Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 14, Evidence
OTTAWA, Monday, June 4, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 1:36 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 16th 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 the
My name is Mobina Jaffer, and as the chair of this committee, I am pleased to
welcome you to this meeting.
I would like members of the committee to introduce themselves.
Senator Ataullahjan: I am Senator Salma Ataullahjan from Toronto,
Senator White: Vern White from Ottawa, Ontario.
Senator Meredith: I am Senator Don Meredith from Toronto.
Senator Harb: Mac Harb from Ontario.
Senator Robichaud: Fernand Robichaud, Saint-Louis-de-Kent in New
The Chair: It looks like we have so many Ontario senators on this
committee; we will have to hear from Ontario with respect to what they are doing
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
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
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 the 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 Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights is aware that the face of
bullying has changed. For now it has moved from classrooms and schoolyards into
the security of our homes by the way of the Internet. In addition to the social,
verbal and physical abuse, many children today are forced to endure
cyberbullying, which is yet an additional challenge to young people.
Cyberbullying as defined by the Montreal police is the posting of threatening
or degrading messages about someone using words and images, and it also includes
harassment. Cyberbullying takes place through emails, in chat rooms, in
discussion groups, on websites and through instant messaging. This is a problem
that many of our young people are facing. In fact, recent studies have indicated
that 25 per cent of young Net surfers say they have received hate messages from
other 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 of
handheld devices and smartphones today, it has become very difficult, if not
impossible, to escape cyberbullies. One can even make the argument that handheld
devices, like BlackBerrys and iPhones, have become a part of many young people's
anatomy as they are rarely separated from these devices.
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 both protect and assist our children.
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights understands how important it is
to include in our study the voices of young people who are affected by
cyberbullying. That is why I am extremely pleased today to welcome back Mr. Bill
Belsey, who is joining us by video conference, along with several students. Mr.
Belsey, you have appeared in front of this committee before, and we were very
struck by your presentation. You certainly raised many issues with us. Since
that hearing, you have continued to work with us, and we are very appreciative
that you have made available today your class of grade 8 students, ages 13 and
14, for them to share with us their concerns about cyberbullying.
Senators, as you can see from the list in front of you, there are many
witnesses. Therefore, I will ask your indulgence that for each witness we will
have a maximum of two senators ask the questions. I do not mean to limit you, so
if there is a third senator who really wants to ask a question of that witness,
I will not stop it. However, for us to be able to get through all these
witnesses, I will need your indulgence. Is that acceptable, senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Mr. Belsey, I will have you make some introductory remarks
and then call the first witness.
Bill Belsey, Teacher, Springbank Middle School: Thank you very much,
Madam Chair. I will keep my comments extremely brief today. It was an honour to
have presented before you back in December 2011.
When I first coined the term "cyberbullying" over a decade ago, there were
many people who did not take me very seriously. Sadly and tragically, we have
lost the lives of many young people, and many others have been hurt and
intimidated with respect to this issue. Just prior to my departure from
Parliament Hill, I suggested you might consider hearing from young people, and I
am so thrilled and proud as their teacher that my grade 8 students will have the
opportunity to share their voices. I think this is really critical.
Without further ado, I will let my students take it from here. Is there a
particular order you would like to have them called to present, or would you
like me to simply select them?
The Chair: I will have you select them however you think they will be
comfortable. However, before you stop, I am sure my colleagues and the audience
that will be watching this program are curious as to what is in the background.
Can you quickly explain what is in the background? Then I will leave it to your
good hands as to which students will speak first and their order.
Mr. Belsey: Yes, I should explain right away that we are sharing this
videocast with you from Springbank Middle School. We are a school from grades 5
to 8 with over 500 staff and students. When we heard that we had the opportunity
to introduce other facets of the school, students wanted to help and support.
This is a hand-painted backdrop. It says "Springbank Middle School fights
cyberbullying." In the middle is the eagle, which is the symbol of the
Springbank Middle School. I am just thrilled by it. Kalli, Katie, Connor, Malana
and Kailey were the artists who did this, and I am incredibly proud they did it.
They painted it all by hand.
I realize, technically, it is a bit busy for a background, but they put their
hearts into it, and so we are really proud to have their help and support. This
is what you will be seeing behind the students who will be presenting this
The Chair: Okay. Please have the first student come and address us.
Mr. Belsey: I will call upon Samantha Hoogveld.
The Chair: Samantha, thank you for being the first student. It is
always difficult. Please introduce yourself, including your full name and your
grade, and then start with your remarks.
Samantha Hoogveld, Student, Springbank Middle School: Hello,
honourable senators, my name is Samantha Hoogveld, and it is an honour to
present to you today. I am in grade 8.
Earlier this year, I did a position paper in Mr. Belsey's class on female
relational aggression. Being a girl myself I know that girls will do anything to
stay in top of the food chain in their school or community. I have several
reasons why I think that. First, they will take each other down socially, not so
much physically. Second, they can turn on each other's backs just from hearing a
simple rumour that may not be true. Third, they will hide behind technology,
such as texting, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, et cetera.
One of the most common ways that bullying is being done today is online in
the virtual world. Girls will target other girls because they are in competition
over each other's attention, popularity and overall happiness. Most of the time,
it is just to prove that they have more power over another girl or that simply
they can just push them around.
In a girl's world, you never know when you will come to school the next day
and have everyone turn their backs on you from someone just simply starting a
rumour about you. A lot of girls will not go looking for the truth when
something close enough to the truth is in easy reach. They constantly talk about
each other behind each other's backs, make fun of each other, and judge.
From girls' insecurities about their imperfections to their competitiveness
to be the best and anxieties over not measuring up, they can really be cruel
when they want to, and that cruelty can be greatly amplified online. More
technology means new and more ways of cyberbullying. Texting, Facebook, Twitter,
Tumblr and other social media are what girls will hide behind when it comes to
bullying each other. When you are on the Internet, you can and will feel like
you can say and do anything you want with no one finding out what you are doing.
After a while, bullying can really cut you deep inside and may change you
forever. When a girl wants to say something about another girl but does not have
the courage to do it face to face, she will go immediately to the online world,
and sometimes not even considering the option of face-to-face bullying. This is
when people can become withdrawn, because identities can be concealed and hidden
On the Internet, it can feel like a faceless crowd, hidden behind personal
anonymity, when girls will start breaking rules and become bullies. When you are
surrounded by virtual people, you can be motivated to bully and not feel so
guilty insulting someone you do not particularly like. You can feel like no one
can discover what you are saying while you are under the cover of an avatar
Typically, girls will use indirect means such as backbiting, manipulation in
social circles, and creating cliques to cause mental pain, which may become
physical pain that they inflict on themselves. Indirect aggression is a type of
behaviour to attempt to hurt someone in such a manner that it makes it seem like
there was no intention to hurt them at all. Girls will usually have much more
difficulty getting over the problem, even if it was only a rumour. They will
struggle with the emotional fallout of maybe years of relational aggression.
Now that I have thought about it, I have come to the conclusion that, yes,
girls are terrible bullies to each other. Girls will torment each other
emotionally and, the rare time, even physically. They can be driven to suicide
from each other's hurtful rumours from around their school and so much online,
getting haunted by their own peers.
I would really like this to stop. Cyberbullying is becoming worse and worse
every day. I think once there is a consequence for cyberbullying, people stop
and consider their actions.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Hoogveld. There are some senators
who would like to ask you questions, and we will start off with Senator
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you, Ms. Hoogveld. As an artist, the
artwork is lovely and I appreciate that.
Ms. Hoogveld, I wanted to ask you the following: How often do you use social
media such as Facebook and Twitter? How often are you online?
Ms. Hoogveld: I use it multiple times a day. I have my cellphone. I am
on Facebook and Tumblr. I use it quite often.
Senator Ataullahjan: When you say "quite often" that is, what, 10, 20,
Ms. Hoogveld: Maybe 30 times a day.
Senator Ataullahjan: How many email accounts do you have?
Ms. Hoogveld: I have two accounts, but I do not often use them.
Senator Ataullahjan: You are basically on Facebook, and that is what
you use most of the time?
Ms. Hoogveld: Yes, and I do a lot of texting.
Senator Ataullahjan: I was just looking at a study that was recently
released, and they are saying that, on average, kids get 189 texts per day.
Would that be true, or is it less than that?
Ms. Hoogveld: Depending on the person, it can be even more than that,
but I would say that is average, yes.
Senator Meredith: Thank you, Ms. Hoogveld, for your presentation. I
admire your courage, along with the other students, for taking on this fight and
ensuring that other young people feel supported.
One of my questions to you, Ms. Hoogveld, is the following: What support does
the school provide when you know someone has been cyberbullied or been bullied
Ms. Hoogveld: I think, depending on the school, there is a lot of
support with the CDA and the office. They can really help you. Even if you know
someone who is getting cyberbullied, they will do everything they can to make it
Senator Meredith: How do you encourage others that you know have been
cyberbullied? What do you do?
Ms. Hoogveld: I would say just go talk to a parent and make sure that
it is being stopped and that you are not just alone in the world of
Senator Meredith: Thank you so much, Ms. Hoogveld.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Hoogveld.
May we have the next speaker?
Mariel Calvo, Student, Springbank Middle School: Hello, honourable
senators. I will be speaking about how it feels to be cyberbullied, whether or
not this is an issue in Canada, and what I think we could do about it.
Cyberbullying is a huge issue to Canadian teenagers throughout the country.
To those people who say that it is nothing, that it is not a big deal and that
it is teenagers being dramatic, that is completely wrong. It affects our lives
enormously. The outcome of this harassment can lead to poor performance at
school, low self-esteem and serious emotional consequences, including depression
and suicide, so it is much more than just teenagers being dramatic.
The biggest difference between being bullied while in the classroom or
playground and being cyberbullied is that we can be targets of cyberbullying
24/7, and that makes you feel as if there is no safe place. Whenever you are at
school or home, everywhere you go, you can be a target of this. That puts a huge
dent in your life, because you are always pretty shaken up by this and kind of
On the Internet, you can be anyone. You can act in a certain way and say
certain things that normally you would not. You have a lot of power when you go
online. I find that a lot of teenagers abuse that power and use it just to hurt
Some kids make Facebook groups or pages where the sole purpose is to make fun
of or humiliate one of their peers. They actually send invites or something like
that. They send it out and they say, "Yeah, join this group that is making fun
of you and that is saying these awful things about you." It is not nice, and it
really hurts. They also send threatening text messages or comments to another
person. They start or spread rumours about someone, but it does not just have to
be people from your school.
There is a website called Tumblr, and you can send anonymous messages. A lot
of people send hate, and they call it "anon hate." These people, who have
probably never even met you before, call you fat, ugly and stupid. They tell you
to go die sometimes, and they tell you that no one cares about you. Once you
hear this enough, you start to believe it. I have heard stories, and I have seen
a lot of people get so hurt from this that they physically harm themselves,
because every day they would have to come home from school and see this stuff
written about them and to them, and they did not do anything wrong.
What could we do to prevent this? That is really difficult, I think, because
cyberbullying is cyber. It is on text messages. It is using technology. We
obviously cannot cut that out. I have seen six-year-olds walking around with
iPhones, and I do not even have a phone.
You cannot cut technology out. However, I think that making a law about it
would not do much, because I just do not think that teenagers would listen. It
just does not seem real enough. It might make them a bit more aware and careful
of what they say or do, but I do not think they would stop.
What I think we should do is get people speaking about it, get people aware,
and make sure that everybody knows what this does to people and how it harms
people, how it consumes your life completely. Also, as I said before, there are
little kids walking around with this technology in their hands. If we teach them
from a young age how to use it properly and how to use it in a non-negative
fashion, I think that would help a lot and prevent a lot of cyberbullying.
That is what I think. Thank you.
The Chair: Both of you have given us a lot of information. Do you
think that before a parent buys, especially for a six year old or for a young
child, an iPhone or a BlackBerry, there should be some kind of education for the
parent as to the bullying that can occur through that device?
Ms. Calvo: Yes, definitely. I think that if parents teach their kids
and if they are aware, just as equally as everyone, it could prevent a lot and
it could really, I think, fix this problem. Personally, I actually do not think
six year olds should have phones. I am 14. I do not have a phone and I really do
not need one. Yes, I think parents should be aware, and they should know and
should talk to their kids.
Senator Robichaud: How many youth in your age group have the means to
communicate? How would a person in your age group feel if they did not have that
phone or whatever other things that they need to communicate? Would they not
feel left out?
Ms. Calvo: Yes. I think it also depends on who you are. Some kids my
age do not have Facebook or anything; they are okay with it. Really, in our
generation, it is how we connect with each other; it is our social life. People
make friends over Facebook and Tumblr and whatever. That is how they meet
people. That probably sounds very odd to you guys because you are older and —
Senator Robichaud: We are old; we are.
Ms. Calvo: It is the way we connect. If you cut those out, yes, you
definitely would feel left out. Personally, sometimes, yes, I feel left out. I
go to school the next day — and I did not go online the night before — and
everyone is talking about something and I have no idea what is going on. It
makes you feel left out because that is where everything happens, online.
Senator Meredith: You do not need a cell phone; it gets too expensive.
Ms. Calvo, I thank you for your comments. You said that making a law will not
allow young people to act more responsible and they will not listen to it. What
do you think we should do with the parents or what do you think parents should
be doing about talking to their kids about technology and the impacts that they
will have when they use that technology in a negative way? Do you think parents
are doing a good job or a terrible job there?
Ms. Calvo: I think it depends on your relationship with your parent.
If you talk to your mom or dad a lot, then you can talk about this, but if you
don't and you kind of shut them out — my brother does not talk to my parents
about anything that he does online — it all depends on how your relationship
with your parents is. Sometimes parents do need to improve and get more involved
with their children. I think that would also help because they could talk about
A lot of kids who are being cyberbullied do not come forward and do not talk
about it and it eats them up inside. That is a big problem, too. If you talk
about it with your parents you can prevent it more and stop it.
