rights to freedom of information and the
right to free thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of
the press and other media of communication, must be balanced with the rights
and responsibilities of children and youth and those who are placed in
positions of trust to protect them. The CTF policy speaks heavily to the
need for education as the key element in addressing, preventing and
protecting students and teachers from cyber-related harm. It also speaks to
the roles and responsibilities of parents, guardians, schools, school
boards, school districts, teachers, students, teacher organizations,
ministries of education and government.
In 2008, we put out a survey on national issues in education. It revealed
that over three quarters of Canadians were familiar with the term
"cyberbullying." That number is probably higher today. We also asked
Canadians if they knew of a student in their community who had been
cyberbullied in the course of the previous year. One third of Canadians
surveyed said, "yes," and 16 per cent said they knew of a teacher in their
community who had been the target of cyberbullying. That was in 2008.
Canadian teachers ranked this issue as their highest concern among six
issues surveyed. Whatever has been done in Canada by way of research,
legislation and task forces to date, in our opinion is not enough. Too often
we have witnessed tragic outcomes of bullying in terms of mental illness and
In a survey conducted in February this year, the Canadian Teachers'
Federation asked teachers for their perspectives on student mental health
issues in their schools. We asked them which of the following issues were
pressing concerns in their schools. In my presentation, there is a graph.
Among the most pressing concerns identified by teacher respondents were
attention deficit disorders, learning disabilities, stress, and anxiety
disorders. We also asked them about the potential barriers to providing
mental health services for students in their schools. Not surprisingly, most
teachers said there are insufficient numbers of school-based mental health
Teachers were also asked how frequently they have seen a student being
treated unfairly, bullied or teased as a result of having a mental health
problem, and 21 per cent of teachers surveyed said they have frequently seen
a student being treated unfairly, bullied or teased as a result of having a
mental health problem. Only 17 per cent of teachers could say they had never
witnessed unfair treatment because of a mental health problem.
A few weeks ago, Dr. Patrick Bailey of the Mental Health Commission of
Canada spoke at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for the
Practical Study of Law and Education, CAPSLE, held in Ottawa. He made the
link between bullying and mental health. He explained how the history of
victimization and poor social relationships predicts the onset of emotional
problems in adolescents and how previous recurrent emotional problems are
significantly related to future victimization. He described the typical
victim and bully, who are likely to suffer from a mental health disability.
He said that the typical bully is one who exhibits significant externalizing
behaviour; has internalizing symptoms; has both social competence and
academic challenges; possesses negative attitudes and beliefs about others;
has negative self-related cognitions; comes from a family environment
characterized by conflict and poor parental monitoring; is more likely to
perceive his or her school as having a negative atmosphere; is influenced by
negative community factors; and tends to be negatively influenced by his or
her peers. He also said that the relative probability of having a
psychiatric disorder was 9.5 times greater for male bullies, 7.9 times
greater for male bully victims and 4.3 times greater for female victims.
Study after study shows a direct correlation between bullying mental
health issues and academic achievement. Teachers want to intervene at the
earliest possible time but need the support of the federal, provincial and
territorial governments and school boards. It is time that a formal national
conversation took place among governments, educational stakeholders and
private ICT providers. The industry needs to hear firsthand the issues that
schools, families and communities face in trying to address the issue of
cyberbullying. Stakeholders need to hear what ICT providers are doing to
address the concern and what they are prepared to commit to as part of their
responsibilities. Government needs to play a role in bringing parties
together and facilitating change.
The CTF has presented briefs on a number of occasions to parliamentary
committees and has met with Justice Canada officials urging for amendments
to the Criminal Code to address online harassment, cyberstalking and
We have a number of recommendations that we would like to put forward at
this time. Canadian teachers are seeking the support of the Government of
Canada — Justice, Health, Public Safety, Industry Canada, among others — in
recognizing the extreme impact of the misuse of technology manifested in
cybermisconduct and cyberbullying by supporting public awareness and
education campaigns that focus on appropriate cyberconduct and the
prevention of cyberbullying; by supporting amendments to the regulatory
framework for the rating of films and video games to reduce the possibility
of excessively violent products being sold to children and youth; by
supporting amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada that make it clear that
the use of information and communication technology to convey a message that
threatens death or bodily harm or perpetuates fear and intimidation in
another constitutes a punishable offence under the Criminal Code; by helping
to enact new information and communication technology, cybermisconduct and
cyberbullying legislation that protects teachers, students and others from
harm; and by facilitating through regulation and legislation an incentive
national dialogue with corporate ICT providers aimed at developing a common
cause between private and public sectors in addressing cyberbullying. That
would be a large step forward to putting an end to cyberbullying.
As was suggested recently with the release of the Mental Health Strategy
for Canada by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the government should
support the development of a national strategy in addressing bullying,
including cyberbullying. A first step would be to orchestrate that national
symposium of educational stakeholders and community leaders where the
beginning steps would be taken to ensure that there was a consistency in
approach across the nation. As part of Canada's commitment to the United
Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, every youth, regardless of
where they live in Canada, deserves the right to live in a community and
attend a school that is a safe place.
I thank you for having us here today. We look forward to continuing this
The Chair: Thank you for your presentation. Certainly, we will
look at your recommendations.
We will now hear from the Canadian School Boards Association.
Sandi Urban-Hall, President-Elect, Canadian School Boards Association:
Thank you and good afternoon, Madam Chair and senators.
The Canadian School Boards Association is a national organization whose
members are the provincial school boards association. We represent over 250
school boards, serving more than 3 million elementary and secondary students
across Canada. Much of the work that we do as a national organization is the
sharing of information and best practices, having a national conversation
around many issues that affect students in our provincial education systems.
With me today is David Birnbaum, Executive Director of Quebec English
Boards Association. My colleagues from Nova Scotia, in that spirit of
information sharing, highly recommended to their national colleagues the
work of Wayne MacKay, The Report of the Nova Scotia Task Force on
Bullying and Cyberbullying, which was published recently.
Particularly in Mr. MacKay's work, you will note that there has been a
review of legislation, school policy and practice, law and research, in a
variety of jurisdictions, which provide a meaningful and overarching view
that is meaningful in law, legislation and life.
I would also ask you to look at the shift in definition that Mr. MacKay
has put out in his work. Bullying is typically a repeated behaviour that is
intended to cause or should be known to cause fear, intimidation,
humiliation, distress or other forms of harm to another person's body,
feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property. Bullying can be direct or
indirect and can take place by written, verbal, physical or electronic means
or other form of expression.
Cyberbullying, also referred to as electronic bullying, is a form of
bullying and occurs through the use of technology. This can include the use
of a computer or other electronic devices, using social networks, text
messaging, instant messaging, websites, email or other electronic means. A
person participates in bullying if he or she directly carries out the
behaviour or assists or encourages the behaviour in any way.
It has only been recently that bullying has been perceived as a
relationship problem and therefore requires relationship outcomes. It is a
form of aggression that is played out within the relationship, where one
individual asserts interpersonal power over another. Within this
relationship, one child is learning how to use power and aggression to
control or distress another, while the other child is repeatedly victimized
and can increasingly become entrapped in abusive relationships.
There is an irony that there is an increasing awareness of the effects of
bullying and cyberbullying within our society, however the increase of
violence and the instability of relationships is increasing and accepted.
The public, including the publicly funded education system, has an
obligation to intervene and support both the bullied and the bullying. We
must teach children about rights, responsibilities and relationships:
whether bullying occurs on the school grounds or not, the effects of the
bullying come to school.
The goal of boards of education is to provide environments where
excellence in learning is a priority and everyone feels included. We believe
that all students, parents and guardians, staff, volunteers and visitors
have a right to be safe and feel safe in their schools. Students are
encouraged and indeed expected to take responsibility for their behaviours
and accept the consequences of their actions.
While individual school divisions have specific strategies, there are
common themes that are based in research and data that I would invite that
we explore together in our conversation following the formal presentations.
A clearly defined and well-communicated set of values and expectations
are foundational. Schools use a variety of educational proactive programs to
teach values and appropriate behaviours to help students learn the
importance of making positive choices.
Prevention and awareness are a long-term investment, and unfortunately it
is one of those things that are not seen by the public. Often the work of
school boards across Canada, the work of my colleagues here, goes unseen.
It is important for you to know that schools respond to student
behaviours that pose a potential risk to the health and well-being of other
students, staff and members of their community. Much of that work remains
unseen, as it happens in a respectful modelling environment by our classroom
teachers and school-based administrators. Very public, zero-tolerance
policies, while having the perception of doing something, do not work.
Ensuring safe schools requires far more than just threat assessments or
harsh discipline. It requires evidence-based, preventative safe school
climate initiatives, strong staff/student relationships, ongoing training
and refining all policies, procedures and protocol that promote socially
David Birnbaum, Executive Director, Quebec English Boards Association,
Canadian School Boards Association: As the representative of the Quebec
English Boards Association, which works closely with our Canadian School
Boards Association, we would want to point to two experiences we have had
and invite your questions later on those, and urge you to instruct your work
by one or two fundamental priorities that have become clear to us.
The first would be that all of these technologies are both an opportunity
as well as a threat. Too many of our debates, be they legislative, moral,
behavioural or educational, seem to be narrowly focused on this omnipresent
technology and its threat to our young people.
It is our understanding that, first, the one reality we know is that
technology will remain omnipresent. We do not have the choice to remove it.
The choice we do have is to find ways to embrace it and to circumscribe its
negative effects when they are there. The Quebec English Boards Association
has had two opportunities to examine those questions, first through a task
force we would put together called Towards Empowerment, Respect and
Accountability, Report and Recommendations on the Impact of the Internet and
Related Technologies on English Public Schools in Quebec.
We were privileged to have on that committee Professor Shaheen Shariff,
who reported to this committee at an earlier session, as well as the
sergent détective from the Sûreté du Québec, Quebec's provincial police
That was one of the key messages they had for us, that the technology
must be understood, examined and, as you have heard and I am sure will
continue to hear, be circumscribed and legislated. The providers of those
technologies have to be empowered and obliged to offer oversight and
cooperation with police forces when necessary. However, beyond that, you are
dealing with behaviours that were always present and are now adapted in some
dangerous and some very positive ways by our children. We would urge you to
take on the difficult job of understanding that you cannot look at the
problem without the possibilities. If you are doing both, the scope and
limits of legislation are quite evident. As you have heard, they are part of
it, but they are not all of it.
If I might, a couple of the concerns that perhaps belong more in the
provincial jurisdiction of education, but important for you to understand,
is the information gap that so contributes to some of the problems we are
Our parents do not understand, to the same extent their kids do, how
these technologies work. They do not understand them either as a threat or
as an opportunity. They do not know how to talk to their kids about it. Our
teachers must have the tools so they can fully embrace these technologies
and be backed by their school board leadership and their governments, we
agree, in implementing those technologies, but it starts with the
professional development that brings us to a place we have never been
before, which is to catch up with our kids. They understand this stuff
better than we do, and if we are going to work with them and guide them, we
will have to understand it just as well.
I guess the final principle we point to, and our national president
mentioned it, is to urge you, at all points in considering legislation and
policies, a national discussion — which we heartily agree is prescribed at
this point — and to, at the same time, recognize the limits of that
discussion, and most particularly to recognize and acknowledge, despite
perhaps the better instincts of our generation, the absolute limits on
discipline in this question.
As Professor Shariff would have told you, that in itself cannot be the
answer. It has to be discipline in context, focused on the perpetrators and
always coupled with education so that replacement and appropriate behaviours
are learned. It is a big job and it does not stop with legislation, but that
certainly is one of the components.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We will now go on to questions. I
will first ask for a clarification.
Ms. Urban-Hall: I am not sure if Mr. MacKay had comments.
The Chair: He will be answering questions and we are hoping to
bring him back. Thank you.
I just wanted a clarification, starting with Mr. Auty from the Canadian
Safe School Network. You talked about your clients being the most vulnerable
kids, who are often targets for cyberbullying. You did define a little bit
later on as to what "vulnerable" is. Then I would like to connect that to
what Mr. Taillefer said about bullying. Your study shows there is a direct
correlation between bullying, mental health issues and academic achievement.
I would like it if you could expand on those two.
To start with you, Mr. Auty, can you define who you see as vulnerable
children? You touched on the issue of sexual orientation, but then there are
the other minorities as well. I would like you to expand on that.
Mr. Auty: Children who are vulnerable are often victims, as I
mentioned earlier. If you can imagine, that can be created. Vulnerability
can be in one setting for a child in an elementary school, for example, a
happy setting. They have friends and they are popular. The child moves. She
is an adolescent girl looking at boys, and boys looking at her. She goes to
another school and all of a sudden she is on the outside looking in. She is
vulnerable. Why is she vulnerable in one school and not in another? That is
a reality. Circumstances can sometimes dictate vulnerability and LGBT kids
are clearly vulnerable because of their sexual orientation. If they are
openly gay or lesbian in a school setting, they are a minority. They are
historically vulnerable and victims of society, generally speaking. Those
children fall into that category.
We can go on. In some cases it is popularity. Kids can be bullied because
they are popular, because they are not. It depends upon the circumstance.
Most children in schools are to some degree, greater or lesser, vulnerable
to this situation and they cannot be complacent. Parents cannot be
complacent, for example, when their children move from setting to setting,
because the circumstances change. When they change, it can be very
Imagine the difficulty in dealing with these circumstances if you are
LGBT. There is a program in the United States called It Gets Better. There
is some debate about that term. The reason for the debate is that when you
are a 12-year- old in grade 8 and going into grade 9, a year is a lifetime.
It gets better? They want it solved now. It gets better. When you think of
grade 12, they have looked at their high school career ahead of them and now
they are basically being tortured, but it gets better. Kids do not
understand that. There is no understanding of that. They are extraordinarily
vulnerable. Kids simply give up and that is when the suicide tendencies come
The Chair: Maybe I am being too simplistic. You said it may be
different from one school to another. Would it be too simplistic to say that
vulnerable children are those who do not fit in?