Senator Meredith: You think parents need to speak to their young
people more and find out what they are engaged with. If there is open
communication, do you think this will help these young people who are being
bullied to come and talk about what they are facing in the social media?
Ms. Calvo: Yes, definitely. If you feel comfortable talking to your
parents or even if the adults come to you and they talk to you, I think that
would help enormously.
Senator Meredith: When parents do find out that their young people
have used the technology that they have purchased for them inappropriately, what
are some of the consequences that you think should be meted out?
Ms. Calvo: I am not too sure. I cannot really speak to that because it
is different with every family. Some parents would take all the phones and make
them get rid of their Facebook and stuff; some may not even care. Personally, I
do not know. I cannot speak for them, but I think an appropriate punishment
would be to apologize and really just try to do right from wrong. I am not too
sure; I have never actually been placed in that position.
Senator Meredith: You talked about a law not working and I am thinking
that parents need to get more involved. They need to know exactly what their
children are doing on Facebook or on Twitter and the damage that they are
causing to other young people. They could use that somehow as an opportunity to
teach their children about responsible usage and to ensure that there are some
consequences so that it does not happen again.
You see firsthand how this behaviour is eating up young people and how it is
driving some of your friends to suicide. You have read in the newspaper about
other young people being bullied and taking their own lives. This is why we are
here, working with your schools and others across the country. That is what this
committee is trying to prevent.
I want to thank you for your time and for your input this afternoon.
Senator Ataullahjan: Ms. Calvo, you should be proud of yourself that
you do not have a cellphone. It shows that you are not a follower. You will be a
leader one day.
We talked about kids talking to their parents, but what happens if you cannot
go to your parents? Who else can you turn to?
Ms. Calvo: Teachers, the CDA, even friends. If I had problems, I would
turn to my friends; they have always been there for me. They can help. I see a
lot of people get cyberbullied and they feel pathetic, weak and stupid, so they
do not say anything. That is a big problem. Even with your friends, you think
that no one can help, but really they can. There are many people out there
willing to listen and to help you out and to help stop this.
Emily Dickey, Student, Springbank Middle School: Hello, honourable
senators. My name is Emily Dickey, and I am here to speak to you about the
effects of cyberbullying and what I think needs to be done about it.
The Chair: Please go ahead. You can start your presentation.
Ms. Dickey: I think the worst part of cyberbullying — and I think a
lot of other people would agree — is that the bullies can do it completely
anonymously. It is like being stabbed in the back and having no way of knowing
who did it. To the bully, they may type this message and send it and they may
think of it as a joke; they may be being sarcastic. They have no way of knowing
how the victim will react. They do not know what the victim will do.
I have really close friends, and a family member, who went through
cyberbullying. They got anonymous messages every day on Formspring, Tumblr,
Twitter and everything. They were told that they were ugly and that they should
just kill themselves. They do not know who did it. They do not know if it is
someone who they know personally or if it is just someone who goes around and
sends these messages. They have actually considered suicide, and one of them has
actually tried to kill themselves.
Kids all over Canada are receiving these awful messages and they do not know
what is going on. They do not know what they did to deserve them; they did not
Cyberbullying does hurt. It drives people to suicide and to hurt themselves;
it does all of these things. Yes, I think something obviously needs to be done
about cyberbullying, but like Ms. Calvo said, I do not think passing a law will
help much. Cyberbullying will still go on because if these victims are not
reporting the bullying to their friends, family and schools, who says that they
will want to report it so that the people to get in trouble with the RCMP?
I think students and kids who are going through this need to be able to talk
to a professional without their parent finding out. I think there is a policy
that they have to tell your parents. Maybe your parents are not understanding
about it or they think you are just doing this for attention. They should be
able to talk to someone who understands without their parents finding out.
Perhaps even a website like www.bullying.org could help. There should be more
of those websites and the government could raise awareness that the victims are
not alone; there are other people going through this and other people can help
The government also needs to raise awareness about the subject. I think maybe
even adults do not know what cyberbullying is. Everyone needs to know how
serious it really is. Thank you.
The Chair: We will go on to questions.
Senator Harb: Thank you very much for your excellent presentation. If
you were to look at other forms of bullying — for example on the playground, in
the gym or between classes — would you say cyberbullying is number one or number
two? What is number one crisis grade 8 or grade 7 students are facing these
Ms. Dickey: I think cyberbullying is probably a lot more. Most kids
are scared to say what they want to the victim's face, so they just do it
online. It is just a lot easier for them, I guess you could say. Cyberbullying
can also be a lot more hurtful because on the playground they say some things
and it is hurtful, but with cyberbullying, people can write paragraphs and
paragraphs about what they do not like about this person. They can make websites
and private Facebook groups and gang up on them a lot easier.
Senator White: Thank you very much for your presentation today. Your
school is seen to be one of the leaders when it comes to cyberbullying. Does
your school have the correct rules in place when people cyberbully other
children and if so, can you explain some of them to me?
Ms. Dickey: Yes, they have a lot of rules about it. If the victim
reports it to the school then the person who did it can get in lots of trouble.
They can get an in-school suspension or just suspension. It is not tolerated.
Senator White: Do those rules work in your opinion?
Ms. Dickey: I think they work if the victim comes forward with it, but
a lot of the time the victim does not tell anyone; they just let it happen.
The Chair: Thank you for your presentation.
Emilie Richards, Student, Springbank Middle School: Hello, honourable
senators, it is an honour to be presenting today. In my statement I will discuss
how serious cyberbullying is, what it is like to be a victim, and what I think
we can do about it.
Cyberbullying is a serious thing happening to students and even adults across
the country. Someone told me there is a group of boys in her school who have a
private Facebook group. They take pictures that people in younger grades post on
Facebook and add rude and harsh things to them. They show them to the rest of
the grade and eventually it makes it back to the person in the photo. That is
one of the many examples of cyberbullying.
Imagine being the victim and the feeling of seeing the photo you thought you
looked good in and being laughed at and called names. There is so much that goes
unnoticed and victims that do not come up. They keep all of it inside of them
and there is only so much you can take before you break. I know from personal
experience that cyberbullying can have a huge toll on someone's life. I have
been called every name in the book anonymously online. People have even gone as
far as to tell me to kill myself. Fortunately, I did not, but messages pointing
out all the things I am already insecure about get into your head little by
little. It has caused me to do some crazy things to myself.
I strongly believe that education can help prevent cyberbullying by showing
how it is to be at the receiving end, how the messages that they have given —
and do not think twice about — can crash someone's self-esteem and to let
victims know they are not alone. It is not embarrassing to come forward about
it. They did not deserve it or bring it upon themselves; lots of people go
through the same thing and they can get help.
I also believe that no matter how hard we try, bullying will always go on.
People will always get jealous and say things they do not always mean. We can
make people "bully aware," so everyone knows what is going on, what people use
technology for these days, and how clicking send or post can really make a
difference in someone's life. It can actually end it if you do not think twice
Thank you for the honour of presenting today and I hope you take action on
this very serious subject.
Senator Ataullahjan: Ms. Richards, thank you for your presentation. I
think you are an incredibly brave girl to come and tell us about the problems
you have had. Do you think most victims do not talk about cyberbullying? Do they
just keep quiet and hope it will go away?
Ms. Richards: Yes, I believe that because I feel they think it is
embarrassing to come up. They feel like it is only happening to them, that they
are a freak or they deserve it, or there is a reason why it is happening. They
do not feel like it is okay to come forward. They might not have someone they
can go to. For some people, their parents might be half the problem and then
with the cyberbullying, where do you go to if they do not trust anyone?
Senator Ataullahjan: How can we encourage kids to come forward? What
can be done? How can we let them know they are not alone?
Ms. Richards: Make websites like bullying.org and tell them that
unfortunately it is a common thing to go through and a lot of people have gone
through the same thing. There are a lot of people who can come and help you.
Keeping it inside is not a very good thing to do because you can only keep so
much inside before you crack.
Senator Ataullahjan: Did anyone come to your defence when you were
being cyberbullied? Did any of your friends speak on your behalf?
Ms. Richards: Yes.
Senator Ataullahjan: Did you find that helpful?
Ms. Richards: Oh, yes. There are more people in this classroom that
this has been said to.
Senator Meredith: Thank you for your presentation. You talked about
your personal experience. How did you cope with being bullied? What were some of
the things that you did to ensure that you did not fall victim like others
students or other kids across the country who have taken it to the next step of
saying that they want to end their lives?
Ms. Richards: With Mr. Belsey and with our school, I have always kind
of known that it is not just me. Most of these messages were directed to someone
else as well, so just having her there too was really helpful. Most of the
people in this room were there too. It is not just me that this happens to;
there are a lot of us who have gone through it.
Senator Meredith: Having that support system around you of friends who
have had similar experiences allowed you to cope?
Ms. Richards: Yes.
Senator Meredith: Did you talk to your parents about what you were
Ms. Richards: No, I did not.
Senator Meredith: Why did you not? Why do you think that young people
are so afraid to talk to the parents who love them and nurture them and bought
them the technology that they are using? Why do you think that young people are
so afraid to talk to their parents? Do you think that they will banish you from
Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr? What do you think it is? Tell us today why
students or individuals are so afraid to talk to their own parents?
Ms. Richards: I think it is because most of them are not very close to
their parents. The parents go to work, and they go to school. Then they go off
to do sports or whatever, and there is just not much time to talk to them and
actually grow a connection with them to become friends instead of parents and
daughter, parents and son. I did not really have that great connection, so I
just did not tell them.
Senator Meredith: Thank you for that.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Richards. You were very brave in
sharing your views with us.
Molly Turner, Student, Springbank Middle School: Hello, honourable
senators. My name is Molly Turner. It is an honour to be able to present to you
today on the issue of cyberbullying in Canada. Cyberbullying is a huge issue. It
may not seem like it, but it really is. An adult may think that it is one
hurtful message or one mean text. It is never just one text or one message. It
is a flood of snide comments and cruel words, and it is not always even said to
the person directly. It can be a message saying some things about you that one
person says to another, and then that person sends it to another person. Then,
they send it to someone else until the whole school has heard about this thing
that you supposedly did or said. Everyone has heard that saying, "Sticks and
stones may breaks my bones, but words will never harm me" or some variation of
that, but it is not true; words do hurt, even virtual ones.
I could tell you a lot of stories about cyberbullying. Way too many people I
know have gone through this, but one of them really comes to mind when I think
about how bullying affects people who are not even involved. On Tumblr, you can
send an anonymous message, and no one will know who you are. Most of the time, I
see this used by people who need advice on something deeply personal and do not
want anyone to know who they are. I have seen teens go to others for help for
anorexia, self-harm, relationship issues and a million and one other things that
young people can help each other with.
I have some friends who run a really popular blog. They have so many
followers it is amazing, and they get a lot of anonymous messages like that. A
lot of young kids turn to them for help. They also get a lot of hate, so much
that they had to turn off their anonymous setting. They cut off the ability of
those other young people to turn to them for help with serious issues. Those few
people who felt the need to bully my friends affected other people without even
realizing it, so, even if you are targeting just one person with your hurtful
words, it will never affect just them. The affect will always spread like when
you drop a rock into a pond. The ripples will reach further than you ever could
have imagined. I think that there are many potential solutions to the problem of
cyberbullying. It will be hard, but there are things that we can do. One of
discussions we have had is that the government is considering passing a law to
make cyberbullying illegal, and I know that there are mixed feelings on this.
My opinion is that, while a law may not help to resolve the issue right away,
after a time it may help to discourage young people from bullying others if they
see the consequences of cyberbullying. For example, it is now illegal not to
wear a seatbelt, but, not so long ago, that was acceptable. It was after the law
had passed that more and more people gradually started to wear seat belts after
seeing the consequence of not wearing one. I think the same thing might happen
with cyberbullying. If the government were to set up a very definite consequence
for anyone breaking the law on cyberbullying, it may make cyberbullying more and
more unacceptable in society, just as not wearing your seatbelt is now
considered unacceptable. It would not solve everything and definitely not right
away, but it, along with other measures, might help.
I believe that cyberbullying, as it is now, is a serious issue and could get
even worse if we, as a society, do not do something about it. It affects a lot
more than just one person, and I think that the government could potentially
help to save a lot of young people from having to take on this burden because to
be bullied is to carry a burden. It is a huge weight on your shoulders, and, if
we can help to relieve some of that weight, we should.
Senator Harb: Thank you very much. What I hear you saying is that we
need to have more awareness. Do you have a website in your school so that, for
example, if someone is bullied, they can go and report it to the school without
having to mention their names?
Ms. Turner: We do not have a school website, but bullying.org is the
big one here. Our teacher, Mr. Belsey, started it, and it has been a huge help
to kids all across the country. It is there that you can go and tell your story
and write poems or whatever you want to. It is where you can go for help. We do
not have a website for the school, but I know that that particular website,
bullying.org, is a big help.
Senator Harb: What do you think the government should do to assist?
Ms. Turner: There is kind of the same general consensus all around
here that you have to raise awareness, to tell people what it is like to be
cyberbullied and to tell parents that this is not a little thing but a huge
thing. You have to tell bullies how it feels when they send those messages, and
you just generally have to kind of spread the news. It is a big issue. We have
to stop this and spread awareness.
Senator White: Thank you very much for your presentation today. For
kids in your school involved in cyberbullying and bullying other kids, is there
an in-school program where other kids get involved in dealing with them, like a
peer justice system?
Ms. Turner: There is not, actually. I have a friend who was
cyberbullied by another boy, and in-school suspension is really the punishment.
He was suspended for a day. I really do not think that that does anything. I
think maybe a peer justice system would be a good idea because, at the moment,
it is just teachers and administration dealing with this, and they do not really
understand how it feels and how much it hurts. I think a peer justice system or
some other way that the students could help to deal with these problems would
really be a good idea.
Senator Robichaud: How often do those people who have been bullied, as
a group, find the source of the bullying in discussions among themselves? When
you say that we should put some measures in place, it should be aimed at those
persons who do the bullying. How often do you find that there are a couple of
people who usually are the source of the bullying that you are subjected to?
Ms. Turner: That is a problem. As other people have said before me,
with the anonymous settings on so many websites, you do not know, you cannot
know who it was. It could be someone in your class. It could be someone you see
every day, but you would not know. It is really hard to find that source.
Sometimes we do, and sometimes there is a consequence and sometimes it stops,
but often there is no way of knowing. I think that is another problem, and I
really do not know how to resolve it, but we should resolve it, because if we do
not know the source of the bullying, then we cannot always make it stop.
Senator Robichaud: Thank you for your presentation. I appreciate what
you told us.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Turner, for your presentation. May
we have the next presenter?
Katie Allan, Student, Springbank Middle School: Honourable senators,
my name is Katie Allen. Today in my submission I would like to argue that
cyberbullying is a big deal for Canadian tweens and teens alike. I will cover
three topics: whether cyberbullying is a big issue, how much it hurts from a
teen's perspective, and what I think needs to be done to prevent it.
As you know, the number of teen suicides is quite high in Canada, and
obviously something needs to be done about it. You cannot know the exact reason
why certain people commit suicide, but I believe when it comes to teens it must
have something to do with bullying. All the technology that we are surrounded
with has made bullying much easier, and I can tell you that from personal
experience. There is nowhere to hide. When you go home it is there. Even at
school, when you have your phone on, it is still there.
It is much easier to insult someone over texts or Facebook because you do not
see that look of hurt and betrayal on their face.
The Chair: I am sorry, Ms. Allan, you have such important things to
say to us, and we are having difficulty hearing. I understand from here there
may be someone using a cellphone in the room that you are in. Can you ask them
not to, please? I sincerely apologize. This is hard enough, and I am asking you
to repeat what you were saying, because we have not heard you. Can you start
again, Ms. Allan?
Ms. Allan: That is fine. Today in my submission I would like to argue
that cyberbullying is a big deal for Canadian tweens and teens alike. I will
cover three topics: whether cyberbullying is a big issue, how much it hurts from
a teen perspective, and what I think needs to be done to prevent it.
As you know, the number of teen suicides is quite high in Canada, and
obviously something needs to be done about it. You cannot know the exact reason
why certain people commit suicide, but I believe when it comes to teens it must
have something to do with bullying. All the technology that we surround
ourselves with has made bullying much easier. There is no place to hide and you
are never safe, at home or at school, even on vacation.
I would like to tell you that from personal experience. It is much easier to
insult someone online because you do not see that look of hurt on their face.
When you are the victim of cyberbullying, it is not just upsetting; it is way
more than that. It is a total mix of emotion — anger, confusion, regret, shame;
the list goes on. You do not just feel anger for the bully but for yourself, for
letting them do that to you. You start beating yourself up and you start
believing that the bully is telling you the truth. This can lead to self-harm,
eating disorders, depression, suicidal thoughts and even suicide itself.
When you have a bully face to face, it hurts, but over the Internet when you
cannot defend yourself and half the time you do not know who the bully is, it
feels like a punch in the gut. To put it simply, you feel defenceless.
A friend of mine is an owner of a blog on Tumblr, and she has received so
much anonymous hate that it caused her to take her own life. That is hard for
everyone, even all the people on Tumblr. It makes you scared. Tumblr is a great
resource that you can use to express how you feel, and after something like that
happens, you do not really want to anymore.
I honestly think that what needs to be done to prevent cyberbullying is for
the bullies to see the toll it takes on people, to have the opportunity to hear
the stories of those who have been bullied and see what these people do to
Thank you for this.
The Chair: Ms. Allan, you were very patient with us and you had some
false starts. I apologize, but we thank you. You certainly got your message
across; I can assure you about that.
Senator Ataullahjan: Ms. Allan, do you find that most cyberbullying is
done by people you know or is it done by people who do not know you? The word
that jumped out at me from when you were speaking is "hate." There seems to be a
lot of hate. Is it directed at you by people that you know, or some of the
people you do not know at all, anonymously?
Ms. Allan: If it is anonymous, you are not really sure if you know
them or not. It depends on which sites you are using. On Facebook people do not
really have the ability to be anonymous, unless they make fake accounts, but I
would say it is a mix of both. Sometimes you get hate from people that you know
and other times you get hate from people you have never even met or seen; they
live in a total different country from you.
The Chair: Thank you. May we now go on to the next presenter?
Shelby Anderson, Student, Springbank Middle School: Hello, honourable
senators. My name is Shelby Anderson and I am honoured to be here with you
What is cyberbullying? It is anything from a mean message on Facebook, an
inappropriate picture of you fooling around on the Internet that you did not
know was taken, an email you received about how ugly, stupid or retarded you
are, death threats, and even in text messages. If you get a text message from
someone and it is all in capitals, you do not know if they really mean what they
are saying or they are just saying it to play around or joke with you.
Cyberbullying is everywhere, and it really hurts. It makes you want to crawl
in a hole and just stay there. It makes you feel like you are the only one and
no one is out there to help you; no one can help you.
Is cyberbullying a big deal? It is a big deal, especially for kids. With
adults, if they see it, they usually think it is just a joke between the kids,
and it is not something they need to worry about. Kids are getting meaner and
meaner. At 10 years old, kids are already deciding who the loser kids are and
who the cool ones are. Cyberbullying, or bullying in general, is causing kids to
take their own lives because they cannot take the harassment, and they start to
believe what the bullies are saying. Boys and girls will hear the whispers, the
giggles and their names coming up in every conversation. What the bullies say
will echo through the victim's ears.
Facebook, for example, is an amazing site. You can share your pictures, you
can stay in contact with family around the world, and talk with your friends,
but Facebook has an evil side to it, as well. It is a perfect place for bullies
to choose their victims. There are usually two things the bullies will do from
Facebook. One is that they will look at a picture of someone and the person in
the picture will think it is a really good picture, but the bullies will comment
horrible things and make the person in the picture feel insecure and horrible
about themselves. Second, they could copy the picture and show it to their
friends who will show it to their friends, and it will make the rumours grow
bigger and bigger.
How can we prevent cyberbullying? Personally, I am not sure if there is a way
that we can completely stop cyberbullying because it is hard. Everyone around
the world can do it. Even if we try to stop it, people can continue doing it.
I do not think laying down a law will work. With a law, I feel like kids will
still do it because they do not think the law will stop them. However, if you
are the parent of a child who is bullying someone, do not be angry at them, but
try to talk them into it and saying, "The people you are bullying are humans,
too, and they have feelings just like you and me, and it hurts them, as well."
If your child is the one being bullied, try and tell them it is okay to come
and talk to you. Even if it is tough and you are there for them always, it is
hard for kids to come clean about things like bullying. It is hard to take
things off your chest like that, but it really helps to do it.
For the friends of the ones being bullied, do not just sit back. Do not just
watch them being bullied. Do not just watch them being hurt. You need to go tell
someone; you need to tell a parent or a teacher, and they will help, as well.
We need to find a way to stop bullying because it is hurting kids all around
the world, and it is just wrong. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. We will now go
on to questions.
Senator Robichaud: Thank you very much for your presentation. In your
school, you have come together and, I understand, put groups together that talk
about bullying and the effects of bullying. Have you seen any changes in the
behaviour of bullies? Is there less bullying taking place?
On the other side, are more of your friends who are being bullied coming out
to seek some support?
Ms. Shelby Anderson: I think so. Now that our school and bullying.org
are out there, I think the people being bullied know there are people that can
help them and that the bullying can stop if they come out and talk. It is hard,
but if they do come out, they can get help.
As far as how it affects the bullies, I do not think it is completely
stopping it, but the bullies are decreasing because there are more and more kids
coming out with their problems, and they are growing. The ones being bullied are
bigger than the bullies themselves.
Senator Robichaud: I think that what you are doing is part of the
solution — getting people to talk about it and to have professionals help those
who are being bullied. Maybe this kind of exercise should happen in all the
schools, from one end of Canada to the other. I congratulate you for
participating in that and saying just what can be done. Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Anderson. May we have the next presenter?
Senators, I am sorry I have to be arbitrary. I will just have one senator ask
the question because we are running out of time.
Sloane Anderson, Student, Springbank Middle School: Hello, honourable
senators, my name is Sloane Anderson. I am very honoured to be here to present
my speech to you today.
Bullies are people who are jealous, scared, hurt, and emotionally and
physically disturbed. For me, people bully because of what could have happened
to them; maybe they got bullied when they were little or are getting bullied
now, so they feel like they have to be bullies themselves. There are bullies at
every age. It is sad to see how many bullies there are in the world and how many
kids are getting bullied to the point where they do not want to live anymore.
For me, it seems like, if we cannot stop it now, the lives of our children might
be way worse than they are now. There might be way more suicides and other stuff
that could happen, so we need to stop it before it gets worse.
When kids get bullied, they always feel powerless and alone. However, there
are always people who can help them, like their friends, their family, even
their bus driver if there are bullies on the bus who are bullying you. You can
always tell someone. There is always help.
Bullying is an everyday thing. I do not think a law will help bullying
because, like Ms. Calvo said, we are teenagers. Lots of people will not listen
to it. On Facebook, if you send a mean message or a death threat to someone, you
can just delete it afterwards. Therefore, if the victim decides to come forth
and tell an adult, then the bully can say "No, I did not do that," because they
deleted it, and that is not right because it did happen and there is more that
you could do.
Also like Ms. Anderson said, you do not know what tone the bully or anyone is
using on the Internet. You do not know if it is nice or mean. It is by your
point of view. You have to decide what they are saying, so you do not know if it
Cyberbullying is a big deal and it can start at any age. For me,
cyberbullying is something that causes kids to fake accounts because they are
scared of what people might think of them. They can get bullied for their image,
what their personality is or what they like to do. It does not matter; there is
always something that they can get bullied over, and it is really sad.
Therefore, they make fake accounts so nobody really knows them. You have to be
true to yourself, so just be you.
There is not very much you can do to prevent bullying, but I think some of
the things you can do is not give out your account passwords or security codes
to anyone, even if you trust them, because you do not know if it will slip out.
Also, if someone sends you a mean message or a death threat, do not respond
to it. Tell a parent or anyone. If you are really angry and you decide to take
it out on someone and send a mean message, think before you press send, because
you do not know what will happen; imagine if you were the person receiving the
message. How would you feel?
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. Senator Meredith
will ask a question.
Senator Meredith: Ms. Anderson, thank you for your presentation. Your
school has been very proactive in stopping bullying in your school, but you have
friends in other schools. Are they as proactive as your school has been in
Ms. Sloane Anderson: Our school is probably one of the schools that is
doing the most because we have Mr. Belsey, who started the bullying.org website.
I think there are a lot more schools that are doing more stuff, but I am not
quite sure how they are helping.
Senator Meredith: The kids at your school, then, feel that the
administrators are doing everything they can to stop bullying. How could they
spread this across the rest of your school district to ensure that other kids
who feel unsupported are getting the support they need?
Ms. Sloane Anderson: I think not just the teachers or staff here could
do something, but the students could tell other students at other schools. We
could all come together and do something. It might make a big difference. I hope
it does. We can all just come together and do something.
Senator Meredith: Thank you, Ms. Anderson. I appreciate that.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
We will now go on to the next presenter.
Oliver Buchner, Student, Springbank Middle School: Hello, honourable
senators. I will talk to you today about the issue of cyberbullying in Canada.
We all know that cyberbullying is a big issue that affects everyone, either
directly or indirectly. In my presentation I will talk about how cyberbullying
affects the victim, why a law would not stop cyberbullying, and how we can
prevent cyberbullying without a law.
I found that most kids who were bullied or cyberbullied never actually tried
to say anything to an adult or someone who could help. Not telling anyone is one
of the things that I think encourages cyberbullying. The bullying will drag on
and on because the bully knows the victim will not tell, even if it is the right
thing to do. Most kids do not want to look like a coward by telling an adult
that they are getting bullied.
Kids think that telling is a sign of weakness, but cyberbullying affects the
victim's personal life, family life and even his or her school work, and can
eventually lead to depression or suicide. A kid who is cyberbullied will always
have the problem in the back of his or her mind and it will distract them when
they need to think, such as at school or at work.
A law might help some problems, but for cyberbullying it will not cut it. As
a modern child, I know that a law against cyberbullying will not stop someone
from sending a dirty or mean message. Even with a law, most kids will not admit
to being bullied or cyberbullied. It will be hard to track cyberbullying without
In my opinion, teachers should educate their classes on the issue of
cyberbullying, as well as normal bullying. They could have class discussions and
guest speakers. They could talk to kids about how cyberbullying and bullying
affects kids. I think that if we did this, we could reduce the number of kids
getting bullied. By educating kids about bullying, we would realize how much it
affects the victim and his or her family and why they should never do it. By
discussing it, a kid will know that it is okay to tell someone about being
Senator White: Thank you very much. You talked a little bit about the
fact that you do not believe a law would necessarily be successful. Your school
does have rules — which could be considered laws within the school — that
suspend students for their behaviour in relation to cyberbullying. Would you
make changes to the rules you have in your own school as well?
Mr. Buchner: We could probably change the rules so that if anyone was
bullied or cyberbullied, they could tell someone, such as the guidance
counsellor at our school; and the person who is the bully will have to face the
consequences of what they have done, because it is not a good thing to do.
Senator White: What consequences would you recommend: what you have
now or something different?
Mr. Buchner: Right now we normally have suspensions, but that is the
only thing that our school really does right now.