Mr. Auty: Yes, for whatever reason. It could be cultural or a
minority setting. They simply do not fit in. They want to fit in. Peer
pressure is extraordinary. They want to be part of the team in any way. They
will wear the same clothing. There is great debate about school uniforms and
why the Catholic school has uniforms. Part of the success of the school
uniform business is because kids all fit in. There is no competition where
children have more money than other children, can afford better clothing and
are not vulnerable to being identified. Yes, fitting in, being part of a
minority and not being part of a minority, all have impacts.
In terms of the mental health issues, you can imagine that in any school
setting, it mirrors the population; 12 to 15 per cent of kids in schools
have mental health issues and 12 to 15 per cent of people in society have
mental health issues. Think about that. Think about a victim that fits into
that category of a mental health issue and of how awkward that can be. Think
of how difficult and explosive that can be. We know that kids who have been
victimized and bullied over time get angry, and I have often talked about
victims becoming victimizers. There is a thread that goes down the line
where you have been. There has been the shooter in the school and in many
cases, they have been the victims and become victimizers.
There are two equalizers. The first equalizer that raised its head was
the fact that kids got access to weapons. That became one big deal. The
little kid who was the victim and did not have the ability to deal with the
big bully all of a sudden got a gang behind him and that became power. The
little kid then got the weapon behind him. Now the little kid has the
cyberspace behind him. Extraordinary. That is what we are talking about
You are looking at an elevation of issues here that has begun in real
time, very recently. This is a brand new issue in real time. We are dealing
with that. You have kids that are learning about power now. The social media
network, the understanding, and the communication that is out there today
are everywhere. Kids know everything. However, by knowing everything, do
they have the wisdom? That is the other part of it. Kids have access to
electronics, but they are babies. They are adolescents. They are not wise.
They do not know how to use this information.
When they go on Facebook, they have friends. Everyone wants friends, but
can you deal with 300 friends who know the intimate details of your life,
world, pictures and all of that? I do not think so. Kids who have that many
friends often do not have wisdom. That is part and parcel of what I have
been talking about as a background. I do not know if that answers your
Mr. Taillefer: It is important when we look at this that it is a
problem that has wide-ranging and long-term consequences. We have studies
that show most adults who have mental health problems were developed in
their teenage years. When kids are victimized at school and there is a
history of victimization, they enter into poor social relationships.
As my colleague said, they become targets. They are the weak and become
targets. This is something that will affect them for their whole life, so it
is very important. We see it in the academic achievement that drops off and
in their inability to develop relationships and so on. It will last their
whole life. That is why it is important to get in there and intervene as
early as possible to make sure we can support those kids, and work with
children who are having problems understanding what boundaries they should
not go beyond or how they should be a little more responsible with things.
The big thing about cyberbullying is that some people consider it a
victimless crime because you do not see the reaction of the person who is
being attacked; you do not understand the pain that you are inflicting, and
so you cannot feel any kind of remorse for that. It is just an exercise of
putting up some words on a screen. We are looking at making sure to educate
and support children as early as possible.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentation. I have a
couple of questions. I do not know how many I will be allowed to ask.
It was interesting to hear you, Mr. Auty, as a parent and someone who
proposed this study specifically because of the conversations that I had
with my children. I saw what was happening to some of their friends in the
social media. How do we involve parents? We keep hearing the statistics and
surveys. All the experts agree that the best solution for online safety is
parental involvement, to be aware and vigilant. How do we get parents
involved? How do we get them to talk to their children and see what their
kids are doing online?
Mr. Auty: If we can solve that, it is the biggest bang for your
buck — to get parents involved. There is no question about it. It does not
matter whether it is a child going through behavioural difficulties in
school if you can get the parent onside just to work with the teacher. We
have worked at this for many years, trying to get parents involved. It is a
tough nut to crack; there is no doubt about it. Public awareness campaigns,
encouragement in every possible venue, put some dollars into it and some
emphasis on it and you can come up with any number of strategies.
It is important to simply have the will to engage parents. See them as a
priority. Too often parents, quite frankly, feel that they are being left
out. Often they do not feel as though they are akin to the school system.
They are sort of on the outside looking in. They are not sure whether or not
they should test the waters and get involved. Will they cause more problems
for their children? That is an understandable concern that they might have.
It is a tricky kind of thing to get parents involved and it is not one
solution. It is not a cookie jar kind of concept here where one solution
fits all. It is not. People come from different cultures and have different
attitudes and expectations; the environment they come from is different and
their economic situation is different, too.
My general answer to a complex question is that it is one of the most
difficult questions to answer out there; it is one of the most important
questions. It needs a focus from government and community and an
understanding of the importance and the value of involving parents. Without
a doubt, we can make an inroad there with a focus. There is no doubt about
that. When you put a focus on it, you will capture parents. You have to put
a lot of focus on it. That is my short answer.
Ms. Urban-Hall: One of the fundamental things that schools try to
do is to build an inclusive environment that is inclusive of all people. By
being inclusive, it makes the school population, the students, less
vulnerable. Part of that would be ensuring that the school is culturally
responsive and inclusive of the community. That is part of the aspect to the
question that you are asking.
Schools reach out and try to build relationships with parents, both on
the achievement side as well as the behaviour supports. One of the biggest
factors in a student's success is the relationship with family and community
and the support of family and community. Schools with family and community
are the strategy when everything comes together to wrap around students to
do that. That has to take place in one-on-one conversations between the
parent and the school — and it might be the classroom teacher or the
school-based administrator — so that if you, as a parent, do not feel that
you have the tools to have the conversation with your child, there is a
resource for you. You should also tap into that because there are
conversations happening in the classroom around positive behaviours,
positive choices and what happens when you do not make a positive choice.
As an example of the worst-case scenario in that kind of response-type
work that is happening, I would point to an example of Saskatchewan public
schools. They have reached out to their community, to the police, to social
services and to justice, and they came up with a community threat assessment
and support protocol. It is an agreement with all those supports in the
community coming together and giving tools to each other on how to best
support each other in working with students and supporting them, as well as
the teachers who are working with the kids, as well as each other.
With that, and to the point that I spoke to before, when there is the
expectation of very public consequence, for example, a suspension or
something like that, and it does not happen, there is a perception that
either the school or the community is not doing anything. By broadening the
conversation, you start to see and understand that there are things
happening. What are those? It is relationship based. The problem is
relationship based and the solution is relationship based.
The Chair: Professor MacKay, would you like to add to this?
A. Wayne MacKay, Professor and Associate Dean of Research, Schulich
School of Law, Dalhousie University: Perhaps I will start by picking up
on Ms. Urban-Hall's last point. The title of my report obviously focuses on
respectful and responsible relationships; there is no app for that. I agree
it is relationship based.
The other point I would make is that you need to proceed on many
different fronts. In one sense you can think of it as a trinity response in
terms of legal changes, preventive proactive measures and education. You
have to proceed on all of those and many different parts of community are
involved. There is no question about that.
There are a couple of things I would add, because I know your time is
short. First, I would be happy to come back because it is hard to know what
to pick on when you have been immersed in this for a year and have 85
recommendations. A couple of thoughts relating to federal jurisdictions
struck me. I understand your members have my report.
Recommendation 23, on page 47, suggests that there be protocols developed
between Human Rights Commissions and education authorities to deal with
issues of harassment and cyberbullying and bullying. That, in part, builds
on the experience in Australia, where they do that quite effectively. It did
strike me in preparing for today's session that maybe something your
committee could think about, since it is the committee on human rights, is
whether there is some equivalent role for the Canadian Human Rights
Commission. Could the Canadian Human Rights Commission, given that
cyberbullying crosses jurisdictions, have some role there? That partly
relates back to a question you asked about who are the victims or who are
the vulnerable. While it is not exclusively those groups listed in human
rights codes, often it is in terms of young women, gays, lesbians, visible
minorities, and so on, but not exclusively.
In our study, we had an online survey with 5,000 responses, which is
unheard of for these kinds of surveys, 60 per cent of them being young
people. The number one basis that they identified for being bullied was
looking different, which has a range of things, including race, Aboriginal
origin, whatever. That was the first thing.
We also had a number of youth focus groups throughout the province. They
identified far and away the top category being LBGT; that is, being gay was
the major identifier for those who are victims of bullying. Those are a
couple of general comments. I hope I will have some more opportunities to
come back and talk about some of the federal aspects of this.
Hopefully, I will have more opportunities to come back and talk about
some of the federal aspects of this.
The Chair: Senator Ataullahjan, may I put you on the second round?
Senator Ataullahjan: Sure.
Senator Zimmer: Mr. Auty, I would like to ask you two questions
and then I have two more to get on the second round.
How exactly can we, as the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights,
help the process of Senate hearings engage Parliament to make the changes in
Canada's criminal harassment legislation? Simply put, what is the political
process to engage the change and make it happen, to be able to alter the act
of cyberbullying through the current criminal harassment act in the way in
which we can deal with it?
Mr. Auty: As a non-politician, I am assuming you would know more
about that than I do. However, as an observer, I would suggest that this
committee could make a recommendation to Parliament. Whether it is an
all-party scenario or partisan — the majority of the aisle or everyone — I
would like to think something coming out of this committee would not be
partisan and that it would go to the appropriate parliamentary structure
that would be tasked with coming up with a bill. First, that bill would be
to create an amendment to the current Criminal Code dealing with harassment.
There are structures within Parliament that deal with that and deal with
the mechanics of how to do that. I do not know the mechanics, but I do know
that committees like this are here to shine the light on issues like this.
Presumably there is a conduit that goes from here, to Parliament, to a bill,
to a vote and the enactment of that bill. I think there is the political
will behind that. You probably know more about this than I do, but
presumably there is a powerful individual or individuals out there that will
see the recommendations coming out of this committee and they will want to
act on it because it is right and it is good.
Senator Zimmer: How can Parliament influence service providers to
remove postings that have ongoing cyberbullying impacts, for example,
Google? What can the Canadian government do to influence these Internet
service providers to address the removal of postings detrimental to kids on
Mr. Auty: We are talking about Google, Yahoo, Facebook and You
Tube. There have been removals because of a high profile danger out there.
Presumably if the Canadian government presented a bill that dealt with that
posting business, I am assuming you would have to engage the provider in
some kind of perhaps enforcement scenario, whereby a provider would be
required to remove under certain circumstances; and you could create certain
circumstances that would provide for such a request. That is quickly off the
top. You would put some great minds behind it figure out to think how to get
Google to move and influence Mark Zuckerberg. There are ways of doing it;
and great minds could figure it out. It is important. We know that the
Internet is seamless, and we are trying to get through the seams to open it
up so that governments can act. Maybe the Government of Canada will take the
initiative and get into the dirt to do something. That would be a good
Senator Ataullahjan: I have been following what is happening in
the world of cyberbullying in Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand seems
to be way ahead. From what I understand, they have an Internet Explorer that
is capable of imposing fines, and people who are bullied can ask for
apologies. As well, the offender's Internet account can be terminated. In
Canada could we look at something like that?
Mr. Auty: Why not? If the train has left the station, let us get
on it. If people are doing it, they have obviously done some legal legwork
that says it is possible. If they can do it in New Zealand, then it is
moving and things are happening. If Canada comes on board, that is power.
You have added countries to these issues, which is significant. I am happy
to hear that.
Mr. Birnbaum: I would remind you that you are saddled with, as we
are as teachers, the dual reality of this. You have a relative democracy in
Myanmar because of the same technology that empowers cyberbullies. You have
the Arab Spring as a result of the same technology that resulted in the
suicide of a number of vulnerable kids in Canada. The answers are going to
One area we would urge you to think about, and it is not clear whether
there is a legislative avenue but the Government of Canada has jurisdiction
over telecommunications to a great extent, is some kind of information
campaign that helps us build allies out of current adversaries. The bully,
like the student who is vulnerable, needs to understand that his or her
imprint on the Internet is not invisible. There is not the full shield of
anonymity. In Montreal, it took a few hours for those students, who shut
down our metro system due to a student boycott of tuition systems, to be
arrested and evidence to be gathered from the technologies we are talking
about here. We do not think our parents or our kids understand that well
We would urge you in your search for legislative solutions to also look
at other avenues, including communication strategies for the Government of
Canada. Those are to remind people that some of the dynamics, as a number of
people here have said already, were there. The paradigm shifted, but the
dynamics were there before. Some of the most successful education strategies
that we have seen have involved the perpetrators themselves, for example,
methods of responsibility circles where the bully is confronted by his or
her fellow students and made to understand what he or she has done. They
We have worked very closely in Quebec with Chris Nilan, a former Montreal
Canadiens hockey enforcer, who is speaking in our schools. You have all seen
Brian Burke, General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, provide an atypical
role model for tolerance, understanding and acceptance of differences. We
would accept that, as has been suggested, the solutions are very complex and
not immediate. Among them are doing the things we can to help Canadians
understand and feel empowered about the tools we are talking about; and that
is not easy.
Mr. MacKay: I will address the last two questions. First, my
recommendation 43 in Nova Scotia, which was provincial, suggested that
provincial authorities talk with their federal counterparts about the
Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission to deal with
their regulations of Internet service providers, which could lead to things
such as postings and so on. That is a big issue. As pointed out, these
things are complicated because while you want it removed to stop the injury,
as a matter of evidence, people often have it removed too quickly so they do
not have the evidence to proceed with criminal or other prosecution. How
those things get handled is important. I would suggest that.
The second point picks up on Mr. Birnbaum's point on communications. One
response out of Nova Scotia to date in Bill 31 dealing with these things out
of the report has been to launch a significant communications program
designed to convince people that bullying is not cool and is not the way to
go. There could be a significant role for the federal people there as well.