Senator White: Thank you for that, and thank you for your presentation
Mr. Belsey: Hello again, honourable senators. We have come to the
conclusion of the students' presentations. I just want to say again that it has
been a tremendous honour for the students from Springbank Middle School to have
their voices heard. I am really quite proud of my students. I thought that they
represented themselves very well. I hope you felt that their insights will help
you in the difficult task you have ahead of you.
As their teacher who teaches them language arts this year, I like to think
that we in our class are leaders in many ways. My students have used Twitter. We
use Skype. All the students have their own blogs, which they use on a regular
basis to share and publish their writing. Rather than banning and blocking these
technologies, what we have tried to do — in, I hope, an insightful and
progressive way — is to use these various technologies to have my students and
others know that these are the most powerful communicative tools in the history
of mankind, and the computer and the Internet. I hope that this year my students
felt that they understood the positive power of these tools and, through their
presentations today, maybe gave you some insights into how incredibly hurtful,
harmful and really terrible this issue is in their lives.
I wondered if you had any final questions, either for me or my students, at
The Chair: Senator White has a question.
Senator White: Yes, a couple of us have questions.
The question I have is in relation to the rules. A number of the students
referred to suspensions. I have about a 25-year history of developing
restorative justice practices in schools and communities, and I was wondering
whether that is a consideration, going forward, at Springbank Middle School as
Mr. Belsey: Absolutely. I think restorative justice is a really
important thing. When you hear terms that are bandied about these days in
education, such as "zero tolerance," the idea to not want to tolerate bullying
is laudable; however, to say, "If you bully, you are out," really does not, of
course, change anything. What is important with approaches like restorative
justice is that there are consequences, but they are formative consequences,
consequences that teach.
As an educator, I went to a wonderful school in Ontario. I did four years of
teacher training. In my four years at a fantastic Canadian university, studying
to be a teacher, I received not one single research-based course or even a class
about bullying, and certainly not cyberbullying, during my entire teacher
training. That is something that needs to be addressed. As you heard the
students say today, students are often cautious, fearful or loath to come
forward and tell an adult, because in some cases they are worried that a
teacher, unfortunately, may unwittingly make the situation worse; or a parent
loves their kids but may really not know what to do.
If I am going to say to my students, whom I care very much for, "Do not keep
this to yourself; tell an adult or someone you know and trust," the next part
is: What if that adult does not know what to do? The research is telling us that
people often have to tell 10, 12 or more adults until finally they may find
someone to help. I think restorative justice is a strong example of formative
consequences, which are consequences that teach, and I would certainly support
any move along those lines, in my school and beyond.
Senator White: Thank you for sharing your school and students with us
Senator Ataullahjan: We heard from nine students today. Eight of them
were girls and one was a boy. Are girls being bullied more or are they just more
willing to talk about the issues that affect them?
Mr. Belsey: I left the presentations optional for my grade 8 students.
I think, as you may have heard from Ms. Hoogveld's presentation and from some of
the other young ladies, when I asked them, "Do you think it is more of an issue
for girls than for boys," many of the female students in my class felt strongly
that it was.
Certainly boys do experience bullying in different forms, but social forms of
bullying tend to be perpetrated by girls, and that is borne out by research.
Probably more importantly than research, you heard from a lot of young female
students in my class. I do not know if they can smile at me or not if I am
right, but I think one of the reasons why, when I left the invitation open to
them, there were so many young women, is that they feel strongly that this
affects them as young women, as students in our school, and as young women
generally. They felt that this is particularly a problem for their gender.
I am getting a lot of smiles and head nods. I think that they felt
particularly strong about having the opportunity to present their thoughts,
feelings and experiences about cyberbullying with you today.
Senator Robichaud: Mr. Belsey, bravo. I think the students who gave us
their part of their story did it very well. They were articulate and well
spoken. I am sure this is a reflection of the work do you in your school. I hope
that kind of work is done in all the other schools — not to put down anyone
else, but it shows a positive image of what you are doing. To those students,
thank you for job well done; and to you, sir, keep on doing what you are doing
because, from what we heard from the students, it is having an effect. Thank you
The Chair: Mr. Belsey, we appreciate all the work you did to put these
panels together. We look forward to working with you in the future. Thank you
I would like to welcome our next panel. We have the Anti-Defamation League,
with Mr. Scott Hirschfeld and Mr. Seth Marnin joining us by video conference,
and we have the pleasure of welcoming Ms. Helen Kennedy, the Executive Director
of Egale. We are very familiar with your work, so we welcome you again.
Seth M. Marnin, Assistant Director, Legal Affairs, Civil Rights Division,
Anti-Defamation League: Good afternoon, honourable senators. Thank you for
the invitation to present today. I am Seth Marnin, Assistant Director, Legal
Affairs, Civil Rights Division. Bullying and cyberbullying are among the
substantive legal issues I handle in this role. Joining me is Scott Hirschfeld,
Director of Curriculum, who develops diversity, anti-bias training and
The Anti-Defamation League has been fighting discrimination and bigotry since
its inception in 1913. Our mission is to fight the defamation of the Jewish
people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all.
For over 25 years ADL has been taking a leading role in working to combat
online bullying, raising awareness by developing curriculum and programming for
teachers, students and the community on how to recognize and respond to
cyberbullying. ADL has worked closely with state legislatures around the nation
to craft anti-bullying laws. We have developed a model law to address problems
caused by cyberbullying and the use of electronic media to extend the reach of
bullying beyond the school yard and even into the sanctuary of the a child's
ADL is also a proud advocate of preserving freedom of expression. We
understand that our own first amendment of the U.S. Constitution is unique and
sometimes frustrating for others whose legal frameworks allow for more
government restrictions of speech, particularly with regard to content on the
Internet. Even in the U.S. the right to free speech is not absolute. U.S. courts
have struck a balance between constitutional rights and protecting society from
harm, for example, in speech that intimidates, threatens or defames in addition
to certain student expression.
Indeed, school children have constitutional rights but those rights are, and
can, be limited. As I will discuss, U.S. courts have struck a balance between
free expression and the protection and safety of students, which leaves a
certain kind of legal legroom for communities to engage our youth and schools in
proactive strategies to combat bullying and hate online, and promote a civil
electronic discourse. We encourage you to develop similar strategies to combat
bullying, bigotry and hate.
There are a number of legal limitations on school administrators when
considering ways to treat an incident of cyberbullying. When determining how to
respond to an incident of cyberbullying, schools must take into account the
sometimes competing objectives of safeguarding students' right to free
expression, the right to privacy, duty to appropriate a safe learning
environment, and the duty to abide by civil rights laws that prohibit
discrimination. In the U.S. those constitutional rights can be limited, as I
In 1969 the case Tinker v. Des Moines in the U.S. Supreme Court set
the standard for balancing student expression with the right of a school to
punish speech. The court held that a school can restrict speech if it causes a
substantial and material disruption of an educational objective or interferes
with another student's rights.
Courts around the country have used this Tinker standard as a means of
permitting schools to prohibit bullying and cyberbullying that substantially and
materially disrupts the school's mission. The application of the Tinker
standard has been challenged, most often in incidents involving schools that
discipline students for cyberbullying another student when the perpetrators'
expression was created off the physical school campus. U.S. courts continue to
grapple with this issue, but more and more can consider school action
constitutional if there is a censoring of that speech, a nexus between the
off-campus expression and the effect it is having on campus.
A school must also consider a student's privacy rights. The government is
prohibited from searching someone's property unless there is a probable cause to
suspect unlawful activity. In a school setting however, the government needs
only reasonable suspicion. The standard allows for more leniency in searching
cell phones and computers. On the other hand, they must also consider the rights
of the students being bullied. Schools have a duty of care toward students and
in a recent case, a school was ordered to pay $800,000 in damages to a student
who claimed the school did not do enough to protect him from years of bullying.
Schools may also be subject to civil rights statutes if it is motivated by a
student's race, ethnicity or gender.
Finally, there may be criminal issues in play, as mentioned above. Not all
expression is protected, such as intimidation or threats. Further, if one of
these crimes is motivated by a personal or immutable characteristic of the
victim, the incident may be a hate crime. Schools must be equipped to reach out
to appropriate authorities if such crimes are suspected. These legal limitations
must be taken into account when considering strategies and recommendations for
action with regard to bullying or any other incidents of hate.
I would like to invite Mr. Hirschfeld to address training and workshops.
Scott Hirschfeld, Director of Curriculum, Anti-Defamation League: Good
afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to address the Senate on such an
I am the Curriculum Director for the Anti-Defamation League and am involved
in helping to develop and implement ADL's training and curriculum programs on
anti-bias and anti-bullying issues. I will talk for a couple of minutes about
the program offerings on cyberbullying from ADL.
We offer half-day and full-day training for educators, administrators, youth
service providers, family members and youth that increase awareness about the
unique features and impact of cyberbullying, provide strategies for responding
effectively and fostering increased culture of e-safety, and respect for
differences among youth. These interactive training programs provide practical
information and opportunities for skill-building that support participants in
developing comprehensive plans for preventing and taking action against
cyberbullying and social cruelty and online forums. We currently offer four
programs different members of the school community.
We have a program for educators called Trickery, Trolling and Threats. It is
a half or full day program for middle and high school educators, administrators,
youth service providers and other adults in the school community that increase
awareness about the impact of cyberbullying and provide strategies for
This program tries to increase adults' understanding and awareness of the
issues and how cyberbullying manifests and occurs among youth in their
communities. It explores the connection between cyberbullying, bias-motivated
behaviour and online hate activities, and helps them learn strategies for
empowering youth to respond to cyberbullying.
We also offer a program called Cyberbullying: Focus on the Legal Issues for
school administrators and others concerned about the legal framework surrounding
cyberbullying. This is an interactive two and a half hour training that looks
in-depth at the legal and constitutional issues including free speech, privacy,
liability and criminal law. We discuss hate crimes and bias incidents in
cyberspace and examine appropriate intervention strategies and disciplinary
responses to cyberbullying and cyberthreats.
We have a program called CyberALLY that offers practical information and
opportunities for skill-building that support youth in developing internal
strategies for protecting themselves against cyberbullying — as well as acting
as cyberallies — or preventing and taking action against cyberbullying and
social cruelty in online forms when they encounter it.
We have another program called Youth and Cyberbullying: What Families Don't
Know Will Hurt Them. It is a two-hour interactive training for parents and adult
family members which helps increase their understanding about the language,
skills, information and challenges associated with cyberbullying. It assists
families, children and teens to respond in appropriate ways to incidents of
cyberbullying and promote safe and respectful online environments for all
We believe at ADL that bullying and cyberbullying are whole-community
problems, which is why we involve youth educators, administrators, families and
other members of the school community. Since their inception, ADL has conducted
approximately 500 cyberbullying programs reaching about 30,000 people in 25
regions across the United States.
I will turn it back to my colleague Mr. Marnin. We will briefly share some
recommendations and best practices.
Mr. Marnin: The primary recommendation from the legal perspective is
the importance of enacting bullying and cyberbullying prevention policies and
laws that are both proactive and responsive and engage the community to action.
In particular, national and local education authorities should adopt bullying
prevention policies and should be compelled to do so by law. The policy should
entail disciplinary measures in addition to proactive measures that combat and
deter future incidents. A strong bullying prevention policy will, of course,
prohibit bullying. It should include a clear definition of bullying,
specifically one that defines electronic communication broadly so that students
and the community know exactly what is and what is not acceptable.
It should involve government officials, school districts, parents, teachers,
students, school volunteers, law enforcement officials and community members in
developing policy. It should create specific avenues for students and teachers
to report incidents of bullying and they should be able to do so safely and free
The policy should require explicit notice to parents and students of the
prohibition on bullying and the avenues for reporting incidents. It should
provide counselling services for victims of bullying, and require schools to
report bullying activity to a government authority so there is an awareness and
accountability for all schools, require training about bullying and
cyberbullying for teachers and students and, importantly, should include
explicit enumerated categories, including race, religion, national origin,
gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability or other
identifiable characteristics. Naming the categories removes all doubt that
anti-Semitic bullying or anti-gay bullying or bullying of other specifically
targeted groups is included within the prohibitions. It also underscores that
hatred based on bigotry and stereotypes affect communities in a unique way and
will not be tolerated.
While the strategy used to combat bullying can teach lessons for combating
the broader problem of cyberhate, schools and students do not bear the entire
onus to address this issue. It is of the utmost importance to have a constant
and civil dialogue from various facets of society.
Industry and consumers should partner to identify ways to collaborate and
promote civil discourse. As consumers, it is our responsibility to work with the
industry on ways to minimize the dangers and risks of cyberbullying and
cyberhate. We recommend that Internet consumers commit to helping those in the
industry understand what is and what is not problematic content by engaging in
positive responses. We recommend to the industry to understand the laws as they
relate to cyberbullying, hate crimes and cyberhate and work with youth where
We recommend Internet providers define prohibited hate speech and prohibit
the use of hate in any terms of service agreement. A responsible website will
establish clear, user-friendly reporting mechanisms for reporting hateful
content and will act quickly to remove or sequester hateful content once it is
reported. That is not censorship; it is compliance with Internet service
providers' terms of service.
Finally, government leaders and public figures must continue to condemn
bigotry and violence motivated by bias wherever and whenever it arises. As
always in order to combat hate online, we need the cooperation of communities in
the fight against hate. It is hard to overstate the importance of public
officials and law-enforcement authorities willing to speak out against hate,
discrimination and bullying. That leadership helps nurture a climate and culture
in which other members of the community are willing to condemn bigotry and
combat the effects of hate online.
Mr. Hirschfeld: I will conclude ADL's testimony by highlighting
several recommendations and best practices at the school level for addressing
cyberbullying in a comprehensive and proactive way.