Last, on this intervention, I did not mention in the earlier one the
importance or the centrality of involving young people, one of the major
themes in my report. Certainly, we need to involve parents, teachers, school
boards and the others assembled around the table today. However, probably
the key players are young people themselves. Restorative approaches and
peer-dominated mediation probably offers the most promising responses
because, frankly, they are much more willing to listen to their peers about
this than they are to listen to adults.
My final point is that it is good that there are good role models, but I
identify a few bad role models in the media and elsewhere in my report that
maybe are not so good.
Senator Zimmer: I have a comment. I forgot to thank all of you for
your presentations today and what you are doing to deal with this cowardly
act. You are very right; the scars left on the victims are immeasurable and
last forever. Thank you.
Senator Meredith: Mr. Birnbaum, you talked about engaging the
perpetrators and ensuring that they take responsibility. Others would say,
"What happens when my child is the one who committed suicide because of the
action of that perpetrator?" How do we draw that line and say, "Yes, we want
to engage you, but there are some consequences here?"
Mr. Birnbaum: Duly noted. I did not mean to suggest that there is
not a role and an essential one for discipline. It was the advice we got, by
the way, from the sergeant detective of the Quebec police force when we put
the report together.
One cannot look for the full answer in discipline and sanctions. On the
other hand, if any other approach will be meaningful, you need to give the
parents and the community the confidence that when there is an incident that
clearly crosses legal and criminal lines, that the action is swift and the
cooperation we have talked about between police forces, school
administrations, municipal authorities and so on is there. Then, the proper
sanctions would have been exercised. I guess we are talking about the vast
majority of incidents where kids suffer but the line or the identification
of a criminal act might remain impossible. In those situations, what will
one do beyond turning to the law? We think there are steps to take there.
Ms. Urban-Hall: There is a spectrum that needs to be recognized, I
guess, within the strategies to deal with the person bullying. At one end of
the spectrum, it is that school climate of behaving respectfully and
responsibly and the immediate intervention on this behaviour caused this and
there is that classroom small piece, all the way through where it may, in
some cases, end up with a student being expelled and there being criminal
The important piece is that we need to try to find a way to balance that
situation we find ourselves in of not overreacting or under reacting and to
provide tools to community members and to folks within the school system on
how to judge what is the appropriate response.
Again, I would refer to the protocol that Saskatoon public boards put
together. You can find it on their website. It gives some really crisp
examples of at what point you go different directions. Ultimately, kids are
learning the behaviour somewhere, and that is that big old world. We have to
provide them with tools to make the best decisions sooner.
As for the parent whose child has attempted suicide or has succeeded in
the act, I cannot imagine the pain that family is experiencing. There is
nothing that will satisfy the need that parent has. All we can do is put as
many supports in front of that act to interfere with the bullying action, as
well as to identify the kids who are susceptible and showing risk-type
behaviours of hurting themselves, withdrawing, starting to display signs of
mental illness or distress. We need to have strategies that address both
groups of students.
Mr. Taillefer: You have been sitting here hearing from people for
quite a while. You have heard about a number of issues. You have heard
legislative issues. You have heard some very personal stories. You have
heard of how different groups are dealing with it.
I would suggest that we have a very complex situation here. I think what
we need to look at is how all those pieces can fit together. The two words I
would put forward for you are "coordination" and "consistency." I think
there are a lot of organizations that are trying to work towards finding
solutions at all different levels, and some of them have partnerships. Those
partnerships are not necessarily fully connected. What we need to be looking
at is how to bring all the stakeholders together to deal with this, the
legislative issues. That is one thing that needs to be dealt with. I think
everyone has touched on that. That is the involvement of government.
Then we have to deal with the technology issues. Service providers have
to be in on the conversation. They have a responsibility. They have to step
up to the plate and be part of the conversation to fully understand what
they are doing beyond their responsibility to their shareholders and their
profit margin. They have to understand what is happening to kids and what
their responsibility is as far as being a good corporate citizen. They have
to be in there.
Teachers, school boards and all the education stakeholders must be in on
the conversation as well. If we do not coordinate our efforts and if we do
not come at it in concert and with a clear vision, we will be biting away at
the edges of this for a long time to come.
Senator Meredith: To that point, Mr. Taillefer, you talked about
the school boards and the educators. Are there enough allocated resources? I
know school boards are cutting back in certain areas, and we have heard
individuals say they do not have enough time or staff members to dedicate to
this topic of bullying.
How do we get them to get the message that this is important? Young
people's lives are at stake here. Those resources need to be allocated, cut
back in other areas, but this is about preservation of life. How do we get
that message across?
Mr. Taillefer: There are two elements to the answer. One is
definitely resources. In this day and age, those are few and far between.
You noted cutbacks; everyone is experiencing that these days.
We could say, yes, we need more resources, and that would not be a false
statement. However, we also have to look at how to build a culture of
support within those organizations. It cannot be a one-off thing.
We have heard of great presentations being made in schools where people
come and they give testimony about how cyberbullying and those things have
affected them, destroyed their families. Students leave there a little
sober, then they go out and have fun over the weekend and it is gone. Those
presentations are great, but they are a one-off. We have to instill a
culture in those institutions where everyone supports the notion of a safe
school and everyone gets behind it.
Mr. MacKay: If I could add something on that last question. First,
on the very last point, again, not to suggest my report has all the answers:
it does not, by any means.
Senator Meredith: Are you sure it does not have all of them?
Mr. MacKay: Definitely not. In terms of the resources, one
recommendation we did make that has been adopted by the Nova Scotia
government is appointing an anti-bullying coordinator to respond in part to
your good question about when we want to do something but do not have the
resources. We have heard from a lot of well-intentioned school boards and
teachers, saying they want to do more but they do not know how, they need
the education, and they do not have the resources. That is only a start, but
at least that is one thing in the right direction.
The Chair: Professor MacKay, could that person be the children's
commissioner that some countries have?
Mr. MacKay: It could take all kinds of different forms, although I
think that the task is large enough that it is probably pretty well a
full-time job in itself, although it could certainly be structured in that
way. There are various ways to do that.
There is some value in having them be more independent and not part of
government, so I think that would be good in that kind of model.
The Chair: I still have three people who have not asked questions,
so I will ask that the responses to be tighter.
Go ahead, Professor MacKay.
Mr. MacKay: Going back to the earlier question about what you do
in the really tough cases, I want to give you an emotional impact of why
that is important. Restorative approaches are extremely important. I have a
large section on that, and I certainly support that.
There are cases where there needs to be a strong response, and the Nova
Scotia task force was set up after three young women committed suicide, in
part connected to issues of cyberbullying. Within the last two weeks, a
young man went on Facebook claiming credit by himself and his group of 15
across Canada for successfully bullying those young women to commit suicide
and sent that message to the parents, among others, of the suicide victims.
He has in fact continued, by the evidence we have, to cyberbully others with
the support of his group to try to promote that. The police and the RCMP
have been investigating that and to date have not laid charges.
There is a section in one of the appendices about the existing Criminal
Code provisions such as harassment and intimidation that may stretch to
that. Basically, so far they have done nothing. That comes back to another
recommendation of exploring a crime of cyberbullying. As the police officers
testified to us at the commission, basically these people are laughing at
the victims and at the public and saying they are just words, you cannot do
anything. It dramatizes the situation.
Senator Andreychuk: Thank you for all your presentations. The
limited time we have to ask questions makes it difficult.
I have heard you talking about cyberbullying and the need to put
resources and to deal with it.
As some of you know, I was a family court judge for 12 years. At the time
I was there, it was the new drugs. Adults were into alcohol and kids were
coming up with drugs and using them, et cetera.
We then went into mental health issues and talked about them. I am
wondering whether we should be focusing on cyberbullying or on children and
their maturation? What do kids today need? They face different challenges
than their parents and others in society did. We are simply trying to play
catch-up in that maturation process. Education and resources are necessary
to identify the new emerging problems in our changing societies, but if we
put it only on the topic, we lose the children. We are saying cyberbullying,
but there may be cases of children who have all kinds of other problems in
growing up and getting educated, and cyberbullying is one of them.
Should we be taking this as the topic of the month or should we keep
trying to translate and catch-up so that we as parents, community leaders
and parliamentarians can do the best we can for children as they grow and
develop into responsible citizens?
Ms. Urban-Hall: Boards of education in Canada would agree that the
whole child is who we have to focus on. Cyberbullying is a very specific
type of bullying, which may manifest through a variety of causes. Supports,
interventions and the allocation of resources must take that whole child
into consideration and how to best support the students, their families and
I agree with your statement in saying that we need to focus on providing
tools to parents and kids and support them in their learning so they become
contributing, well-rounded citizens. Yes, cyberbullying is a very important
issue and we cannot dismiss it, but in the whole-child approach that
strategy must be integrated into it.
Mr. Taillefer: We cannot ignore the issue of cyberbullying, and it
is probably very important, but your comment is particularly important as
well. I will use the analogy of reverse engineering. Cyberbullying is the
act, but what gets us there? Is it the technology? It is not the technology.
Andreas Schleicher from the OECD says that technology is not good or bad in
itself. In the classroom it is as good as the pedagogy supplied by the
teacher. The technology is neutral. Then we are back with the kids. We are
back to, "What makes them do that?"
Yes, you are right. We have to deal with the kids on a social, emotional
and cognitive level to address those problems. However, what we are seeing
from cyberbullying is that it is so bad. In the old days you used to get in
a schoolyard fight, go home with scrapes on your face and knuckles and that
was it. You might have to suffer that for years. Now we have kids committing
suicide and kids who lose so much of their self-esteem that they cannot
function in society any longer. We have to deal with that. How do we deal
with that? We go back and work with kids, we teach them about boundaries and
we try to make them good, responsible citizens.
Mr. Auty: There is no doubt that teaching the whole child is
historic in schools. That has always been the focus. Individual issues have
cropped up over the years; that is true.
In my experience, nothing has cropped up that is so massively engaged in
all aspects of the child as the Internet today. There is nothing;
electronics of all parts. There is no doubt in any mind at all that
agreeably and philosophically, the whole child has been the way schools have
gone. Thank you to the Senate and this committee to actually identify this,
but this issue is something that is quite frankly very important.
What was mentioned earlier about New Zealand and Australia is a point
that is good news to me, and to hear that other countries have begun to
engage in this. Canada can begin to add their weight to this politically.
I do not think there is any political downside to this, quite frankly. If
Canada has the political will to shine the light on this, there is no
political downside. Everyone I can imagine would agree to this. Why not? Why
not join or lead the world, for that matter? If there are only a couple of
countries doing it right now, why not lead the world and be part of that
leadership? This committee can be the juggernaut behind it. It is well
Senator Andreychuk: I challenge you on one thing. We have problems
with children and we want to come up with a solution. The schools came up
with zero tolerance which was one of the most difficult things, whether you
are talking about young offenders or a parental breakdown. Whatever you hit,
zero tolerance; throw them out of the school.
With cyberbullying, the need to reach out and find a criminal answer or a
parental answer could be as dangerous, in my opinion. We need to understand
that there may be varying responses at varying times in varying communities,
for example, the difference between rural and urban or north and south.
Shedding light on the issue, take it seriously, perhaps building up
resources and education, rather than trying to find some fix for the
problem, because we are going to be outflanked.
Mr. Auty: My term was "shine the light," not exactly look for
the fix, but shine the light and let the fix come from the light being
shined on the problem.
Senator Hubley: Thank you for your presentations today. Including
the young people in the problem is something we have not heard a lot of, and
I think it is very important. I think there are answers that come from our
young people. They then take ownership of the problem, to a certain extent,
as to what their involvement might be.
On education and how information is spread across all of your departments
and then across the country, how is that happening, or is it happening? Is
information getting out to the rural communities — as was brought up here —
or the Aboriginal communities? Are best practices or models shared?
The other question that popped into my mind: As we are training our new
teachers for tomorrow, is that in their learning processes as well?
Ms. Urban-Hall: With respect to your question around the sharing
of information — from the perspective of boards of education — each province
has a provincial association for school boards where there are regular
meetings, professional development and structures to support and share
information within the provincial jurisdiction. The role of the Canadian
School Boards is to provide the umbrella and to do that nationally. We share
information with what we would call our sector partners, with the teachers,
local governments, to share information and best practice.
As an individual school board, you would take that wealth of information
and with your local teachers, community members and other partners, come up
with the programs and supports that you will provide, and then share that
out to your parent-teacher organizations. Every province calls it something
different. I refer to it as the school community council and other supports
in your community. Those responses are specific to the needs of the
individual communities and schools.
Mr. Birnbaum: We would talk about two constituencies you pointed
to that are absolutely essential. One is that universities respond better
than we feel they have to respond to the absolutely changing needs of
training teachers for today's classroom because that gap has to close
between the knowledge and capacity of our kids and those who will teach
The second thing we would point to, and with respect it is because it is
becoming an increasing obstacle, is the provincial legislators who oversee
education to 90 per cent of its delivery. We have just dealt in Quebec with
a draft bill on cyberbullying and bullying in general that is almost
entirely coercive and based on sanctions, and so on. One of the things we
can and will do, I am sure, through the Canadian School Boards Association,
is work with the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, to help them
understand from the practitioners on the ground — and in concert with our
teachers, we would hope — to help them understand the kinds of provincial
legislation that can facilitate good responses to this problem rather than
facile and simple political responses.
Senator Ataullahjan: This is a question for both the school board
and the Canadian Teachers' Federation. When we talk about cyberbullying, we
are generally talking about children. However, I would like to comment on
how I have heard of a teacher who quit because the abuse on both Facebook
and Twitter left her physically on medication. Social media is being used to
attack teachers and people in authority. Are you seeing many cases of that?
Where do we draw the line for what is acceptable behaviour?
Ms. Urban-Hall: Definitely, none of us are immune to
cyberbullying. I know of teachers who have been bullied and harassed through
cyberbullying; I know of senior administration and trustees. Part of our
collective response needs to be to provide tools and supports so that I know
how to best protect and use the technology, as well as to provide education
to teachers to do the same. Again, it comes down to learning and teaching
what is appropriate behaviour. There is not an easy answer. I would say that
you, as individuals, are equally susceptible to cyberbullying and criticism
in your roles.
The Chair: I want to thank all of you for your presentation. You
can see that we could go on all evening having a conversation with you. We
have learned a lot from you. Know that we will be calling on you in
different capacities to speak and discuss more of these issues. I want to
Professor MacKay, we are hoping that we can have you come back and
discuss this issue with us again. Thank you very much.
I would now like to welcome the second panel. We are joined by Ms. Sharon
Wood and Alain Johnson from Kids Help Phone, and by Ms. Suzanne McLeod and
Mr. Robert Olson from the Centre for Suicide Prevention.
I would ask Ms. Wood to start with her opening remarks.
Sharon Wood, President and CEO, Kids Help Phone: The Kids Help
Phone is pleased to be invited to contribute today to the standing Senate
committee hearings on cyberbullying. Thank you for this opportunity.
Since 1989 we have been Canada's only national phone calling service for
young people, supporting their mental health and well-being. In recent
years, given the increased interconnectedness of young people and
technology, we have added online and instant messaging chat modalities to
our counselling services in addition to the phone to make sure kids can
reach us in the way they most like to.
Since our inception, we have provided service to young people 24/7, 365
days a year for urban, rural and remote communities from every walk of life
and in both official languages. We have professional counsellors who are
there when other services and supports are not there, because young people
are on waiting lists for help, are in-between appointments or are not ready
or able to reach for help in other ways or because no help is available in
their specific community.
Kids Help Phone brings a perspective today that is unique in that we hear
from kids in a specific way. Our services are anonymous and confidential and
we gather service statistics and conduct research on a variety of issues and
topics related to the issues facing young people today, including
Every single day, Kids Help Phone professional counsellors hear from kids
who are experiencing the cruelty of bullying, the loneliness of depression,
the paralyzing fear of anxiety or the feeling of pressure to succeed,
compete or conform.
Calls and online contacts to Kids Help Phone relating to cyberbullying
and bullying have been growing in recent years. Given what we have learned
from young people across Canada about the nature and prevalence of
cyberbullying and their impacts, we have been placing a strong focus on
developing our organizational expertise in this area. We have done extensive
research and internal trainings. We have collaborated with key researchers
in the area and have conducted separate studies. Dr. Shaheen Shariff is on
our clinical advisory committee of our board and has helped us to engage in
policy and advocacy efforts. We were also part of the Nova Scotia Task Force
on Bullying and Cyberbullying. Recently, we were in the role of intervener
in a Supreme Court case last week on cyberbullying.
Clearly, technology and social media have had a major impact on the ways
that young people communicate with each other. We have discovered, and you
are familiar with as a committee, is that this same technology is being used
to demean, oppress and use power over others in a harmful way. While
traditional bullying has been limited in space and time — the playground and
after school — cyberbullying has the potential of a global audience, one
from which the young people who talk about it have no refuge.
To best understand cyberbullying, we want to share a few quotes of young
people affected. At Kids Help Phone, we are in a remarkably unique position
to hear directly from kids because our service is anonymous and confidential
to be able to share young people's voices that are not filtered through
educators or what a parent thinks a child thinks or what other children or
young people might think. They are specific and direct.
We want to share several excerpts from posts written by young people and
sent to Kids Help Phone counsellors for response. Our counsellors receive
these posts in an anonymous way and ensure that their counselling response
to those young people is also provided in a way that protects their
anonymity and confidentiality.
everday of my life ever since i joined this school they have came on
msn and have stareted making fun of me this all started when i was in
grade 9 these girls would come online and start making fun of me they
would call me names say things like-your a fag, gay, stupid, loser,
niger, an asshole, ugly . . . .
some of the emails have been very bad.. I've thought of suicide.
I've tried different things like blocking emails and making new
emails but somehow they keep finding me. I'm not sure how much more I
can take, it's so awful. Help?
People are always making fun of me through F because they won't say
it to my face . I told my teacher and principal about it a couple of
times but they never did anything about it. I deleted some of the people
who were bullying me but they keep messeging me and they even post hate
comments about me in a conversation group on F. . . . Even though I've
tried to icnore the comments, I still feel hurt when I read mean
comments about me. . . . I can't take it anymore ! I've become so
depressed becuase of what people say to me and other problems I have in
my life. I want to kill myself right now !
I just wanna report cyber bullying to my local police.. I'm like
i have a disease, enabling me to be unable to talk very well, i have
been bullied latley on the bus. and i have cyber-bullied in grade four.
i am now in grade six. i cry myself to sleep many nights when i feel
I used to be a bully in grade 6 and the beginning of 7 (I am in grade
8 now). I've never physically harmed anyone, I just hurt them with
words, and I did cyber bully a couple of times. So back then I was a
loner and insecure, I had no sibs, friends or pets and hated my grades
and image. I had to do something to stay happy. It became a habit.
Kids Help Phone hears from both those who have bullied and those who are
experiencing the challenges of being a bully.
In terms of a couple more points to raise before we move on, we have done
cyberbullying research and data collection at Kids Help Phone. We know you
have heard about extensive research in the area. We did our own research in
April 2007 and published a report, Cyberbullying: Our Kids' New Reality.
This report collected responses from young people who are accessing our
teen site, which is aimed at those aged 12 to 20 years, on the topic of
cyberbullying. Given what we learned then and the increased focus in the
media, we did a new survey in 2011 to compare the results. We modified the
original survey and posted it on the teen site. We learned a great deal.
The percentage of young people experiencing cyberbullying: 65 per cent of
respondents to our 2011 Kids Help Phone cyberbullying survey reported having
been the targets of cyberbullying at least once. This finding is both
surprising and concerning because current research indicates approximately
one quarter to one third of young people have been cyberbullied. There are
many other points, and I will share a couple more.
How young people are cyberbullied: In comparing the 2011 and 2007
surveys, social networking sites like Facebook and Instant Messaging MSN
platforms have exchanged places. Where social networking once was ranked
third, it now comes first. According to our survey respondents,
cyberbullying behaviour is most rampant on social networking platforms.
Also, as young people abandon email in favour of phone-based text messaging,
text messaging now replaces email as the second most common platform.
When cyberbullying is experienced by young people, it is experienced
through insults, rumours and threats, sometimes in combination. There is a
range of reasons that young people are challenged in reporting
cyberbullying. The perception is that reporting is ineffective, and that
continues to be the case. When we asked respondents who they would like to
talk to first if they were cyberbullied, the majority of 65 per cent
reported that they would tell a friend versus a parent, teacher or
counsellor, and 15 per cent used the other field to report that they would
never tell anyone. The majority of young people feel they have little
recourse when it comes to cyberbullying. When asked if they would report,
young people said, "No one would listen. I would not tell anyone. I would
just write down my feelings. I would keep it to myself. It is my problem."
We are working on a range of strategies to prevent and respond to
cyberbullying at Kids Help Phone, which we can talk about later: providing
effective interventions and responses, providing anonymous and
confidentiality to young people who report it, and encouraging young people
to feel confident that the professional assistance they get from our
counsellors will enable them to take the next step. We use new technology to
support young people. We are working on some education and awareness
initiatives. We are committed to raising awareness around bullying and
cyberbullying, which we do through our youth awareness campaign and wallet
cards to support young people reaching out on behalf of a friend. We use the
support of many partner organizations to help ensure safe access to a
service that makes a difference.
We have referral resources for young people. We have continuous service
monitoring, data gathering, and research and evaluation. We definitely are
involved in youth engagement. We are grounded in recognizing that young
people themselves are the experts in their own lives. Whether it is through
sharing their voices to impact change or having them shape our program
content or whether it is about having them say what the important issues are
to have on our website and our online resources, it ensures that the
authentic voice of young people in their solutions is recognized.
We had a few recommendations for reducing the impact of cyberbullying on
young people. We talk about educating Canadians on issues relevant to
cyberbullying in a range of ways, such as demystifying it for parents and
ensuring that people actually understand what it is; developing clear
definitions and guidelines about what constitutes cyberbullying so that
people can be specific and clear about these issues; and support work that
The government should support social service organizations and schools to
reduce cyberbullying and other forms of victimization, bias and
discrimination in our society with programs that are based on specific
criteria, including evidence- based; promote social and emotional learning;
and provide individual supports, inclusive of local contexts. We recognize
that rural, remote and urban communities all have different challenges.
We are on the ground in kids' lives every single day helping young people
and we are witness to what they experience. We know those who reach out
begin a path to finding new ways to get the support they need. We are in a
constant learning mode ourselves, training our counsellors to be able to be
equipped to support those young people facing the new challenges that
cyberbullying presents for them.
Suzanne McLeod, Curriculum Developer, Centre for Suicide Prevention:
Good evening, senators. We would like to thank you for this opportunity
for us to provide you some information regarding suicide and cyberbullying.
As you were told, my name is Suzanne McLeod. I am an Anishinabe-ikwe from
Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. I work specifically within the Aboriginal
community, and I also work with the Centre for Suicide Prevention in
We would like to start off by saying that suicide is a complex problem
involving biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors and can be
influenced by societal attitudes and environmental conditions of that
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Canadian teenagers
between the ages of 15 to 19 years of age. One in five Canadian teenagers
suffers from some kind of mental illness, yet less than 10 per cent of them
who need mental or addiction services will receive them.
It remains among Canada's most serious public health issues. Within our
written submission we have provided the latest Statistics Canada numbers of
suicide in Canada to give you context. We know that those with suicidal
behaviour and those at risk of suicide are experiencing overwhelming
emotional pain. Most people who attempt suicide do not necessarily want to
die; they simply want the pain to end.
However, we do have a real issue when it comes to helping people who have
suicide ideation. What that is is thoughts of suicide or talking about
suicide even after the fact, within families and communities. The stigma
attached to suicide and our relative unwillingness as a society to talk
openly about suicide, the risk of suicide and mental health issues places an
unreasonable psychological burden on the person at risk and it really acts
as a barrier to getting assistance.
We know that talking about suicide with an at-risk person does not
increase their chances that that person will attempt suicide.
We asked youths why they did not simply reach out to someone for help
when they were having thoughts of suicide or had attempted suicide. We heard
numerous reasons. They were scared of being embarrassed, of being laughed
at, of being picked at even more. They felt no one would listen. They did
not want to be told that they were right or wrong. They were worried that
someone was going to correct them. They were ashamed that they were having
these thoughts. Most kids will not talk to someone they do not really know —
for example, a school counsellor, a group facilitator, a therapist. The
people they will talk to are their friends first, people they trust.
Suicidal behaviour and completed suicides as a result of cyberbullying is
an unfortunate occurrence that we are seeing more and more of in our
society. We have provided several recent examples under the "lived
experiences references" of our written submission that you can take a look
Cyberbullying and traditional bullying leaves many youth feeling angry,
frustrated, sad, scared and embarrassed, and is related to negative
psychological, emotional and behavioural outcomes.
Despite the fact that there are an increasing number of suicide-related
incidents that point to cyberbullying as a contributing factor, there is a
relative dearth of solid research that establishes a direct relationship
between cyberbullying and suicide. We just do not have that information out
There is, however, a proven link between traditional bullying, peer
harassment and victimization that contribute to depression, loss of
self-worth, hopelessness and loneliness. These are all precursors to
suicidal thoughts, behaviours and attempts.
In our research around cyberbullying and suicide, we have found that all
forms of bullying, including cyberbullying, were significantly associated
with increases in suicide ideation. Cyberbullying victims were almost twice
as likely to have attempted suicide compared to youth who had not
experienced it. Students who experience cyberbullying, both as victim and as
offender, have significantly lower self-esteem compared to those who have
limited or no exposure. Both victims and the perpetrators of bullying are at
a higher risk for suicide than their peers. Cyberbullying contains a
significant amount of gender-based harassment and homophobia.
However, no research to date has fully explored the link between
self-esteem and cyberbullying, and this is a key consideration given the
crucial relationship between self-worth, "suicidality" and completed
suicide. I believe Dr. Patchin will talk about this in his presentation.
It is sometimes difficult for adults to comprehend the absolute level of
influence the online world has on youth. I am not that old myself, but I am
very shocked. My kids are in their twenties and their early thirties, and it
is amazing. That is how they communicate and talk to each other, right from
the time they wake up in the morning until the time they go to sleep. This
is a 24/7 phenomenon that we are seeing.
Cyberbullying in its essence attacks the psychological and social need of
an individual, particularly the youth. However, it is important, it must be
acknowledged that many teens and youth who have thought about suicide, who
have attempted or we think completed suicide after experiencing bullying or
cyberbullying, frequently had other emotional and/or social issues affecting
their lives. It was not just cyberbullying in itself. It is unlikely that
cyberbullying in itself leads to suicide; rather, it tends to increase the
factors of instability and stress on an individual.
The Centre for Suicide Prevention is working and has worked with the
Aboriginal community in developing targeted curricula, including
cyberbullying and suicide. We are looking at the Aboriginal community focus
because of several factors that we know. The average age of suicides among
Aboriginal people is significantly lower than the mainstream. For example,
in Alberta it is age 44 within the mainstream. The average age for
Aboriginal people is 29.
First Nations youth suicides are five to seven times higher than the
national average. Among the Inuit youth, this rate is as much as 11 times
higher. In some communities, we know it is as high as 35 per cent higher
than the national average. This is among the highest in the world.
We do have to make a distinction when we are talking about Aboriginal
people between First Nations and Inuit youth because of the isolation
factors and the social conditions in which many communities are situated.
It is projected that within the next 10 years, between 75 to 85 per cent
of the overall Aboriginal population will be youth under the age of 29.