First, it is important that school leaders conduct needs assessments at their
schools. They should be implementing surveys of students, staff and families and
other members of the community to learn more about their experiences,
perceptions and needs with regard to cyberbullying and other issues related to
school climate and safety. This data can be used to inform policy, program and
Second, every school should have a committee in place to deal with these
issues. They should form a team or assign an existing committee to be
responsible for keeping up with laws, policies, best practices and current
trends regarding cyberbullying and Internet safety to plan and coordinate
instructional and programmatic activities that increase awareness of
cyberbullying in their institutions, to build relationships with relevant
communities members, including local law enforcement officials that deal with
Third, schools should establish and enforce policies. They need to set clear
guidelines for technology use at their institutions, and update anti-bullying,
harassment and disciplinary policies accordingly. They should publicize and
educate about these guidelines and make youth aware of the consequences of
Fourth, schools need to develop reporting and investigation processes. They
must establish safe and confidential reporting mechanisms for cyberbullying
incidents and make youth aware of these structures. They should develop incident
review protocols so that it is clear how reports of cyberbullying will be
followed up in a timely and thorough fashion, and they should identify school
action options including disciplinary consequences, working with families,
involving guidance counsellors, and bringing in law enforcement, legal
professionals and phone in Internet service providers as appropriate.
Fifth, the community needs to be educated. Schools should be engaging youth
in activities and discussions on an ongoing basis about ethical standards for
online activities, teach them that all forms of bullying are unacceptable and
help them identify strategies for responding to cyberbullying and online hate.
Schools should also provide professional development and family education
that helps adults in the community to better understand how to recognize the
warning signs of cyberbullying and how to respond effectively when it occurs.
Finally, schools should implement a comprehensive Internet use management
plan. They need to institute supervision and monitoring practices that keep
relevant staff at their institutions informed about how technology is being used
onsite and that help them to enforce rules and policies. Blocking and filtering
software can be included as part of a comprehensive monitoring strategy but
should not be relied on as the solution or the only tool for ensuring safe
With that, we will conclude our testimony and are happy to respond to any
questions from the Senate at this time. Thank you very much for your attention.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We will now go on to Ms. Kennedy from
Helen Kennedy, Executive Director, Egale Canada: Senators, I wish to
preface my remarks by saying that this paper is adapted from a presentation
prepared by Dr. Catherine Taylor, PhD, University of Winnipeg, member of the
Education Committee, Egale Canada.
Egale Canada is our national lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans — LGBT — human
rights organization, advancing equality, diversity, education and justice.
Egale's vision is Canada free of homophobia, bi-phobia and transphobia and
all other forms of discrimination so that every person can achieve their full
potential, unencumbered by hatred and bias.
We were founded in 1986. We were incorporated as a federal not-for-profit
organization in 1995, with a focus on education, advocacy, litigation and expert
The existence of LGBTQ students is more obvious in some schools than others,
but they exist in every class in every school. If their presence is not obvious,
they are likely pretending to be heterosexual or conventionally gendered to
This afternoon I will discuss the topic of cyberbullying, in the course of
reporting on the findings of our first national survey on homophobic and
transphobic violence in our Canadian schools.
I brought a copy of the final report for you, and I will submit that to the
Egale's committee of educators and school trustees from across Canada
designed this national study to answer research questions about homophobic and
transphobic violence in our schools.
After 18 months of data collection, ending in June of 2009, we had over 3,700
participants. The sample was representative of the Canadian population in terms
of region, ethnicity, city, suburb, town, rural and remote.
What did we learn? First, we learned that schools are indeed unsafe and
disrespectful for our LGBTQ students.
In the area of symbolic violence, for example, 70 per cent of all
participants, gay and straight, reported hearing of expresses such as "that's so
gay" every day in school. It is often said that students do not mean homosexual,
they just mean stupid or worthless. For LGBTQ students, that means hearing a
word that goes to the core of your identity used as a synonym for stupid or
loser every single day. Almost 50 per cent of the students surveyed heard
remarks like faggot, queer, lezzie and dyke on a daily basis in our Canadian
We asked participants: Are any of the following places in your school unsafe
for LGBTQ students to go? We gave them a list of everyday spaces, including the
classrooms, the corridors, the change rooms, the washrooms, the cafeteria, the
bus and walking routes to and from school.
For example, 79 per cent of the trans-students, 70 per cent of the LGB
students and 47 per cent of the heterosexual students saw at least one place in
school as unsafe for LGBTQ students, with washrooms, change rooms and hallways
being at the top of the list.
Violence at school bleeds into violence online, where we can see the same
patterns continuing. Trans-students were most likely to be targeted, followed by
female sexual minority students and then male sexual minority students.
Thirty per cent of the female sexual minority students told us that they were
harassed about being LGBTQ in cyberspace. Twenty-three per cent of the gay males
said that they were harassed online for being gay. Forty-seven per cent of the
trans-students said that they were harassed in cyberspace, compared to 5.6 per
cent of our straight population.
Sixteen per cent of the female lesbian/gay/bisexual students were harassed
daily or weekly online about being LGB. Ten per cent of the gay males were
harassed in cyberspace on a daily or weekly basis, compared to 26.7 per cent of
The impact of cyberharassment on targeted individuals, those who skip school
because they feel unsafe for being harassed in cyberspace, is 51 per cent of
those surveyed. That is a huge amount of the student population.
For all students, LGBTQ and heterosexual, we understand the basic contours of
online harassment. It is permanent. We might persuade the perpetrators not to do
it again, but they have lost control over the vile words once the send button is
pressed. The message can keep circulating through social media and text
It is ubiquitous. There is no safe space left for the victim. We know that
children and teenagers often sleep with their cellphones under their pillows and
compulsively check through the night, afraid that, if they do not keep
messaging, they will be messaged about and find themselves alone on the target
range. Perpetrators can act anytime, anywhere, with or without adult
supervision, in-between bites at a family dinner.
It is impulsive. The ability to act instantly on an abusive impulse leaves
little room for sober second thought.
It is quasi-real. The impact of cyberharassment is all too real for its
victims, but the casually abusive perpetrator might have a lowered sense of the
significance of the action.
There is a group mentality. One comment on social media can quickly escalate
to gang assault, leaving the victim feeling alone in the world and humiliated.
For LGBTQ youth, homophobic cyberbullying broadcasts their sexual or gender
identity to the world. Even adults, in 2012, are still careful about who we come
out to so as to be safe or simply to avoid having to deal with bigotry. For
LGBTQ youth, maintaining control over who knows can be a matter of life and
There is a solid bank of scholarly research showing that depression and
"suicidality" skyrocket after disclosure of sexual identity to parents and
family members. Even when youth feel most hopeful about their parents'
acceptance, they are often wrong. Although many parents accept and support their
LGBTQ children, the literature shows that many other parents react to
disclosures of their child's status with hostility, ranging from shock and
horror to grounding or eviction to being sent to the so-called conversion
therapy to intense verbal and physical abuse.
We know that LGBTQ youth who are rejected by their families are nine times
more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts.
Despite the gains made in LGBTQ rights in recent years, it is still deadly to
be identified as LGBTQ in some circles. The news stories on homophobic
cyberharassment contain many examples of malicious outing, for example, the
college roommate who secretly filmed a young man, Tyler Clementi, having sex
with another man and uploaded it to a social media site, leading to a U.S.
We are not taking cyberharassment seriously enough. Part of the problem is
that we do not want to deal with homophobia in a vigorous way because we are
afraid of media attention and parental backlash, but part of the problem is that
focusing on the term cyber-bullies is distracting us from the facts.
First, it depersonalizes. The term cyberbullying obscures the agency of the
bully and suggests that the bully exists only as a function of cyberspace, not
in physical space.
Second, it minimizes. The language of bullying itself is problematic. For all
the work that has been done in the Safe Schools Movement to bring attention to
the issue, bullying still does not convey the seriousness of the behaviours it
covers. If adults were being subjected to vicious insults and goaded to commit
suicide in cyberspace or in physical space or were being slammed into walls and
sexually assaulted in locker rooms, we would be using the felony language of
harassment, uttering threats, battery and sexual assault.
Third, it depoliticizes. Focusing on cyberspace obscures the structural
sources of violence, the enduring homophobia and transphobia of school culture
that supply motive, logic and institutional authority for violence.
Another problem is our focus on cyberspace as the problem. Would Jamie
Hubley's suicide have caught the media's attention if it had not been shown in
Much of the media reporting on harassment in cyberspace spins cyberspace
itself as a lawless frontier that needs to be colonized by adult surveillance
systems to enforce good behaviour on youth. However, cyberspace is not the
criminal. There is no doubt that harassment is a crime of opportunity and that
the ubiquitous ease of electronic communication provides ample opportunities,
but cyberspace is just as happy to be a field of dreams as a stalking ground for
LGBTQ youth. We have online anti-bullying sites, Egale has a website called
mygsa.ca, which is a site that deals with education and establishing safe spaces
— gay-straight alliances — in our school system across the country. The It Gets
Better campaign is another classic example. Cyberspace can also be an
organization and communications space for work that does not get done in the
bricks and mortar school system, a place for adults and students, heterosexual
and queer, to organize. Cyberspace itself is not the problem. Terrible and
wonderful things happen there, but Canada's high schools remain a kind of land
that time forgot, where youth and adults are still prowling for LGBTQ youth, and
we need to challenge the culture of homophobia and transphobia that persists in
our schools the way that we have tackled them in the adult world by law but also
by loosening up about the law of silence and admitting that LGBTQ people should
be admitted into the everyday and everyday conversation.
The good news is that in schools where even small efforts have been made,
students report a better climate. We can police cyberspace all we want and maybe
even significantly reduce the incidence of homophobic and transphobic harassment
that occurs there, but that is just moving the problem back to physical space,
not making it better.
To make it better, we need to make use of the pedagogies that we have
developed in the last 50 years to promote safe and respectful schools for other
forms of diversity: coming down hard on abusive language and direct harassment
in the hallways, studying the historical construction of prejudice, representing
LGBTQ people in the curriculum, using inclusive language, holding inclusive
events and supporting students in their efforts.
Harassment policies and gay-straight alliances are important elements of a
safe and respectful school culture, but they are not enough in themselves to
transform school culture. The single biggest opportunity that educators have to
shift school culture is through classroom teaching, and right now almost nothing
is happening there.
We need a strong mandate, from ministries of education across the country, to
integrate sexual and gender diversity into classroom teaching, just as we now
integrate content regarding other kinds of social diversity. Otherwise, fear of
repercussions and lack of training will continue to prevent many school
divisions and most of their teachers from doing it. Above all, we need to end
the taboo status of LGBTQ people in our classrooms and in our society.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We will now continue with questions.
Senator Ataullahjan: Do we still have the Anti-Defamation League
The Chair: Yes.
Senator White: They are hiding there.
Senator Ataullahjan: My question is for Mr. Marnin. This study relates
to an issue of child protection under Article 19 of the UN Convention on the
Rights of the Child. How does your cyberbullying initiative, in particular the
cyberbullying of youth, fit under your mandate as an organization? Are you
relating it to the upholding of human rights? Also, how does combating
cyberbullying fit into the mission of the ADL?
Mr. Marnin: On the first part of your question, our framework for
addressing cyberbullying has not been contextualized in that manner. We have
come at it more from the approach under U.S. law and of our opportunities and
In terms of how it relates to the Anti-Defamation League's overall mission
and work, in the efforts to stand up for the rights of all, we understand "all,"
obviously, to include our youth, LGBT youth and others. We saw quite clearly how
bullying and cyberbullying were impacting our youth and took it up.
Interestingly enough, we took up cyberbullying prior to bullying in our history,
and began to understand that as a larger part of bullying.
Senator Ataullahjan: We have new issues that come into focus. Should
schools be punishing students for their off-campus activities? Do they have the
right, or should they be given the power to do that?
There are concerns also that any legislation on cyberbullying will infringe
on the rights of freedom of expression. The lines are blurred between what is
allowed to be expressed by an individual and what is hate. How do you define
Mr. Marnin: It is a line that we care very much about, given the
constitutional work that we have done here at the ADL. From our perspective,
understanding the ways in which cyberbullying affects the targets of the
bullying in interrupting their education and interrupting the school day, and it
is just as detrimental to those youth as if it were happening right there in the
school. Therefore, when cyberbullying happens in a way via the Internet or via
text messages, it does not happen in a vacuum. It deeply affects the students
and their capacity to attain education. We just heard about the percentage of
youth not going to school because of their experiences with bullying and
cyberbullying, and that deeply concerns us. That is how we understand this.
We certainly have no interest in impinging on the freedom of expression
guaranteed under our Constitution in this case, but we must also understand how
that expression, when it is targeting someone, is not protected speech any
longer, in the same way that inciting violence is not protected speech.
Senator Ataullahjan: My question is for Ms. Kennedy. Thank you for
your presentation. We heard from you that cyberbullying of the LGBT youth is a
prominent human rights issue in Canada. Can you tell me what is currently being
done by the federal, provincial and municipal governments in this regard, and
what is being done by the civil society groups?
Ms. Kennedy: There are very few provinces in Canada doing anything
about it, with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador, although Ontario
currently has Bill 13 that they are looking at. It will make amendments to the
Safe Schools Act to include gay-straight alliances within the school structure
Recently, we did a series of training sessions in Newfoundland and Labrador
of all the principals, vice principals, guidance councillors and school
administrators in every district in that province. It was incredibly successful.
The Ministry of Education in Newfoundland Labrador is taking a very proactive
approach to this issue because they know of the problems. We are going back in
the fall to do all of their 5,000 teachers.
In Canada, across the country, we are seeing little or no pre-service
education providing teachers with the tools they need before they end up in the
classroom. We are asking an awful lot of our teachers to take on these issues
when we are not providing them with the resources they need in order to address
them: understanding the language such as trans, which is understanding
transgender and transsexual. It is a holistic approach.
In terms of civil society, there is a little work being done through
organizations in the U.S. and organizations in Britain. Canada now has a survey
— the first of its kind in the country — that actually examines the climate for
our LGBTQ youth. Interestingly, we discovered that it is girl-on-girl violence
in the segregated areas that is more extensive than the violence against what is
perceived to be the young gay male. Also, 58 per cent of the students who
identified as straight said that they were upset about what was happening to
their LGBT peers in their school system.