We have a potential crisis regarding suicide, bullying and cyberbullying,
given the fact that most of it occurs between the ages of 15 and 19 years of
However, with a caveat, I would like to say that each Aboriginal
community is distinct. These are general statistics only. Some communities
do have strong cultural and social supports, while others do not.
Suicide is related to complex interactions among the environmental, the
situational, the socio-economic and the cultural stressors experienced by
that individual, by the family structure and by the wider community.
What makes the Aboriginal community unique is that we are much more
closely tied to each other. We have those generational relationships because
of the reservation era. We have family ties that go back 150 to 200 years
because of the segregation we encountered as Aboriginal people.
When an incident such as a suicide happens in a community, very
frequently we have suicide clusters, one after another, especially among our
youth. It vicariously affects every single individual in that community. I
know that because I have seen it. We deal with that on a daily basis.
With the grief and vicarious trauma that comes from that, we do not have
the time to heal within the community before another suicide happens. What
we are seeing is that the bullying and the cyberbullying are having
devastating effects among our youth.
Cyberbullying enhances any depressive symptoms. It heightens anxiety. It
removes any sense of personal control because that individual does not have
the opportunity to confront the person as they would on a playground or at
school. It socially isolates that individual. Aboriginal youth are already
experiencing each of these as a result of the intergenerational effects of
colonization, of residential schools and of child welfare.
Our youth are experiencing disproportionate levels of family violence,
addiction and mental illness. The introduction and effects of cyberbullying
to an already at-risk population is simply magnified.
We have provided some examples within the What's Your Story?
pamphlet. It is this one in your package. The voices and the writing, as Ms.
Wood said, kids can be very direct in their writing. We have a few lines
from each of the Aboriginal kids we talked to in this gathering we had. They
are very direct and very heart-breaking. These kids, on a day-to-day basis,
are dealing with very heavy issues. No child should be dealing with
cyberbullying and suicide.
In conclusion, we would like to say that suicide and cyberbullying
reflects the complexity of human behaviour and psychology. It is virtually
impossible for us to predict how a person will react to outside pressures.
The Centre for Suicide Prevention does research, develops workshops and
curriculum, and we offer that out to the communities in an urban, rural,
provincial, national or international basis, whoever wants our information.
We offer training, however it is prevention, intervention and
"post-vention" information we give regarding suicide specifically. Given
all of that, it is virtually impossible to predict a suicide, unfortunately.
All we can do is provide the tools to mitigate and support that individual
and the families and to minimize the possible risks for everyone affected
We have provided 17 recommendations around legislation, mental wellness,
research and a national strategy. We would like to highlight seven of these
The Chair: Sorry, Ms. McLeod, we only have half an hour. We have
the recommendations in front of us. Perhaps when we ask the questions you
could highlight them.
Ms. McLeod: I am highlighting just seven of them.
The Chair: It will give us less time to ask questions. Normally we
have five minutes to do a presentation and then we ask questions. If you can
provide us with the seven, we will definitely have them. That way, it will
give us an opportunity to canvass some of the things you have said. Is that
Ms. McLeod: Okay.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentations and all the
incredible work you do.
In the cases you have handled, what is the prevalence of cases dealing
with cyberbullying? Have they been specific to cyberbullying or have they
been related to other issues, like traditional bullying, issues in the home
The other part of my question is, do you get calls from children whose
friends have committed suicide? I ask because six weeks ago one of my
daughter's close friends, who described himself as an optimist, committed
suicide. The guilt I am seeing in his friends, specifically the one friend
who spoke to him the evening before, what do you say to children like that?
I have a lot of these kids in my home and I can see how this has changed
Ms. Wood: Thank you for the questions. I will ask Mr. Johnson, who
leads our clinical services in our Quebec office and oversees our
counsellors, to respond.
Alain Johnson, Clinical Director, French Language Services, Kids Help
Phone: When we talk about cyberbullying and bullying, and their dramatic
impact that can go as far as suicide, we generally talk about young people
who are being victimized through bullying or cyberbullying. Very often, we
forget about the young people who witness the bullying. We forget about the
young people who see what is being written on Facebook, what is being said
on school buses and what is happening at home on a daily basis. Those young
people who worry about their friends often experience just as much anguish
because they feel powerless. Some young people call us because they have
friends who are not doing well and have talked about suicide, and they ask
us how to intervene.
Since calls to Kids Help Phone are confidential and anonymous, we cannot
intervene directly with those young people. However, what we can do is help
them identify natural allies in their family, school and community. We try
to determine who the adults and organizations are that can help them
directly and, most importantly, ensure the safety of their struggling peers.
Those peers may be thinking about suicide or about running away, or they may
be thinking about dropping out of school because the bullying is unbearable.
All the research shows that witnesses often play a key role in reducing
bullying. The adult's role is crucial in putting an end to bullying or
cyberbullying. However, the witnesses — the other young people who involved
— instead of remaining silent and, I would say, fuelling the bully's power,
often have an extremely important role to play and they ignore that role. I
think that, as adults, we need to support young witnesses.
To go back to the question, young people are often collateral victims of
a suicide. They are often also victims of the bullying they witness. They
must be supported through their own mourning process because witnesses,
friends and family have a mourning process to go through.
Young people sometimes call us to say that they are currently talking on
MSN with a suicidal friend, and they ask us how they can help. I think that
is when we must realize how powerful technology is. We are unfortunately
often poorly equipped to respond in an emergency. I hope that answers your
Senator Ataullahjan: The second part of my question is, do you get
calls from children whose friends have committed suicide? What do you say to
them? How do you help them deal with the grief they feel?
Ms. McLeod: The Centre for Suicide Prevention is not a crisis
centre, so we do not take calls directly from clients. We refer them to the
distress centre in Calgary.
However, we have, within the context of the workshops, talked to
individuals like you who are asking the exact same questions: How do we deal
with this? What do we do?
We do not get calls directly, in response to your question.
I wanted to add to what Mr. Johnson was saying. We are hearing the same
things from the kids. They are suggesting they should make their friends
responsible for each other because they are the ones out there on the front
lines. They are the ones experiencing the bullying and the cyberbullying. We
can give them many tools, pamphlets and messages, but they will not respond
to anyone except for their friends. That is the simple psychology of kids.
Senator Hubley: Thank you for your presentations today. I am going
to direct my question to Ms. McLeod, if I could.
You had mentioned in your presentation the fact that a suicide in an
Aboriginal community is often followed by others. Do you have an explanation
The other thing I would like you to comment on is how, when that happens,
it gets a lot of media. There are usually a lot of stories and it is
followed in the media. I am wondering if that has any effect on what happens
Ms. McLeod: In response to the question about the media, yes, we
do get some media coverage. About the number of suicides, there are a large
number of suicides that are covered by the media. I would say it is almost a
misconception to say that simply because of the numbers. Otherwise the media
would be out there almost every week in some communities, or every month.
Can you repeat the first part of your question?
Senator Hubley: You had mentioned in your presentation that when
you have a suicide in an Aboriginal community, it is often followed up by
one or more at the same time. Is there a reason for that?
Ms. McLeod: Not really. We have ideas, simply because the kids are
so interconnected to each other, socially and psychologically. We have to
remember we are talking about youth, whether they are Aboriginal or
mainstream, non- Aboriginal. Kids are frequently impacted by family suicides
or by previous suicides. If a friend of theirs commits suicide, very often
we will see them attempt it because it almost gives them permission. To a
certain extent within the Aboriginal community, it is not accepted;
certainly not. It is shameful within the family and the community, but it is
not as shocking as it is within a non-Aboriginal community.
I know that does not really answer your question.
Senator Hubley: That is fine.
Ms. McLeod: If we are talking about the psychology of children, we
do not know why we have suicides within the Aboriginal community. These kids
are isolated simply by the fact that they have the social conditions within
the communities by the poverty and the intergenerational trauma. Those are
unique aspects within the Aboriginal community, so they are bonded that way.
It almost becomes acceptable. I do not want to use that word because it can
be misinterpreted, but it is the attitude. It is less shocking within the
Aboriginal community, but it is felt more intensely to a certain extent.
Mr. Johnson: When we try to assess the risk of suicide — the risk
of a young person taking action — we must always take into account not only
protection factors, but also risk factors. We know that, for a young person
or an adult, going through mourning in the wake of a suicide increases the
risk of them committing suicide. Since teenagers have such a need to belong,
if a young person's friend commits suicide, we know that brings an
additional risk factor. If the young person is already fragile and
vulnerable, the mourning will certainly place them at greater risk. In some
cases, that may explain the kind of overall domino effect. That
unfortunately happened in Nova Scotia last year. It is a known phenomenon
when it comes to suicide prevention.
I would say it is difficult to assess the media impact. It is not about
suicide being discussed, but about how it is discussed. Last fall,
unfortunately, a young person committed suicide in Gatineau following a very
serious case of bullying. In Quebec, that event was talked about in the
media for a very long time. The fact that the media covered the incident let
the young people who are going through the same type of situation in silence
know that there are ways out, that resources are available to them. And if
that helps those young people reach out, call and talk to an adult, it may
be an indirect way to help someone who is feeling all alone in the world.
The issue is extremely delicate, and it very much has to do with knowing how
to talk about it.
Ms. Wood: One of the places young people go on our website, is a
place we have called Express Yourself, as well as forums on bullying and
cyberbullying. Young people post their experience or a question for a
counsellor to answer. It could be a very profound issue they are facing.
What we find in a counsellor response is that the question response might be
read not just by the young person who posted it. An average of between 40
and 80 other young people will read that answer.
We hear from young people that by going to the site and seeing questions
and answers about an issue they are facing themselves, it makes them feel
less alone and feel recognized, and "I am not the only one." It starts to
build their sense of resilience and capacity to reach out again.
We also talk about it as a resource for parents. We tell them to visit
the site and see what young people ask and how a professional counsellor
responds so you have language to talk to your young people.
Robert Olson, Librarian, Centre for Suicide Prevention: I have to
agree with Mr. Johnson in that the media is doing a much better job of
reporting on suicide than they used to, but there is still a lot of room for
improvement. We have done a couple of stories on the media, specifically in
relation to the NHL suicides last summer as well as a couple of other areas.
The Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention, CASP, provides guidelines
that point the media of how to cover suicide. I think they are improving
Again, like so many areas, there is much improvement needed.
Senator Meredith: Ms. McLeod, you talked about a five to seven
times higher suicide rate within the Aboriginal communities. I am concerned
as someone who has been speaking against youth violence for the last 11
years in the City of Toronto. We see the issues around mental health and the
fact that young people today are just vicious in their attacks — whether
they be physical or using the Internet — to really get some mean messages
out there that strike to the core.
What are the leadership doing within the communities? I always go to the
top. That is where it starts for me, if you have a problem within your
community. We have a problem within the Black community with respect to
youth violence, and I took leadership on that. I encourage others to take
leadership on that as well. Here is a problem, a crisis developing within
your community; what has been the response of the leadership to this issue?
I am not about just sugar-coating something. Kids' lives are at stake here.
Ms. McLeod: On the response of the leadership and the context, I
will answer your question. It is on-reserve within the First Nations
community. There is very limited response by the leadership simply because
the word "suicide" within the Aboriginal community is shameful. There is a
lot of guilt attached to it. This is because of the family ties and the
generational ties that we have. There is a lot of shame around suicide.
I work within a Blackfoot community and I talk to the elders and there is
no word for "suicide." We are looking at changing the cultural language
within the community to start to address the issue. People are not unaware
because they deal with it on a monthly basis, but they are unwilling to deal
with it. Some of the education must come from legislation and from campaigns
and strategies and the introductions of support. It also must come from the
elders. We are trying a different strategy at the Centre for Suicide
Prevention. We have invited the elders to come in. If you go right to the
top in the Aboriginal community, you go to the elders first; you do not go
to the chief and council because the chief and council listen to their
It is very limited because this is a phenomenon recently, and in the
1980s and 1990s we started to track what suicide is within the Aboriginal
community. We are starting to acknowledge that we do have a problem
specifically within our community.
Senator Meredith: I think that is the problem. When you deny
something and it is so prevalent, it is right in your face. In order to
accept something and to move forward, you have to say there is a problem
here. How do we work collectively to address that problem, coupled with the
fact that they are marginalized, they live in deplorable conditions and they
are disconnected? These are the factors you talked about. They feel a sense
We talk to youth with respect to violence and guns and ask "Why do you
congregate with one another? Is it because you bond together?" When someone
is taken out of the group, so to speak, that person says "I am out; I am
ending it," then it affects the psyche of all the others and they say "I
might as well end it, too." You see this domino effect within the
community, and that is tragic. I thank you for your response.
Ms. Wood, what are you doing within your organization with respect to
engaging the boards of education, going into the schools and really sharing
some of this testimony? I believe it is critical that we begin to talk about
these real- life stories that have happened to victims who call in — this is
what you are doing — and educate the perpetrators as well.
Ms. Wood: We are invited into the school system in some of the
provinces. We are fortunate in the province of Ontario to have some
financial support to do outreach work in the schools around bullying and
cyberbullying. A great example for us was the week in November, which is
bullying awareness week, where we did a significant amount of outreach in a
school-based setting, in both middle schools and high schools, sharing
resources and materials we built online, as well as involving youth
themselves in conversation around the issues they are facing. We had a
remarkable spike in contacts to our service in the weeks and months
following that outreach. What happened was awareness building; that is, the
activity of speaking clearly. Giving youth some examples and tools enabled
them to reach out further for assistance.
It is interesting because some of our counsellors who speak to youth
every day have developed a capacity to do specific kinds of presentations
and workshops in the school setting. When young people see a counsellor and
see it for real and understand how they will be supported if they reach out,
the questions being asked in a setting like that enable them to have a
stronger sense of access to supports.
We have developed remarkable resources online for kids and teens around
online safety and being cyber safe. We are hoping that teachers will use
these tools. We have shared them in French and in English. They are tools
that will help young people understand how to make sure that they are kept
safe. They will not even know the language for it at the younger ages, but
if we show them from the beginning and equip teachers with that language,
the challenge is there is always a greater need than people and volunteers
to get to the places we need to reach.