From a federal level, there is not a lot being done. There are pockets within
the country at the provincial level that are actually now starting to address
this, but it is not as extensive as it should be.
Senator Ataullahjan: Do you feel that cyberbullying should be included
in teacher training, that they should be given the tools to say what acceptable
behaviour is and training on how to use social media? Should they be taught that
and see where the lines should be drawn in schools as to what is acceptable
Ms. Kennedy: Absolutely. Our study has shown us that teachers are
sometimes part of the problem. They engage in the homophobia. We have incidents
of teachers laughing at young boys because of the way they run. This is not
acceptable. If we do not give the teachers the knowledge and the resources that
they need in order to address the issue, then we will never tackle this problem
in the way that it should be addressed.
Senator White: Thank you for your presentations. My question actually
pertains specifically to the bully and the differences that most of us see
between a cyberbully and the old-fashioned bully in the classroom or schoolyard.
Many would say that they are not the same and must be managed differently. I do
not know that any of us have our head around that. How can we manage both of
these differently? That is a question for you, Ms. Kennedy, if you do not mind.
I think you are probably hearing that, as well.
Second, many would argue that reconciliation in the school can come from
dialogue and discussion, not from hiding it. I do appreciate some of the
discussion that is taking place. Some would suggest that ought to come in the
form of plays and other things that make it more acceptable and palatable for
the discussion and to take away some of the seriousness around it. Have you had
any experiences or are you seeing any schools do that?
Ms. Kennedy: Our study has shown us that schools that have inclusive
policies that actually spell out anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia policies
and that say lesbian, gay, bisexual, sexual orientation, gender identity and
gender expression, and schools that have gay-straight alliances are safer, more
Senator White: So open dialogue is the key?
Ms. Kennedy: The open dialogue is extremely important. When a student
sees a sticker on a teacher's door that indicates it is a safe space, they know
that they can go and talk to that teacher and that the teacher has an
understanding and an acceptance of who they are —
Senator White: And the issue.
Ms. Kennedy: — and the issue. That is really, really important. The
more open and the more included we are in the curriculum, the better it is. I
have two small boys. They are both in schools in Ontario. They are 6 and 8. I
know that my kids can go through the school system and never see our family
reflected in the curriculum. It is that constant negativity around who we are
that will stay with them. Therefore, the more open we are about it and the more
we talk about these issues, the safer, more inclusive and accepting we will
become as a society.
Senator White: Back to my first commentary, do you also agree that
there are dramatic differences between the cyberbully and the bully, regardless
of whether it is in relation to the LGTB community or others, but that there is
a different type of bully we are seeing as well?
Ms. Kennedy: Sure. I think it is a lot easier to be a cyberbully in
many respects, because you can hide. You can do it from anywhere, any location,
and there is a certain anonymity that goes with it, for sure.
Senator White: Thank you for your comments and for your presentation.
The Chair: Senator White, may we open up your question to the
Senator White: Sure. I do not know if you heard my questions or not.
If you did, you may reply to one or both.
Mr. Hirschfeld: Yes, I did hear your question.
When you look at traditional forms of face-to-face or schoolyard bullying, we
mostly think of students who have more physical or social power and can use that
power to bully others. Absolutely, when we move to an online environment, that
whole dynamic changes and any student, no matter where they are in that power
structure, can bully online.
With cyberbullying, we are finding a wider array of students participating in
it. Sometimes it might be for retaliation. They might not feel the confidence,
physical power or social standing to retaliate face to face. They might turn to
the online environment to do that. We see social climbing hierarchies where some
youth are participating in cyberbullying because they feel it is a way to become
more popular or more "in" with a certain crowd.
Definitely across the spectrum we are seeing a wider variety of students
participating in online cruelty. It speaks to the need for there to be, as my
colleague just stated, lots of specific education carved out in the curriculum.
In the United States there is very little time carved out for social and
emotional types of learning and topics. We give a lot of lip service to it;
however, in the end, the curriculum is dominated by the subject areas that are
tested, the "hard academic areas." There is little time built in to give kids
information, to help build skills, and to give them time and support in
practising how to interact ethically and positively in an online environment,
what to do if they come across bullying or if they are pressured into
participating in that kind of behaviour. We definitely need to carve out time
for that type of education.
Senator Zimmer: In my day, you dealt with the bully yourself. In my
day, if you talked about the bully or revealed the bully's name, you were tagged
as a tattletale or a squealer and there was retribution beyond the usual
treatment. Even though the teacher or professor would say it stops now, they
have ways to get you.
Is there still retribution and retaliation beyond dealing with the issue
through the proper authorities? Yes, Facebook and Twitter can be useful, but
they also can be abused. The question is: If you report bullying, is it worse
because they will come back and get you? They say they are going to respond
positively, but do they in fact get you behind the tool shed later and retaliate
separately? Does telling make it worse?
Mr. Hirschfeld: I can respond to that. Certainly, retaliation does
still happen. I do not think that overall it makes things worse. We definitely
encourage youth not to keep incidents of bullying or cyberbullying to
themselves, because we feel that it creates significant emotional damage for
them to hold that in. We encourage youth to confide in a friend or a trusted
adult, whether it is a parent, teacher, counsellor at school, and so forth.
Retaliation is a reality in some situations, but we feel it is always better to
bring the issue out into the light and for adults to work with students to solve
it in a way that will be beneficial for everyone.
The question you raise is important because it speaks to an issue of an
entire school culture. Much of the research shows that most students and young
people are privately uncomfortable with bullying and retaliatory behaviour;
however, they may feel that they are the only ones who are feeling or thinking
that way and that the rest of their peers would support that kind of negative
behaviour going on in the environment.
You have a lot of students who share the same feelings and beliefs, all
keeping quiet, because they feel that they are the only ones who think that way.
It is the responsibility of a school to open up the dialogue, to educate, and to
make students aware that the majority of students want a safe, supportive
environment. The majority of kids do not support the bullying behaviour. When
that information gets out in the open, the social norms of the entire community
can be adjusted, and most students can be empowered to act as allies and
supporters so that retaliation cannot take hold.
That is really what we are aiming at with this type of education. It is not
just disciplining the few individuals who may be involved in an incident, but
providing the kind of education to the entire community that reshapes the norms
so that retaliation and other negative forces cannot thrive. I will stop there
on that question.
Senator Zimmer: I guess it could happen to them too. Even though they
are silent, they are probably thinking that if they do not bully someone else,
it could happen to them. Therefore, they need the support of the school, the
community and their parents. Thank you very much.
Ms. Kennedy: I completely agree. I do not think that any of this work
can be done in isolation. I think it is a holistic approach to the whole
education system and the work we do before the teacher ever ends up in the
classroom. The earlier we start the education around LGTBQ issues and bullying
in an age-appropriate manner, that is what we should be looking at.
Senator Meredith: Thank you so much, panellists. I keep going back to
this question of how we change a culture within our schools, within our
institutions, and within government in terms of the issues around bullying and
the attitude that is taken when someone does come forth with a complaint. How do
we change that culture? Ms. Kennedy, you mentioned teachers being part of the
problem when it comes to the LGTB community, almost the sense of "suck it up,"
or "deal with it." A sense of empathy is still not demonstrated. How do we
change that to really get to the root of the problem?
Ms. Kennedy: There are so many different ways of dealing with it and
addressing it. One way of doing it would be to have role models at every level
of the political realm, for example, role model teachers and role models in the
sports world. There are hardly any "out gay" athletes or politicians.
This week we have before the house Bill C-279, the gender identity bill. If
it passes second reading, it will go to committee, and we would have transgender
people included in our Canadian Human Rights Act and in the Criminal Code of
Canada. If we continue to hide and to not address the issue of the LGTBQ
populations within our society, we will continue to think that it is not okay to
be gay, and we will continue to send those negative messages to our youth, who
are already struggling with their identity through their teen years.
We need to start talking more freely and openly about LGTB populations within
our society. Currently there are 77 countries around the world that criminalize
homosexuality, and in 5 countries it is punishable by death. As an "out person,"
I see that, and that has a negative impact on our community on a regular basis.
We have to start opening up the dialogue and being respectful of people's
religious interpretation of LGBTQ issues, while at the same time recognizing
within our publicly funded education system that every child has the right to be
safe and educated.
Senator Meredith: Mr. Hirschfeld, would you like to comment on that as
Mr. Hirschfeld: I think that the first response I have is the dictum
that change is a process, not an event, so there are no short-term or easy-fix
kinds of interventions for this problem. Whole communities need to be involved,
and it needs to be an ongoing, long-term effort. All the research shows that
schools have to be involved in a multi-year effort to address issues like
bullying, anti-bias and prejudice, in order for it to begin to take hold and for
a community to shift. Whole communities can and will shift when the commitment
is made. It means starting at the earliest grades, with curriculum and training
for teachers and parents, and establishing a mission that has to do with social
and emotional learning. Very much the way that you would plan for the academic
curriculum, you also have to plan for the safety issues and emotional issues
that you will teach. It must be across the board. They must be consistent
messages between home and school, and there must be a commitment over a number
of years. There is no secret formula; it is consistency and, as I said, a
whole-of-school commitment. Where that happens, we see the behaviour shift and
larger numbers of students being empowered to act as allies, to behave
respectfully toward their peers and to stand together when individuals express
bias, prejudice, bullying and so forth.
Senator Ataullahjan: It is interesting. You just spoke about involving
the community as a whole. So far, we have spoken about the responsibility of the
schools, the teachers and the parents, but I would like to ask you what role
advertising plays in forming ideas amongst youth and even young children? Quite
often, advertising informs ideas and perceptions of what is cool and normal, and
bullies often prey on those who are different from perceived ideas of what is
normal. While we talk about educating children about bullying, we also need to
make adults in positions of influence take responsibility too.
Mr. Hirschfeld: I could not agree with you more on that. One important
part of the curriculum that should be included at every school and age level is
media literacy, where students are taught to be critical consumers of everything
from movies and television to advertisements and videogames so that they are
thinking critically about the messages — who makes them, why, what they mean —
and the extent to which they are buying into those messages and ideals, et
cetera. Really making that an explicit part of the curriculum is important.
It is also important for agencies like ADLs and other educational
organizations that are working on issues like bullying and bias to form
partnerships with media agencies to educate them and build awareness within
those industries about how their messages impact youth and to help to shape and
re-shift messages where possible. At the ADL, we have several partnerships with
media agencies. One is with MTV. They are running, in the United States, a
campaign called A Thin Line to deal with digital abuse and cyberbullying issues.
We act as an advisor on that campaign and work with them to help to shape
expectations and to build awareness amongst youth. We are working with the Ad
Council here, which is about to release an anti-bullying campaign, a series of
TV and radio spots and other types of media interventions.
There are other examples, but we need to work in partnership with various
media agencies and with the industry as a whole to educate them and to help them
to get the right messages out to youth, in a large-scale way that we cannot do
on our own.
Mr. Marnin: To add to that, it is important to hold media outlets,
websites and so forth responsible for their terms of service. They put out
guidelines by which they agree to operate, and one of the things that we have
found useful in educating them about the issues is reminding them of the ideals
and responsibilities that they have and hold, as well as the policies that they
themselves have established. When their media is being used in ways that
contradict those policies, I think that they often recognize the value those
policies in other ways and like to affirm those policies and live up to them.
Overarching with that and with the prior question about changing the culture,
I wanted to add that having laws and policies allows and forces discussion of
these issues, which allows for the conversations to happen to change the
culture. It affirms government's perspective on what is okay and what is not
okay and also holds communities responsible. When you talk about the teachers
who are engaging in this behaviour, there is a mechanism to hold them
responsible for their activities and speech.
Ms. Kennedy: Now, more than ever, we are seeing gay characters in
sitcoms, and that has given our youth permission to come out at an earlier age.
However, when they do that, we are not providing resources in the school system
because the teachers do not have the training that they need to address the
transphobia and homophobia in the hallways. Our LGBTQ youth are being given a
false sense of security because they are not getting the backing that they need,
on a daily basis, in the school environment.
Senator Meredith: Some of you have touched on this already with
respect to the education that still needs happen. How effective do you think
your education programs have been in reaching those individuals who are still
resistant to the changes that you would like to see? In terms of programs that
you have introduced that have helped to alleviate or bring more awareness to the
issues facing your community, with respect to cyberbullying or bullying in
general, are we getting the message across? Is it resonating in the changes that
you would like to see?
Ms. Kennedy: The work that we are doing in Newfoundland and Labrador
has been very successful.
When a child comes out to the parent, the parent is afraid of the child not
being successful in life because they do not understand what it means to be
LGBTQ. We have given the teachers and the educators the information that they
need to be more comfortable with what it means to be LGBTQ. We are having
success, in Newfoundland and Labrador in particular and also in Ontario, with
the work that we have done. We now have simple things like gender neutral
bathrooms, which has a huge impact on a child who is transitioning. These are
things that were not being addressed before we did our training. Another example
is policies that actually spell out what lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
mean. Schools have rewritten their policies to reflect the diversity and the
student population within their school environment, and it has been very
Mr. Hirschfeld: We found that our education and training around
cyberbullying has been very well received and had a big impact. We have actually
found that a lot of educators and administrators are hungering for it because
there is now so much attention on this issue swirling around the news. Many new
laws are being handed down on what seems to be a monthly basis. People are
scrambling for information and support. We found that it has been very
welcoming. We have had resistance when a negative incident explodes and then the
school is under a lot of scrutiny from the media and the community. Sometimes
walls get put up and there is a resistance to invite organizations in to help
them deal with their "dirty laundry." It is important for us to work in a
proactive way to build relationships with institutions — not in response to a
problem, but before any problem occurs — to help them build an environment where
everything is in place before those problems arise. That is one issue.