Senator Andreychuk: I have a question that is of some interest to
me. Do young people understand that what they put online is there forever?
We used to put a note under the locker. It would be anonymous, so you could
say a lot of vile things there thinking that you would not be traced. A lot
of the young people I talk to think, "Well, I deleted it; it is gone," et
cetera. You can put down your worst thoughts and you do not have to self
censure and worry about your behaviour and the consequences.
Am I right that part of educating them is to know that this will follow
them for life as much as it will follow the victim?
Mr. Johnson: When we talk to kids we provide them with the newest
technology. They are usually two or three generations ahead of us. Most of
them know that there are security features. You can set up your Facebook
page to be more secure, but usually they do not do it. They read as we do
and click "I accept" at the bottom of the form without reading anything.
We provide powerful tools to kids. They have access to those tools.
Schools are asking them to use those tools, but we forgot to tell them how
to use them in a secure way. I think there is a lot of education and
prevention just by working with the kids on how they should use it. We
should talk about ethics on the Internet. Can we say anything to anyone?
What is private? What is public? Things like that. There is a lot of space
It is not because they know in a better way how to use that technology;
that does not mean they know how to use it in a secure way.
Senator Andreychuk: As well as the consequences of using it.
Mr. Johnson: Exactly.
Ms. Wood: When a counsellor speaks to a group and asks questions,
some young people do not even know that they have inadvertently cyberbullied
or created a record that will last forever. An example is a counsellor
asking, "Has anyone in this room of grade 7 students ever posted a picture
on a Facebook page or posted a picture they know someone else would not want
posted of them? That is, you have posted a picture of one of your friends or
someone that you know and they would prefer that it not be there." A number
of hands go up and then the counsellor or teacher will say, "That is the
beginning of cyberbullying. This is what you do to prevent it." It is there
in perpetuity, forever. If you go to apply for a job five to 10 years from
now, someone can search your name and find things that you do not want
found. It is only when we get practical with them that the issues get
Senator Andreychuk: On suicide issues in the Aboriginal community,
which is not a new issue, I am pleased to hear that you seem to be
optimistic, Ms. McLeod. Is it an issue, then, of modern technologies or is
it a community dynamics that you are concentrating on?
Ms. McLeod: In terms of working with the mental wellness within
the community, we are looking at it within a cultural context. That is our
focus and that is why we are working with the elders and getting the youth
involved as much as possible. The realities within the Aboriginal community
are that we can have all the parenting and policing programs that we want,
all the supports out there, but frequently, even for our front-line workers
who are going into the homes and for the teachers in the schools, they are
dealing with kids who are in crisis. We have to deal with their immediate
needs: Are they getting fed, is their family violence happening at home, do
they have a place to sleep, to where are they going home, the abuse that
happens, those types of things. Those are the immediate needs. We can have
all the programs that we want, but we need to resolve those things. That is
a large context that we are talking about.
The Chair: Ms. McLeod, unfortunately, I did not let you finish on
the recommendations that you were going to elaborate on. We all have your
recommendations in front of us. It would be useful if you could give us the
number of the seven you wanted to highlight. If you do not have that handy
now, you can provide that to us later.
Ms. McLeod: Quickly, the number one recommendation we would like
to say —
The Chair: Just give us the number. Why not send them to us later.
Ms. McLeod: First, we need a clear legal definition of what
The Chair: Just give us the number.
Mr. Olson: It is number one.
The Chair: You do not need to rush. You can provide that to us
later and we will share it with the committee members.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you. You work with young
people who are distressed and you deal with tough issues on a daily basis.
We admire your work and thank you for it, and we thank you for giving us
your time today.
I would now like to welcome our final panel for this evening. We are
joined today by Mr. Justin Patchin, Co- director of the Cyberbullying
Research Centre at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Clair. He will be joining
us by video conference.
We also have Professor Michel Boivin, Canada's Research Chair in Child
Development from Université Laval, and Professor Jennifer Shapka, from the
University of British Columbia in my province. Welcome as well.
We will start with Mr. Patchin.
Justin W. Patchin, Co-director, Cyberbullying Research Centre,
University of Wisconsin-Eau Clair: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I
am happy to be with you today to talk a little bit about my research and my
life's work over the last decade. I have to say I am not accustomed to
writing my comments down ahead of time and reading them like this, but I
thought it important in order to give as much information in as short a
period of time as I can to set the stage for our discussion. I am used to
presenting a six-hour workshop for educators on the topic of cyberbullying
and I do not think anyone here wants me to talk for that long.
In addition, I will make these remarks with literature citations and
charts and everything available for your review following our discussion.
My name is Justin Patchin. I teach courses in criminal justice at the
University of Wisconsin-Eau Clair. I just finished my eighth year on campus.
Prior to arriving in Eau Clair I spent five years at Michigan State
University, completing my graduate work, teaching classes and conducting
In my first days at Michigan State I met up with Sameer Hinduja, who came
to Michigan State to study computer crime. We shared a very small office and
one day just started talking about our respective interests, mine in
juvenile delinquency, school violence and bullying, his in computer crime,
identity theft and other emerging forms of high-tech crime.
We started thinking about the ways that youth were using technology to
cause harm to one another. We had heard of the term "cyberbullying" but
did not know what it involved. This is around 2001, and no one else was
studying the problem back then, so we started to.
Since then, we have conducted seven formal surveys with over 12,000
students in 80 schools from around the United States, surveyed parents,
educators and law enforcement officers on their perspectives of this
The Chair: Mr. Patchin, we have a challenge. We are a bilingual
country, and we can show your PowerPoint only if it is in both languages. I
would respectfully suggest we would rather just hear from you. You can make
the PowerPoint available in English, and we will make sure our members get
it. We would not be able to share it at all, so if I may ask you just to
Mr. Patchin: Sure, no problem, I can definitely do that. I will
make it available after the fact. Everything on the PowerPoint is just
graphs and charts. You can get the information via my comments and remarks,
and we can definitely have a conversation about that.
Basically, we have studied this problem for the last 10 years. We have
asked questions about traditional bullying that happens at school, but there
are many other competent researchers that have tackled that problem, so I
will focus my comments, especially given the focus of this discussion, on
We define cyberbullying as wilful and repeated harm inflicted through the
use of computers, cellphones or other electronic devices. Admittedly, this
is an imperfect definition, so when we survey students and others about this
problem, we define cyberbullying as when someone repeatedly harasses,
mistreats or makes fun of another person online or while using cellphones or
other electronic devices. We then ask them about one of nine different
specific behaviours they might have experienced — text, video, audio,
harassment — over the course of their lifetime, over the previous 30 days.
We also spend a great deal of time trying to keep up with the research
others are doing, both in the United States and abroad.
What do we know about cyberbullying? The estimates of the number of teens
who have experienced cyberbullying are all over the map. I can point you to
a paper published in a peer-reviewed, academic journal that says 72 per cent
of teens have been cyberbullied, while another published paper will say that
the number is closer to 5 per cent.
The numbers are similarly varied when it comes to the number of students
who have cyberbullied others. How many teens have been cyberbullied? Last
summer, we reviewed all the published papers on cyberbullying to try to get
a handle on that question. These results were published in our book,
Cyberbullying Prevention Response: Expert Perspectives, which includes
contributions from a number of researchers.
As of the summer of 2011, there had been at least 42 articles on this
topic published in peer-reviewed journals across a wide variety of academic
disciplines. Among 35 papers that included victimization rates, figures
range from 5.5 per cent to 72 per cent, with the average being 24 per cent.
Most of the studies estimate 6 to 30 per cent of teens have experienced some
form of cyberbullying, and these findings are consistent with our own
research over the last 10 years. In our research, over the course of seven
studies and about 12,000 students, an average of 27 per cent of the students
we surveyed over the last 10 years have experienced cyberbullying. Most
recently, our data from about 4,500 middle and high school students from
last school year revealed about 21 per cent of students had been
cyberbullied, so about one in five teens has experienced cyberbullying. The
number that has admitted to cyberbullying others is lower but comparable.
In the 27 papers published in peer-reviewed journals that included
cyberbullying behaviours, offending behaviours, 3 to 44 per cent of teens
reported cyberbullying others, an average of 18 per cent. That is consistent
with our research as well. Across all of the work we have done in the last
10 years, it is an average of about 17 per cent of students who have said
they have been cyberbullied.
A couple of broad generalizations can be made about cyberbullying, based
on our research and that of others. For example, adolescent girls are just
as likely as boys, if not more than likely, to experience cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is related to low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, anger,
frustration and a variety of other emotional and psychological problems.
Cyberbullying is related to issues in the real world, including school
problems, anti-social behaviours, substance use and delinquency.
Traditional bullying is still more common than cyberbullying, at least
here in the United States, and traditional bullying and cyberbullying are
closely related; that is, those who are bullied at school are often bullied
online, and those who bully at school are often doing the bullying online.
Much more research is necessary. We do not have any good longitudinal
data on cyberbullying. We also do not have any good evaluations of programs
that target online safety or cyberbullying.
I want to wrap up my initial comments by talking about the importance of
school climate. The benefits of a positive climate at school have been
identified through much research over the last 30 years that it contributes
to more consistent attendance, higher student achievement and other
desirable student outcomes. Though limited, the research done on school
climate and traditional bullying also underscores its importance in
preventing peer conflict. Existing research has consistently identified an
inverse relationship between climate and bullying. The more positive climate
at school, the less bullying that happens at school. Our research over the
last year has also demonstrated that the better the climate at school, the
fewer problems with cyberbullying and other online behaviours we see in the
schools as well, both victimization and offending.
We also found that teachers who talk about these issues with their
students are making a difference. Even though almost half of students said
their teacher never talked to them about being safe on the computer, and
about 70 per cent of students said their teachers never talked to them about
using cellphones responsibly, when these conversations happen, they seem to
have a positive impact. Students who told us a teacher had talked about them
to about being safe on the computer were significantly less likely to report
that they had cyberbullied others in the previous 30 days.
Finally, students from schools with a better climate were more likely to
report that they felt as though their school was more likely to respond to
incidents of cyberbullying when it was reported to a teacher or other
educator at school. In short, educators who do establish a nurturing, caring
classroom and school climate will make great strides in preventing a host of
problematic behaviours at school and online.
In conclusion, I would like to advocate for three specific areas of focus
as you move forward with your work. First, more research is necessary. We
need to know more about all forms of bullying, especially what works in the
area of prevention and response.
Second, we need legislation that is prescriptive, thoughtful,
evidence-based and supported with adequate resources. If legislators are
serious about doing something to stop bullying, they must move beyond the
rhetoric and provide appropriate resources for parents, schools and other
law enforcement to tackle the problem.
Third, focussing on improving the climate at school can have a
significant impact on a host of problematic behaviours. If students believe
they are cared about at school and value those relationships, they will, in
turn, refrain from engaging in behaviours that will risk damaging those
relationships. Bullying and cyberbullying are not just school problems but
societal concerns. Everyone has a role and responsibility to do something,
and it can start with us today.
I look forward to being part of this discussion.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
We will now go on to Professor Shapka.
Jennifer Shapka, Associate Professor, Department of Educational and
Counselling Psychology, and Special Education, University of British
Columbia: Thank you for inviting me to talk about my research here
today. I am a developmental psychologist and my work looks at the
implication on developmental health for adolescents growing up in a digital
age. As part of this, I have explored several online risk behaviours that
adolescents are engaged in or exposed to, with cyberbullying being a fairly
recent but increasingly major component of this work.
My research on cyberbullying has explored how it differs from traditional
forms of bullying, as well as how it is influenced by the nature of
parent/child relationships. I will briefly discuss this work and then offer
some recommendations for how I think we can reduce cyberbullying in Canada.
It is my contention that due to the structural and functional nature of
information and communication technologies, there are aspects of online
aggression that are not accounted for, or are distinct from current
definitions of bullying.
Bullying has traditionally been defined as an aggressive act that is
intended to harm, that occurs repeatedly and is within the context of a
Regarding the intent to harm, our research has shown that adolescents
report that most of what youth post online about others is "just joking or
kidding around" and that very little of it is actually intended to harm. Of
course, we know that the impact on the victim is often devastating, and, in
fact, some work suggests that being cyberbullied can be emotionally more
damaging than being traditionally bullied.
With regard to repetition online, we have found that it is the virtual
bystanders who are often responsible for the repeated humiliation felt by
victims. For example, some of the most highlighted cases of cyberbullying in
the media were based on a single event, and yet the victim still experienced
the event over and over again by having it circulated and re-posted by
Finally, regarding power, for traditional forms of bullying, the power
resides with the physically stronger or more competent individual. In a
virtual environment, this same power differential does not necessarily exist
and our research bears this out. Some have argued that those with the
technological skills hold the power online. However, as user interfaces
become easier to use, the Internet has become more of an even playing field.
This makes online aggression and retaliation easier. Our data suggests that
this has contributed to an increasing number of individuals reporting that
they have acted in the capacities of both victim and bully. This is
concerning because so-called bully victims fair less well on psychosocial
outcomes and report the highest levels of problem behaviours.
By highlighting the differences between traditional and online forms of
bullying, I am neither trying to downplay the aggression that is occurring
online nor to suggest that none of it reflects our traditional definitions.
However, there are many aggressive and hostile acts that youth are engaging
in online that they themselves may not even recognize as aggressive, and my
concern is that existing intervention and prevention programs may not be
effective for targeting and reducing these behaviours.
One aspect I have looked at for reducing cyberbullying is the role of
parents. The main message that parents get from the media is that in order
to keep their teenager safe online, they must control, monitor or otherwise
micromanage their teen's online behaviours. Unfortunately, these behaviours
are not effective and may actually undermine healthy adolescent development,
where adolescents need to develop autonomy from their parents, become
responsible for their own actions and make decisions for themselves. Indeed,
work that we have done has shown that the more parents try to control their
children's online activities, the more likely their children are to report
engaging in risk behaviours such as cyberbullying. In contrast, if parents
have an open and honest relationship with their children such that their
children feel comfortable disclosing the things that are happening to them
online, reports of online bullying are significantly reduced. This pattern
of findings is in direct contrast to the fear-based messages that parents
are currently getting from popular media.
As for recommendations, I am sure I echo others in suggesting that we
need a national public awareness campaign, as well as education and
prevention programs that specifically target cyberbullying.
However, as our work has shown, if these programs are implemented from
the top down and if they are control- oriented or punitive in nature, they
will not be effective. Parents and educators are not digital natives and,
therefore, do not have the same persuasive power as digital insiders. Having
novices teach the experts is not likely to be an effective way of creating
meaningful learning experiences that lead to positive behavioural change.
Instead, I think we need to harness the power of the youth voice and create
programs that are youth initiated and youth led. By engaging youth at
genuine and not token levels, they will become active agents of change
instead of passive victims who we are trying to protect.
For these recommendations to be effective, I also think that they need to
be ecologically valid and relevant to youth. This means that they need to be
embedded in the technological tools that we are trying to educate youth
about. I think social media will have an important role to play in this.
The role of parents and educators in all of this will be very important
as well. Specifically, we need to support and educate parents and teachers
about how to create home and school environments that embed the fundamental
principles of human rights and social justice as daily practice. As part of
this, parents and teachers need to help to build youths' capacity for
leadership so that they can be the ones to ensure that online socializing is
inclusive and reflects the hallmarks of social responsibility.
Michel Boivin, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Child
Development, School of Psychology, Université Laval: I am very honoured
to be here today. I am the head of a research program on child development
at Université Laval. I define myself as a development psychologist with
education background in social psychology. Therefore, I can work in either
field, depending on the circumstances.
I am the head of a research program on child development that is
basically tied to major longitudinal studies, two of which began in
childhood. Those studies are ongoing. So far, about 12 repeat evaluations
have been conducted. Those longitudinal studies are carried out on various
phenomena, including bullying, in which I have a special interest.
I have no expertise on cyberbullying. I have done extensive work in
bullying — its impact and risk factors — but cyberbullying is a relatively
new issue. It is a new phenomenon we are now trying to include in our
longitudinal studies. We are currently gathering data on that issue,
although our methods may not yet be very sophisticated. However, those
projects are ongoing, so we will eventually be able to learn even from this
meeting and add things.
What have we learned over the last 25 years on the issue of bullying and
victimization? Some longitudinal studies have been carried out that have
provided us with a considerable amount of information. Our work — and the
work done by a number of colleagues from all over — has helped us confirm
that about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of children are victimized chronically
and repeatedly over time. Longitudinal studies are basically studies where
children are monitored over a number of years. That approach enables us to
document specific incidents when they happen. However, it also enables us to
determine how much children can be exposed to negative experiences in their
relationships with their peers, chronically speaking.
We have also been able to confirm — once again, thanks to the power of
longitudinal studies — that there are significant impacts associated with
being bullied. I am talking about effects that are heavily discussed today,
including impacts in terms of mental health, but also in terms of behaviour
and attitude towards school. Those impacts are generally negative. However,
possibly the biggest lesson learned from those longitudinal studies is that
many children may be affected and exposed to negative events, but not all of
them react in the same way. Therefore, we still have no answer to the
following question: what are the risk and protection factors that may result
in a child reacting differently when confronted with the same reality? That
is a significant research topic in those longitudinal studies.
We have learned that social context is important, that bullying is not an
isolated phenomenon between the bully and the bullied, but that it often
takes place within a social group. That is why it is important to intervene
in order to mitigate that type of a negative event. We have also learned
that the social context, social and local standards, and the school climate
are important factors. But beyond contextual factors, there are children who
are more at risk than others of being exposed to those types of events very
early in their development. Longitudinal studies help us document that
There are several risk factors. There are fairly well-known factors such
as obesity and speech problems, but perhaps the most often studied factor or
factors are social behaviours — the way children behave socially.
Aggressiveness and hyperactivity are characteristics associated with
potentially being a victim of harassment early in the school environment.
Progressively, there is less association between those externalizing factors
and bullying. I would say that more children exhibit anxiety and inhibition
characteristics, and become preferred targets perhaps towards the end of
their elementary education and at the beginning of high school. We have also
been able to document that thanks to longitudinal studies.
Therefore, there are several risk factors involved. The issue is knowing
what cyberbullying brings to the table: how much does cyberbullying change
things? I think that there are at least four elements of cyberbullying that
lead us to believe that cyberbullying is a special case that deserves all of
our attention. The following elements have already been brought up here
today: 1) it is difficult to escape the situation — those who are bullied
are prisoners of their reputation; 2) the audience is much bigger in the
case of cyberbullying, and that means that the repercussion potential is
much higher; 3) another important element is probably networking — we are
talking about methods that are specific to social networks, we are not
talking about social networks for no reason. Cyberbullying is also about the
capacity to get organized to marginalize certain people, which is an
additional tool for groups of children. Finally, I think that the distance
made possible by cyberbullying is an important aspect that probably
encourages people to take bullying much farther.
However, I think that all those questions are still just thoughts. There
is a profound lack of information on cyberbullying in terms of development.
At what point does this phenomenon emerge? What precursory risk factors
indicate that a child may bully someone or be bullied? In our studies on
bullying, we have seen that, very early on — even at a preschool age — some
children are the target of negative behaviour on the part of others.
Therefore, marginalization, rejection and victimization start very early, in
Is there a connection between what is observed in early childhood and
childhood and cyberbullying? We do not know anything about that; there is a
severe lack longitudinal studies on those issues. Clearly, we intend to
document that aspect. Our children — the children from our longitudinal
cohorts — will soon turn 15, the age when the phenomenon really becomes a
big issue, and we hope to be able to document those aspects subsequently.
I am now available to answer your questions.
The Chair: Your research has led you to conclude that bullying and
cyberbullying are very different, and different enough that we should not
assume interventions designed to deal with bullying will be suitable for
cyberbullying. Can both of you answer what action researchers, teachers,
parents, law makers and other experts should be taking as a result of these
findings? How should the findings affect future policy and program
Ms. Shapka: I am not sure I remember all the questions but please
let me know if I do not answer them.
While I am finding there are different aspects to the bullying happening
online, I do not want to disregard the types of bullying happening. Online
is another tool kids are using to target an individual. I think there are
aspects online that make it unique. I went over some of them and there are
some other things that we can think of.
What was your question about policy?
The Chair: My question was: What should we take from your
findings? Should our policy be different for bullying and for cyberbullying?
Ms. Shapka: At the heart of any anti-bullying campaign is a focus
on social-emotional learning and development highlighting social
responsibility. That is at the core of both of these. I think we have fairly
good language. I have an 8- year-old daughter and she is well versed in
bully-victim and bystander-witness language. We have programs happening in
schools, but I do not think it means the same thing online.
I think it is about educating or expanding more. We have to include what
is happening online and point out ways that it can be different to make it
clear that social responsibility extends to what we are doing when we are in
virtual environments as well, in fact more so. They need to understand it is
easier to be uninhibited online and engage in aggressive acts online, and we
need to help them understand that as well.
Mr. Boivin: What I am worried about when it comes to cyberbullying
is its negative potential, for all sorts of reasons that have been mentioned
here. I want to begin by saying that, if cyberbullying is a new phenomenon,
and it is increasing the negative impact marginalization and bullying may
have, I think it deserves our full attention. A number of fairly
heart-rending testimonies we have heard indicate that this seems to be the
case. However, population-based systematic research is currently lacking. We
need more information on this issue, but we must remain very careful when it
comes to that aspect of the impact.
Some other questions that come to mind after your presentation are the
following. What are the risk factors? Are the risk factors the same? Are the
bullies who make heavy use of cyberbullying the same ones who bully others
in schoolyards? This is also an important issue when it comes to
intervention because, if we are dealing with different risk factors, we
would be talking about different intervention targets. The same goes for
those being bullied.
The Chair: Mr. Patchin, your work is very well known by the
committee. Today we heard from other witnesses that in Wisconsin there is a
law dealing with this kind of criminal harassment. Can you comment on that
law? Are you aware of it and what do you see the impact of it?
Mr. Patchin: Sure. I will touch base on a couple of things.
Going back to the previous question and the idea that in our research we
find for the most part there is quite a bit of overlap between the kids
bullying online and those bullying at school. One thing I want to make clear
is I do not think technology creates new bullies or new targets. There is
some of that, but for the most part it is the same kids. That leads us to
believe that there are some interventions that would work which have
demonstrated modest success at bullying might and also work for
I will give you one example of that: Thinking about teaching kids to
treat others with respect and living their lives with integrity, doing the
right thing, whether online or offline. It is basic Golden Rule stuff.
The other specific example of cyberbullying that is policy related that
needs to be taken into consideration — it is a huge debate here in the U.S.
— is whether or not schools even have the authority to intervene in
cyberbullying because the behaviours happen away from school grounds. They
happen when students are using their own computers on their own time, in the
privacy of their own bedrooms. There is a lot of debate about that.
It is pretty clear — at least in the U.S. — that based on Supreme Court
legislation schools have the authority to respond to cyberbullying or any
behaviour or speech that happens, even away from school, if such behaviour
substantially disrupts the learning environment at school. I think it is
important as you are looking at policy decisions — and potentially
legislation — to ensure that type of understanding exists in Canada as well.
Therefore, for students who are experiencing these things and try to get
help, the schools feel empowered to take action.
Specifically with respect to the laws in Wisconsin, we have a criminal
statute with regard to the misuse of electronic devices. It is a misdemeanor
in Wisconsin if you intend to threaten someone using electronic
communication; it is a forfeiture. I can get a fine for using obscene
language. What is fascinating is that not a lot of police officers have
charged based on that legislation. I have talked to a lot of school resource
officers and traditional law enforcement officers around the state and very
few even know about it or have charged a person with it. Most commonly they
will charge them with disorderly conduct or some other statute.
As you may or may not know, Arizona recently attempted to pass a similar
law and it was all over the news as being a violation of freedom of speech.
I have heard no concern about our law and it has been on the books since
1995. It could be that no one knows about it.
Our bullying law in the state of Wisconsin is pretty weak. It was just
passed in 2010. All it does is require schools to have a bullying policy
requires our state department of education to have certain elements in a
model policy. It does not require schools to adopt that specific policy.
Essentially, schools could get by with a basic policy saying bullying is
wrong without much detail. I have been advocating for a couple of years for
my legislators here in Wisconsin to supplement that law, improve it and make
it stronger in terms of helping schools respond to this problem.
The Chair: From what I understand happens in the U.S. — and it may
not be in your state — resource officers are not often conversant with
bullying, especially cyberbullying. What has your experience been with
respect to knowledge of resource officers in the schools?
Mr. Patchin: That is exactly right. We surveyed law enforcement
officers 18 months ago. We surveyed a sample of school resource officers who
work day to day in schools. We also surveyed a sample of law enforcement
managers. These would be their supervisors, for example a lieutenant or a
deputy chief or someone higher up in the chain of command but not working in
the schools. The biggest problem we found in that research was that about
half of the traditional law enforcement officers, their bosses, did not even
know if their state had a cyberbullying law. Even 25 per cent of the school
resource officers did not know if their state had a law.
You are exactly right; the knowledge is not there. Being a criminal
justice professor, I teach police officers as my day job. I think it is
necessary to continue to train them about these issues because they really
do not want to get involved unless there is a clear violation of the law. We
advocate that there can be a law enforcement role even if it does not reach
the violation of the law in terms of prevention, education and working with
the schools in order to solve this problem.
Senator Ataullahjan: Dr. Patchin, my question is to you. You have
extensive publications and I notice the key word is "preventing" in all of
your works. Your latest one is Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One
Classroom at a Time. Do you find that youth realize the implications of
their actions? Are more girls involved in this than boys?
We have discussed the role of parents, teachers and children, but what
role does advertising play in forming ideas amongst youth and even young
children, such as what is cool and what is normal, since bullies often prey
on what is different from a perceived idea perpetuated by the media. While
we need to talk to children about bullying, we also need to make adults in
positions of influence take responsibility as well.
Mr. Patchin: Yes, I agree. A lot of our work is focusing on
prevention. I agree 100 per cent. A lot of people ask me, "Why do you think
kids engage in bullying and cyberbullying?" We talk about a lot of the
research-based causes and consequences, but I agree with you 100 per cent.
We do not need to look any further than the behaviour of the adults, the
parents, the teachers and the media.
Here in Wisconsin and in the U.S. in general, we have elections coming
up. You cannot turn on the television without hearing some politician yell
at another politician and engage in what arguably could be harassment. They
see this, along with reality television that is very popular here in the
U.S. at least. Many teens want their five minutes of fame. They want to be
famous. They want attention; we definitely know that. If they cannot get it
in a traditional or a pro-social way, meaning success academically or
athletically, they will do whatever is necessary. We have seen this
demonstrated in extreme cases where teens are committing suicide after being
bullied, and a whole host of other problems, and they are becoming famous
for five minutes in their death, which is tragic.
I agree, but I do not know if there is a solution to that problem. With
what some adults are doing in celebrity cases and in the media, they have a
responsibility and a role to play as well.
Senator Meredith: Thank you so much for your presentations this
evening. I will give you a rest, Mr. Patchin, for a little bit, but you are
free to answer this as well.
Ms. Shapka, you spoke about the engagement of parents and teachers. Mr.
Boivin, you can weigh in on this as well. Let us flip the script here in
terms of the bullies themselves. You talked about the continuation of this
messaging, where negative messages have been posted and others have
participated in that negative message. Has any research been done around
when engaged people flip in terms of saying to the bully "this is wrong"
and then you have a barrage of individuals coming to the aid of that victim
because they sense some sort of morality and that that was wrong. Has there
been anything do not along those lines?