I would say the greatest difficulty or level of resistance is not in people
opening themselves up to wanting this information and these programs; it is
fitting into the school program with all the competing demands. In the United
States there is such a tremendous emphasis on testing and standards now. I do
not know if the same trends exist in the Canadian system, but the pressure to
spend so much time on "hard core" academic subjects and what is on the tests is
driving out professional development and classroom time for a lot of the social
and emotional issues. Even while there are bullying incidents in the news every
day and everyone is saying we need to deal with this in our schools, they are
finding it really difficult to carve out the time — and often the money — to
have the necessary training. We want to see a lot of changes from the top down
in the way that school authorities are structuring time spent on various parts
of the curriculum.
Ms. Kennedy: With the help of Justice Canada, Egale has travelled
across the country training police officers or school resource officers; the
officers specifically called into schools to address issues of bullying,
cyberbullying and suicide. It is a very successful program, and Justice Canada
has played a significant role in helping us address that issue.
Senator Robichaud: To the first witness, you told us you have six
programs that you offer and most of them deal with educators. Then you mentioned
family education. How much take is there from parents who have children in those
schools that bother to come out, listen and educate themselves about
Mr. Hirschfeld: That question is for me, correct; for ADL?
Senator Robichaud: That is right.
Mr. Hirschfeld: It is definitely a challenge. We find that parents and
families are much more involved when their children are young, at the primary
school ages. As kids become teenagers they are less involved in school life. It
is harder to get them to participate in programs. That is definitely an ongoing
We try to have those workshops and training opportunities for parents and
families that are able to and want to attend. Those need to be coupled with
other efforts by the school to send out lots of literature and information and
to have clear policies in place. Sometimes schools have policies and contracts
that need to be reviewed and signed by families, so they can discuss it at home
with their kids. There can be pamphlets and other literature sent home to
educate parents about the issues, the school's approach to dealing with them and
what language to use in response.
There must be a number of initiatives working together to reach parents, many
of whom are busy working and not able to physically come into the school
environment to attend programs.
Senator Robichaud: Ms. Kennedy, do you speak French?
Ms. Kennedy: No.
Senator Robichaud: That is all right.
You say you have programs in Newfoundland and Labrador and also in Ontario.
Why just two provinces? What is not happening?
Ms. Kennedy: That is a very good question. I think that in
Newfoundland and Labrador they did an extensive review of the survey results and
realized the extent of the problem. I wish I had the answer to that. In other
provinces, we have tried to get the ministries of education to respond to the
survey, to introduce gay-straight alliances in schools and introduce curriculum
and teacher training. We have not been as successful as we have been in
Newfoundland and Labrador. They are open to it.
Senator Robichaud: The problem is not educators, it is politicians?
Ms. Kennedy: That is very astute.
Senator Robichaud: You can say it. Someone, somewhere, has to realize
that the situation is such that things must move. Usually it starts with
politicians, with a minister, supported by staff.
Ms. Kennedy: Exactly. If you look historically at how the LGBTQ
movement in Canada has gained their rights, they have been done through the
courts. It has not been done at the political level.
Like every other marginalized group in society, we have had to fight through
the courts. That is for any myriad of reasons, whether it be parental backlash
or religious versus human rights. It is really problematic when we cannot
address these issues in our parliaments.
Senator Robichaud: It does not only have to do with educators. You
mentioned the people who go into the schools, like police officers or
counsellors. All those people must receive some kind of training to deal with
Ms. Kennedy: Absolutely. If they do not get that training, they will
never be able to address what it means to be LGBTQ. They will not have an
understanding. They will not know the language. They will not understand the
language and until we start addressing that as a society, I think we are going
to continue to have these problems. They are not going to get any better.
The Chair: Ms. Kennedy, you made some comments which concern me and
that is the definition of bullying and that it does not — if I understood you —
adequately reflect the severity of the acts involved. You went on to say that if
it was committed by adults, we would use language of criminal law such as
harassment and assault.
Are children receiving equal benefit of the law as guaranteed by section 15
of the Charter?
Ms. Kennedy: I think that many times, especially when it comes to
LGBTQ issues and youth, parents' rights trump the right of the child. As
educators within our school system, I think we need to address that. The sexual
harassment, sexual assault, verbal abuse and cyberbullying are not being
addressed in the same way it would be if an adult were being targeted in the
I feel in many cases it is a total power imbalance for our youth if the
policies and processes are not in place within our education system; often the
school is the only place where that child may have some refuge for six hours in
a day. If the school is not accepting, then the child does not feel safe to go
The Chair: What should be done to better protect children's rights?
Ms. Kennedy: First and foremost we should educate the educators and
give them the language, knowledge and expertise they need to help the child,
policy development, role models and early curriculum that is age appropriate. We
have to create a space that is caring and inclusive for everybody.
Mr. Marnin: Our position has been generally that individuals should
use the law as it exists. If the behaviour reaches the level of criminal
behaviour, there is no reason not to utilize it. The department of education has
also indicated and emphasized with school districts to use our civil rights laws
as well, particularly when individuals are targeted because of a protected
category, that those should be used in addition to criminal laws when the
criminal law is violated.
Ms. Kennedy: If the child or the youth does not have the support of
the home, the law is not always an option for many of our youth.
The Chair: Earlier today we had a number of young people who
presented. My colleagues may disagree with me, but the two things I heard
clearly was that, first, they need more parental support, and second, that it is
not necessarily that the law needs to change, but attitudes.
Ms. Kennedy: That is right.
The Chair: I am sure you both deal with LGBTQ and issues about
defamation and the things that the Anti-Defamation League has talked about. They
are not in silos. There is also the issue of other groups, people of colour who
are part of your group. What challenges do they face?
Ms. Kennedy: The whole intersectionality of race and sexual
orientation and gender identity is very complex. Homophobia and transphobia
transcend all cultural boundaries, I believe. I do not think you can look at any
one particular group in society and say they discriminate against the LGBT
population more than others.
The Chair: Maybe I did not put it clearly. I meant that the people who
belong to the LGBT groups and are people of colour probably face greater
Ms. Kennedy: Absolutely. Our Aboriginal two-spirit people would face
all the other "isms" that go with being Aboriginal and First Nations. A lesbian
of colour would also face those issues around sexism, racism, homophobia and
transphobia. That whole intersectionality piece is very significant when it
comes to the LGBTQ population for sure.
The Chair: Do you have any specific recommendations of what we could
do to assist them, especially on the issue of cyberbullying?
Ms. Kennedy: Education.
Mr. Hirschfeld: I concur with Ms. Kennedy's comments 100 per cent.
Traditionally, the Anti-Defamation League has worked on anti-prejudice issues.
We have never been a bullying prevention agency. The reason we got into this end
of the work is because we saw that in so many instances of bullying, kids were
being targeted with bias, prejudice or hate. We saw a lot of the same dynamics
in bullying situations play out the way they do with situations of prejudice,
which is why we took on this work.
I agree with Ms. Kennedy that we need to have a holistic approach that looks
at the intersections of all forms of bias, how they are connected, and that we
can never be working on one form of prejudice in a silo. We have to be talking
about them all as one.
Having said that, I also want to highlight that when you look at the research
on students who are bullied and they identify the reasons why some of the groups
seem to be disproportionately impacted, at least according to the literature
here in the United States, it is our LGBT students or students who are perceived
to be LGBT by their peers.
Also "weightism" is a huge issue. Children being targeted because they are
overweight is a huge problem that is not really addressed in the same direct way
that issues of racism and sexism may be. That is not to say that any one form of
bias is more important than another. As stated earlier, they have to be
addressed holistically, but the literature is showing that there are certain
groups of children that are being disproportionately affected by bullying and we
need to make a special emphasis to educate around those issues and support those
children and, as stated earlier, to also ensure that our policies include
enumerated categories. When we say we do not accept bullying and spell out the
different groups of people who are protected under that policy, that speaks loud
and clear. That is very different from saying "We do not tolerate bullying
against anyone, but we will not name who those groups are." We have to say out
loud and clear, our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are from
different racial and ethnic groups, our immigrant students, et cetera. It is
more than just symbolic; it is an important statement and an important part of
the policies we put in place.
The Chair: We have heard a lot about education. The cigarette packages
have a warning. Should the education to the parent be that if you buy this
device for your child, there are consequences? What kind of education should
Ms. Kennedy: Addressing it at a very early age is important. Changing
curriculum and how we teach our children, teaching acceptance and respecting
difference is a really good start.
As I mentioned in my presentation, the Internet and cyberspace can be a very
healthy place if it is monitored and dealt with respectfully. Teaching respect
crosses all kinds of boundaries in society. If we start there, then we will go a
long way to addressing some of these issues.
Senator Ataullahjan: Does cyberbullying, like regular schoolyard
bullying, get any better as kids get older? Our study has been going on for some
time, and the one thing that we hear is that when kids are younger, in
elementary schools, it is the girls who tend to do more bullying. I was
surprised to hear that you do have some form of cyberbullying at the university
level also. Do you have any statistics or facts that that is true at the
university and high school level?
At the high school and university level, boys are involved in cyberbullying
as well as girls, where at the elementary school level it seems to be mostly
girls. As we saw with the students today, out of nine students it was eight
girls and one boy.
Ms. Kennedy: The statistics certainly that we gathered in our survey
indicate very highly that the girls are the target and the girls are targeting.
We do have the statistics that would back that up. That is in cyberbullying and
in general physical bullying.
At the university level, we do not have those statistics, but certainly at
the high school level we know that it is a prevalent problem amongst our young
Senator Ataullahjan: At the high school level, it is still the girls
who are being bullied and doing the bullying, too?
Ms. Kennedy: Yes. It is in the segregated areas like the women's
washroom and the women's change room.
Mr. Hirschfeld: With traditional forms of face-to-face bullying, we
usually see a peak at the middle school level and begin to decrease as students
enter high school.
With cyberbullying, some of the literature suggests that cyberbullying does
not peak and then decrease as kids get to high school. It continues to stay at
the same levels or maybe escalate a little bit. Cyberbullying is not a problem
that kids are growing out of, as many might assume.
I do not know the literature at the university level as well, but
anecdotally, because ADL does run campus programs, I have heard it is a growing
problem and that more and more of the colleges we have worked with are asking if
we can deliver some cyberbullying training at that level. Anecdotally, that
suggests to me that it is a problem, even amongst university-aged students.
As well as the gender split, I think the research shows — and I hate to
generalize, but the research has shown this — that girls are involved more
heavily in relational kinds of aggression and bullying, such as gossiping,
exclusion and cliques, versus physical forms of bullying. Those relational and
verbal forms of aggression lend themselves much more to online environments, and
so the literature does show that, oftentimes, girls are disproportionately
involved in cyberbullying or online incidents of aggression a little bit more
than boys are. However, both sexes are certainly involved in this problem.
Senator Nancy Ruth: You had said that one of the good things happening
in Newfoundland was that there were gender-neutral washrooms. I assume you were
saying that in terms of the kids who were transitioning from one gender to
In terms of the bullying happening in girls' washrooms in high schools, would
you think that having gender-neutral bathrooms there would limit this, or will
it make any difference at all in terms of the young women who are doing it now?
Ms. Kennedy: I think it will make the school climate safer for sure. I
think having gender-neutral bathrooms, and individual stalls — because most
schools would not be set up currently to do that, so it would be primarily
individual stalls — would make the schools safer. Potentially, the incidents of
violence would decrease.
The Chair: I want to thank both the Anti-Defamation League and Egale
Canada — Ms. Kennedy, Mr. Marnin and Mr. Hirschfeld — for giving of your time
today. We have learned much from you and we look forward to working with you.
We would now like to welcome Ms. Marie-Eve Villeneuve, Director of
Communications at Vidéotron. We have been looking forward to your presentation,
and I know you have some introductory comments.
Marie-Eve Villeneuve, Director, Corporate Communications, Vidéotron:
First of all, I would like to thank you for giving us this opportunity to tell
you about our Vigilance on the Net program, the largest Internet safety
awareness campaign in Quebec to date.
Vigilance on the Net was designed by Vidéotron and was established in 2007.
Its main objective is to inform Québécois families about the potential dangers
of the Internet while at the same time providing them with the necessary tools
to protect themselves.
Several realities led to the creation of this program. As an Internet service
provider, Vidéotron felt they had a moral obligation to raise awareness of the
dangers of certain uses made of its services. We began to offer our clients our
parental control software for free as of 2007.
However, we knew this was not enough. We felt we had to provide a wider range
of practical tools for Quebec Internet users, kids and adults alike. Bear in
mind that in 2007 there was little information available about Internet
We therefore carried out a Léger Marketing survey of 600 Quebec parents and
their 12- to 17-year-old teens. The survey was conducted with the aim of
identifying in which sector we could be useful. The results told us that
overall, parents were rather well aware of their teenagers' Internet habits.
However, they underestimated certain practices that could put them at risk.
Moreover, the survey showed us that despite their awareness of the hazards of
the Web, 80 per cent of young people did not, unfortunately, navigate safely.
They felt safe and secure at home in front of their screens. Vidéotron therefore
decided to target young people who were born with a mouse in their hand.
In 2007, we decided to create the Vigilance on the Net Tour, which visited
Quebec secondary schools over a three-year period. The content was designed with
the collaboration of one of Quebec's foremost Web experts, Mr. Denis Talbot, who
was able to identify the main risks on the Internet and develop the content
around various themes: file-sharing, bogus gifts, phishing, passwords, chat
rooms and social networking.
The Vigilance on the Net Tour involved more than 100 awareness workshops in
the schools and meetings with close to 25,000 young people. At the beginning of
2010, we realized there was a need to raise awareness among a greater number of
young people in all regions of Quebec. As a result, Vidéotron decided to launch
an educational package for teachers. Based on the same Internet risks as those
targeted during the tour, this educational kit includes a supplementary module
on cyberbullying, an increasingly topical issue at the time of its launch.