Ms. Shapka: It is interesting. Most of the stuff that I am aware
of from qualitative and quantitative research with youth is that this not
what happens. Others will come to the aid of the victim but it will be in a
retaliatory way; they will attack the person who was initially bullied.
It is a more even playing field in an online environment. We are seeing
people who are acting as both bullies and victims, which tends to be the
smallest group in traditional bullying and is the largest group in and
online venue. It is very easy to switch. If someone said something about
someone else, that person comes back and says something, then another person
jumps in and insults are flying. All of a sudden everyone has played all of
the roles in a bullying scenario from witness to bystander to bully.
I do think that is a way for prevention or an intervention-type program.
We talk about how kids are protected behind the screen so they are less
inhibited and able to feel freer posting things online, but we know that
bystanders and witnesses are the hardest people to activate in a bullying
situation. In an online environment, if we harness this uninhibited effect
and use it in a positive way and inspire to youth to act that way, then I
think we could have exactly what you are talking about.
Senator Meredith: You think I should start it right now?
Ms. Shapka: Yes.
Mr. Boivin: Peers are part of the problem and part of the
solution. There is a Finnish researcher, Christina Salmivalli, who is well
known on the bully victimization problem. She coined the term "defenders"
and "re-enforcers" a few years ago when speaking about the crowd attending
the events of bullying. It is not specifically about cyberbullying, but it
has been documented on traditional bullying and the role that some kids play
in mitigating the impact or the event of bullying online.
Mr. Patchin: That is a great question. There is no good, formal
research or empirical data to support what you are suggesting, but
anecdotally there are quite a few stories of successes where students have
gotten involved. The one thing we know for sure based on our research is
that teens are not likely to be deterred from engaging in bullying or
cyberbullying or any illicit activity for that matter by the threat of
formal punishment. You pass a law criminalizing cyberbullying and the kids
are not going to stop bullying and cyberbullying because of it. We know that
they are more likely to stop if their friends, their family, their parents
or their brothers or sisters do not appreciate their behaviour. The informal
adjustments are powerful.
The story I use in my presentations here in the United States comes from
the great north in Canada and pink shirt day, which is very popular. It is
about the idea that a freshman shows up on the first day wearing a pink
shirt; a couple of the sophomores pick on him and call him gay. A few of the
seniors in the high school go to a dollar store after school, pick up 50
pink shirts and then post something on Facebook. The next day over 250
students show up at school wearing pink. This is exactly what we need to do,
namely, create a climate and culture. In that case, as far as I know of, no
adult was involved. The students themselves took this on to say that is not
what we are about here. We do not treat people like that. This is what we
are about. We are about taking care of one another. I think there is a lot
of upside and promise to those kinds of intervention, both formal and
Senator Meredith: Thank you so much for that.
The other question I have is around disability, diversity, name-calling,
new immigrants who come to the United States and to Canada and, again, being
singled out and being picked on. Certain individuals handle that well. Ms.
Shapka, you spoke about that, namely that certain things can be said to one
child which do not have an effect on them, but when it is said to someone
else it has a detrimental effect on them.
In terms of the research that has been done, why is that? I would say
that it speaks to the self-esteem of the individual. Can you elaborate for
me on that in terms of research data around visible minorities, new
immigrants and so forth, with respect to their being bullied, not only
physically but also being singled out on the Internet because maybe they
wear a turban?
Ms. Shapka: As Dr. Boivin pointed out, we know that kids have
certain risk factors that make them more susceptible and vulnerable to being
targets of aggression. Being different or marginalized in any way, be it
coming from an different ethnic minority or being lesbian, gay or bisexual
will enhance the vulnerability that that person will experience.
In addition, I am currently working on a paper with someone to talk about
individual differences that are a little more subtle than that, how we
actually process social information. If we tend to have a ruminative
personality style such that someone says something to us and we cannot let
it go, we keep thinking about it. We know that if something is said to our
friends, it rolls off their backs and they do not think about it twice. We
tend to be ruminative, so that will make us more vulnerable to aggressive
acts toward us, particularly so for an online environment.
Mr. Boivin: I would like to add that we need to think about
development a little more, in the sense that the reality of a young child in
elementary school, for instance, is probably different in terms of his or
her social life and social organization. When we think of cyberbullying, we
think in terms of the adolescent and because cyberbullying is more a reality
of adolescents than young children. If you look at the way social life is
organized, there is an increasing differentiation of subgroups as children
get older. In high school, for instance, there are many subgroups.
Much of what we are witnessing in cyberbullying could be related to the
fact of being a member of subgroups or minority subgroups, whereas — it is
only my thinking; I do not have any data to back it up — the reality in
elementary schools might be different, where subgroups might not play the
same role in organizing social life.
Maybe I am not really answering your question, but I think the answer
would be different depending on the age of the child we are speaking about.
Of course, if you are centred on cyberbullying, it is more a question of the
These things are happening in elementary school, maybe not through
cyberbullying as much as for adolescents, but it is a reality. Intimidation
and bullying are a reality also in primary school.
Mr. Patchin: Yes. I agree with what both previous speakers said.
Kids are targeted for bullying and cyberbullying if they are different or
just perceived to be different. We have published a paper looking at
self-esteem specifically and we know those students who have low self-esteem
are more likely to be victims and bullies, which is interesting. We are not
able to say that if you have low self-esteem you are more likely to be
bullied or be a bully. Again, we do not have good longitudinal data. We do
know there is a relationship there. We have collected data on sexual
orientation and some of these other differences, but clearly that is an
issue. If there is a perceived difference, whether it is immigrant status or
sexual orientation, there is always something that can lead to that
harassment or bullying.
Senator White: You talk about cyberbullying and bullying and you
separate them quickly. Some would suggest one is because there is an
opportunity to be anonymous. Also, there is an opportunity for the
cyberbully as well to be a bully, where in a physical sense they may not be
able to and that may be part of the increase.
Ms. Shapka: Yes.
Senator White: The second part to that is, because there has been
some success around bullying using community justice and the school as part
of the community to deal with the justice issues, has there been success
when it comes to cyberbullying? There is a different power imbalance in that
the cyberbully may not be more powerful actually than the victim in some
cases. Has there been success with cyberbullying in community justice as
Ms. Shapka: I do not know any specific research on that, but I
would suspect that the same mechanisms are at play so I would hope it would
be successful. One of the things I think would be incredibly important for
the community in a restorative approach is for all of the players to be
involved in the process, including parents and schools. One of the ways that
I even became interested in this is because of talking with school
administrators, who say we have this problem going on; parents need to deal
with it, because it is not happening in the schools. Then I would talk to
parents, who would say we have this problem happening, but schools need to
deal with it because it started in the schools. I think right now who is
responsible is not that clear.
If we use the restorative justice approach and we include all the
stakeholders, parents, school policy, the victims, the bullies and even the
larger community of students, we can be effective.
Senator White: As a follow-up, and any or all of you can answer,
several witnesses have talked about a legislative response to this problem.
Even though my background is policing, I am not a fan of a legislative
response to this problem. In fact, I would argue that it is probably going
to be, from my experience, less successful than a restorative response,
particularly when it comes to this. Do you have an opinion, our friend in
Wisconsin or either of you, or a suggestion more leaning toward
non-legislative or legislative?
Mr. Patchin: I can give that a shot first. We have some examples
of restorative practices being used here in the United States to deal with
cyberbullying. Again, it is anecdotal. I spoke to a restorative justice
leader last week who said he was using restorative justice in some limited
ways for bullying and cyberbullying.
It is risky. You have to be well trained in it because if you put a
victim and an offender in the same room and you do not know what you are
doing, you can definitely make it worse.
I agree with you that we cannot legislate our way out of this problem. I
get a lot of calls from legislators in the United States saying we need to
pass a law on bullying or on cyberbullying. I say we already have laws on
harassment and stalking and those kinds of things.
I do see a role for legislation if it is prescriptive, meaning it tells
schools what they can do; it lays out the framework and, more important,
provides them with resources to do it, because that is one thing that is
sorely lacking, but criminalizing it any further up the chain I do not think
will help either.
I have not been able to listen to all of the testimony today, but I am
not sure there is any clear data that this cyberbullying problem is
increasing. We are hearing about it more, but I have been studying it for 10
years and I do not think there is any clear longitudinal data to suggest it
is increasing. We are hearing about it more often and I think slowly more
targets are coming forward, but in general it is relatively stable. Maybe
some of the more high-profile incidents are increasing, but certainly we
should be taking it seriously no matter how much of it is happening.
Ms. Shapka: Just to respond to that, I would agree. I do not think
we know whether it is increasing, but I would say that the opportunity is
increasing as we have increasingly mobile computers that we carry around
with us. The access and opportunity are increasing.
We also know that the uptake of computers and mobile devices is happening
for younger and younger kids. While the percentage of kids engaging in it
might not actually be increasing, I do not think we know, but the number of
kids at different age ranges and the opportunity of when they are doing it
To speak to the restorative justice, is there a policy we can do that
requires all students or school districts to have a restorative justice
practice in their districts?
Senator White: You should know that in the province of Ontario
almost all school boards are either instituting it or are about to. In
Ottawa, all the school boards have restorative justice practices in their
Ms. Shapka: That is fantastic. My argument against the legality of
it is that ultimately we are dealing with children. Putting children through
a punitive process that was designed for adults does not seem appropriate.
I will go back to what I mentioned about the increased number of bully
victims. If we start punishing the bullies, we might be also punishing the
victims, because many of them are engaging in both activities.
Mr. Boivin: I agree. I am learning here.
Senator Andreychuk: Thank you to all of you. This has been one of
the best sessions learning along with you, Professor Boivin. I will not ask
Professor Shapka any questions. I agree with almost all of your comments.
Mr. Patchin, you said there is still more prevalence of actual bullying
than cyberbullying. Is that because historically we have social patterns
that we are dealing with and cyberbullying is new? In other words, will we
have an increase in cyberbullying? I hear from you it is stable, but you
tell me the old forms of bullying are still prevalent. Will they continue to
Mr. Patchin: That is a great question. I love the question the
most because it is a data, empirical question. We can answer that moving
forward. It will just take time.
All I can say is we have collected data on bullying and cyberbullying
since 2003, and of course others have been collecting data on bullying for
generations. There is some preliminary evidence to suggest that bullying in
schools, at least in the States and elsewhere, has decreased a bit over the
last 10 years. Our research, and all the research that I have reviewed,
suggests that cyberbullying has been relatively stable, within a few
percentage points, over the last five or six years. There is no question
that there is potential for cyberbullying to get to increases there, because
of the ready access to technology and some of the other concerns. My focus
at the Cyberbullying Research Centre, where I am a professor, is that I
teach. That is my day job.
My focus, and why I think this is just as important a discussion we are
having here, is ensuring that decisions are informed by research and that we
are collecting data. Going back to the previous question about restorative
justice, I am happy to hear that so many of the school districts in Canada
are using restorative justice. My main goal would then be to make sure that
is being evaluated, that we are collecting data on the outcomes and the
processes, what exactly is happening and how is that resulting in favourable
outcomes for the communities? That is what restorative justice is all about.
We can learn in the U.S. a lot about what you are doing. You just have to
be careful in documenting what it is you are doing so we and everyone can
learn from the efforts that so many schools are making. I could wrap up by
saying more data is necessary. We need more research.
Senator Andreychuk: Professor Boivin, you pointed out that
bullying behaviour is contextual in the sense it can be how we perceive and
what people do to us, but it is also our character, our genetics and all of
that. That is the old debate we used to have in the past.
Is part of the problem now that when children are developing, they test
limits and they have fewer tools available? Is it part of the problem that
we do not have any rules about how to use this new technology, what is
appropriate, what is inappropriate, how to use it? We are all struggling,
and I hear more and more that there is just no etiquette about using it. If
you do not start with what is civil in using it, how do children know when
to use it, how to use it and is it as vicious to someone else as we see it?
Is it part of the setting the rules of the new technologies as well as
looking at children?
Mr. Boivin: Perhaps. I have no knowledge, as an expert, to give a
correct answer on this. I would say part of it is about incivility. We are
speaking of incivilities here, not being civil to one another. It is a
question of education and being educated to behave properly with one
Senator Ataullahjan: Dr. Patchin, my question is for you. We talk
about bullying and cyberbullying, that there is more bullying going on, but
is not cyberbullying more harmful in that it follows you and there is no
escape from it? With traditional bullying you walk away from the schoolyard
and leave it behind, but here it follows you, whether it is on your phone in
the form of a text message or on Facebook.
Mr. Patchin: Yes, I agree with you. The potential for harm is
definitely much worse with cyberbullying. Again, we do not have great data
to back that statement up, but I get emails and phone calls every day. I
hear the stories. We have published quite a few papers looking at some of
the consequences of cyberbullying, and they are comparable to traditional
schoolyard bullying. You are definitely right that the potential is much
The example I give, which sort of extends your example, is if I am being
cyberbullied at a school and it gets so bad that I have to leave the school,
I want to start over so I go to a completely different school. Maybe I start
making friends, things are going well, and next thing you know those new
friends Google my name or find that Facebook page or YouTube video or
whatever and now the cyberbullying has basically followed me to the new
You are definitely right that I have had many students, teens, contact me
and say exactly what you said, that cyberbullying is worse. In particular,
for a lot of adults who do not really understand the nature of technology
and how important it is to teens, your gut reaction would be to think it is
better, that it is not as bad, because it is only text. When I was a boy in
middle school I would get beat up. The thought is it should not be as bad,
yet it really is and is even more hurtful in some cases. You are exactly
The Chair: I want to thank all three of you. I think Senator
Andreychuk summed it up really well. We have learned a lot from you. We have
really appreciated your presentations. Thank you for making time for us.