We had to reach more young people because, even today, 58 per cent of
adolescents do not believe that publishing photographs and providing personal
information online is dangerous. Moreover, 54 per cent of teens have private
conversations with strangers using instant messaging.
The Vigilance on the Net Kit is a tool that includes an educational
activities guide allowing those using it to organize their own awareness
activities. It also includes explanatory texts and workshops that stakeholders
can undertake with young people.
You do not have to be an Internet expert to use this tool kit. We guide the
teachers step by step with clear instructions. The content is divided into four
modules: computer viruses; fraud and identity theft; chatting and social
networking; and finally, cyberbullying.
As far as cyberbullying is concerned, our approach was essentially to make
young people aware of this serious problem by illustrating the consequences for
victims. As a practical workshop, we get them to imagine how the victim must
feel and we make them play the role of the person explaining to the youth how to
react if they are a bullying victim.
Each learning module can be carried out in 30 minutes or more, according to
the needs. The various workshops can be adapted to the age of the group and
allow young people to express themselves on the issues raised, to talk about
their own experiences and to demonstrate their skills at home. This new tool
allows teachers to engage in dialogue with students on burning issues that are
part of their daily lives. So far, close to 100,000 young people have benefited
from the Vigilance on the Net Kit.
It should be noted that the kit is offered for free to elementary or
secondary school teachers who request it.
We also encourage people to visit our website, vigilancesurlenet.com, which
has a fountain of information, practical tips, video capsules and more.
There is growing demand for the Vigilance on the Net Kit. Since the beginning
of 2012, more than 130 kits have been sent to educational institutions and
various youth centres.
Surfing the Net is something like going on a car trip: it can be dangerous
but that does not mean you should not do it. We try to help young people create
their own "seatbelt" and hone their instincts as far as safety is concerned. We
hope that in doing so they will acquire the tools that will allow them, as
adults, to help their children be aware of the dangers online.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentation. What means do
parents have if their child is being cyberbullied and they are using your
service? How can they report the cyberbullying to you, and what happens if they
do report it to you?
Ms. Villeneuve: Vidéotron is an Internet service provider, so we are
not the experts where you would actually call in cyberbullying. We offer on our
website, though, different organizations that help, such as Tel-jeunes in
Quebec, which is quite big. The children and the parents can call. There is a
line for both. At the same time, if a parent is interested in this tool, it is
at the intention of the teachers. We would like them to recommend to the schools
to get themselves a tool kit.
Senator Ataullahjan: Would you be able to take down a cyberbully's
Ms. Villeneuve: This is a different subject for cyberbullying. If
people are victims of cyberbullying, identity theft, or anything like that, they
can go on the Vidéotron.com website and report an abuse. Then we do — I am
sorry; the words are not coming in English this afternoon.
Senator Ataullahjan: You can say it in French.
Ms. Villeneuve: The Vidéotron information security team would then
conduct an investigation as to what should be done in the future. But we are
indeed in touch with the police, if we need to take it to another level.
Senator Robichaud: When you are informed of a cyberbullying incident,
can you find the source? Young people were telling us earlier on that they
create phony accounts and all sorts of messages are sent. That must go through a
service provider, does it not?
Ms. Villeneuve: Vidéotron has a computer security team that does
indeed carry out investigations on these kinds of accounts. At the same time, we
work alongside the police, because above and beyond action taken by the Internet
service provider, a police investigation is required.
Senator Robichaud: But, if I may, can you identify the source?
Ms. Villeneuve: I am not the security expert for the company, I am in
charge of the Vigilance on the Net program. I would have to find out that
Senator Robichaud: We are told that these messages are impossible to
trace, which is why it is so difficult to fight cyberbullying. It seems to me,
given today's technological advances, that there must be a way. Perhaps I am
Ms. Villeneuve: I will have to check with my information security
Senator Robichaud: Thank you, Ms. Villeneuve.
The Chair: This afternoon, we heard about Tumblr and Formspring, two
forums the young students were speaking about, where you can be anonymous and
send anonymous messages to different people, and classmates would not know who
the message came from. Would your company be able to find out who that anonymous
Ms. Villeneuve: I will have to check. It is most likely related to the
IP address, but I will have to check and get back to you.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Robichaud: At the end of your presentation, you compared
surfing the Internet or the Web to a car trip and that there could be an
accident. You invited young people to have their own seatbelt. What is that
seatbelt if they want to protect themselves?
Ms. Villeneuve: In the various modules, we give them practical advice
that they can try at home and put into practice.
We try to use common situations of everyday life. Then, we tell them to do it
on the Internet and we ask them if they would do it in real life. They are
practical tips. Often, when we are in front of a computer, we feel safe. If
someone is cyberbullying, we invite the people into the schoolyard or ask them
to create a Facebook page against someone. Many young people do not transpose it
into real life. It would be the same concept as mounting a smear campaign
against someone and issuing an invitation to a live event. Many young people
feel protected by their anonymity and they feel stronger in front of the screen
or surrounded by their family. We try to give them some tools so they realize
the scope of what they are doing.
Let's take the simple example of publishing a vacation photo on your Facebook
page. If that page is unprotected, it is the equivalent of going to the street
corner and distributing vacation photos at the beach with your family to
everyone. This is concrete advice that they can associate with their online
behaviour. Without moralizing, we try to give them some tips.
Senator Robichaud: We must not preach, but give them the means with
which to protect themselves.
Ms. Villeneuve: For example, regarding passwords, we explain to them
that a password is often the name of their first pet along with their year of
birth. When you give the year of birth and go into a chat room, that attracts
people who are not the age they say they are. People believe they are chatting
with people their own age. They see 92, but in the end, it is someone passing
themselves off as being younger. We explain to them how to create more complex
passwords, but ones they will be able to remember.
Senator Robichaud: I also have difficulties with passwords.
Ms. Villeneuve: Come and see me afterwards and I will give you some
The Chair: I have some questions for you. I understand you are a
service that is only provided in Quebec, correct?
Ms. Villeneuve: Yes, Quebec and the Ottawa region.
The Chair: Do you know if there are services like yours across the
Ms. Villeneuve: I know that in Quebec we are the main one, and we
developed the program into a toolkit for teachers, so I think we are the only
one in Canada.
The Chair: Sorry, I have not had the opportunity to look at your
modules. I have some questions about the modules. Can you expand on how many
modules there are? You said, if I understood you correctly, that it takes half
an hour for a module?
Ms. Villeneuve: Yes.
The Chair: Is there a specific module directed to parents or guardians
as to the challenges of bullying?
Ms. Villeneuve: I will come back to the different modules. There are
four modules: one on computer viruses, one on fraud and identity theft, one on
chatting and social networking, and one on cyberbullying.
The way it works for the modules, we always start with a video that
impersonates a situation that a teenager may find himself or herself in. Then we
have it followed by different types of questions, quizzes, discussion subjects
and topics that can be done for 30 minutes or more, depending on the subject.
It is interesting that sometimes a teacher can adapt the modules to a
situation that has just arisen in the school or on TV, something that is
happening right now.
There is not a portion for parents, but we hope students can bring home the
tools and what they learn in the modules.
Senator Robichaud: You offer various packages. When someone is
requesting a package, do you provide information on possible accidents — I do
not mean dangers on the Web — or do you not talk about that, because that could
harm the publicity of the good services that you offer?
Ms. Villeneuve: Concerning Vidéotron?
Senator Robichaud: Yes.
Ms. Villeneuve: The kit has four modules. Teachers who request it
receive all of that on a CD, with posters, questions, and even a printable
brochure for the parents.
Senator Robichaud: I am not talking about what you distribute to the
schools. If I buy one of your packages, for television, Internet, et cetera,
your marketing is based on the services you offer. Are there any warnings?
Ms. Villeneuve: For our products, yes. We use the commercial Internet
site Vidéotron.com to provide the greatest number of tools to our clients to
calculate their Internet use, as well as parental control, et cetera. There is a
lot of advice on the Vidéotron.com website, but above all, Vigilance on the Net
is also a reference for advice on phishing, identity theft and fraud.
Senator Robichaud: We must visit your website, is that right?
Ms. Villeneuve: Our customer service agents have the training to
provide information to people. We will not necessarily talk about the dangers of
the Internet, because we are really a provider, but we feel a social
responsibility to make the information available to our clients.
Senator Robichaud: You have answered my question. Thank you.
The Chair: Are youth using your services? What kind of feedback are
you getting from youth and adults on the services they use?
Ms. Villeneuve: When we started giving out the toolkits, we sent out
surveys. It was our first try at the toolkit. Teachers are happy with the
product because it is really easy to use. Often teachers think they know less
than the kids they teach with respect to the Internet, so with this tool, they
can actually do their own little events and start discussions. They are equipped
now to do something, and it was something they were looking for.
There is more information in English than in French, so there is definitely a
need there. The feedback from the teachers is very positive.
When we used to do the tour, we would get feedback from the kids every single
time we had a session. It was really appreciated because of the tone and the
examples we provided, which hit home.
The Chair: What technologies, in your opinion, will be used by people
who will be cyberbullying in the near future, of which the committee should be
Ms. Villeneuve: Future risks? I would say identity theft. We talk
about it less now, but it is a danger. People sometimes think that it is safe to
enter information on a website, but we should always ask ourselves questions.
There is a lot of awareness-raising. Therefore I would say identity theft, the
sharing of confidential information that we should keep to ourselves.
The Chair: What kinds of technologies do law enforcement agencies,
teachers or parents need to counter future challenges?
Ms. Villeneuve: To begin, a parent should use common sense. I will not
necessarily recommend a certain technology, but I would say that parents should
put the computer in a central location in the home so that they can keep an eye
on it. This is the best kind of parental control you can have at home. I think
it is really important for parents to monitor their kids' access to the
Internet. You can also see what is going if you are on Facebook and Twitter. The
police also give a lot of workshops on the subject. It is information. I think
that type of thing is more effective than going through technology, because
curiosity and education, both on the part of parents and children, will help put
into practice these little tricks. You can never completely protect yourself,
but if you are aware, you can make more enlightened choices.
The Chair: Ms. Villeneuve, thank you for your presentation and for
having answered our questions. You have provided us with a lot of useful
information for our study.
Ms. Villeneuve: Thank you.
Thank you. We have learned a lot. This is an ongoing topic, and we looked for
to meeting with you again.
I would now like to welcome Mr. Marvin Bernstein, Chief Advisor, Advocacy,
UNICEF Canada. We always appreciate your contribution and look forward to what
you have to say.
Marvin Bernstein, Chief Advisor, Advocacy, UNICEF Canada: On behalf of
UNICEF Canada, thank you for inviting me to contribute to your study on the
important issue of cyberbullying and Article 19 of the UN Convention on the
Rights of the Child.
Thank you for the kind introduction. For the record, I should indicate that I
am a lawyer with 35 years of senior leadership and advocacy experience in the
fields of child welfare and children's rights. Prior to joining UNICEF Canada in
2010, I served as Saskatchewan's second children's advocate from 2005 to 2010,
where I was an independent officer of the provincial legislature.
I would like to start by thanking the committee for your important work to
advance children's rights, as evident by both the current study on cyberbullying
and past initiatives such as the report, Children: The Silenced Citizens.
UNICEF Canada is particularly impressed by your efforts at youth engagement in
the course of this study.
It is well known that more children are online than ever before. The
advancement of the Internet, mobile phones and other digital media bring an
increased risk of bullying.
However, at the same time, these evolving digital media also provide children
and young people with many educational and social benefits, such as levels of
access to information, culture, communication, socialization and entertainment
impossible to imagine even 20 years ago.
Many reactions to cyberbullying either undershoot or overshoot the mark. At
one end of the spectrum, some individuals minimize bullying as just another
normal, age-old part of growing up, a rite of passage. Even the courts sometimes
see the impact of cyberbullying of a child as only a mild form of embarrassment,
as evidenced by the statements made by both the Nova Scotia Supreme Court and
the Court of Appeal in the case of A.B. v. Bragg Communications, the Halifax
Herald and Global Television, referred to in our brief. UNICEF Canada was,
for the first time, granted intervener status in the appeal proceedings in the
Supreme Court of Canada. The appeal was recently heard by that court on May 10,
and judgment has been reserved. Our factum can be provided to this committee if
On the other hand, others overreact and wish to restrict children's access to
digital media based on fear and insufficient understanding. It is, therefore,
important to respond to the risks presented by the digital environment in a
balanced, evidence-informed and measured way, while ensuring that children are
safe. Young people themselves identify cyberbullying as the most serious online
threat. It can be particularly traumatic because of its anonymity, its capacity
to intrude at any time into places that would otherwise be safe for young people
and its public and permanent character that can seriously damage reputations and
future educational and employment prospects. Bullying, including cyberbullying,
is a serious form of violence against children, the effects of which can include
violations of many rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In
this regard, Appendix 2 of our written brief, on pages 17 and 18, sets out the
provisions of the convention that, in our estimation, are most relevant and are
potentially engaged by the issue of cyberbullying. The UNICEF report, Child
Safety Online: Global Challenges and Strategies, which has been provided to
you, reflects on the need to frame a convention-based protection response that
strikes a balance between all forms of violence, such as cyberbullying, sexual
abuse and exploitation, on the one hand, and the right to information, freedom
of expression and association, privacy and non-discrimination, on the other
hand. The balance must be anchored in the best interests of the child, as the
primary consideration, taking into account the child's right to be heard and
taken seriously and the recognition of the evolving capacities of children and
young people. The child rights-based approach means keeping not only the
protection of children in the front of one's mind but also the range of these
rights in balance. It also means keeping in view the impacts of policy,
programming and legislative decisions on all children engaged in the
cyberbullying processes, be they victims, perpetrators or bystanders, as they
can all be seriously affected in different ways. The UNICEF report suggests that
the challenge for policymakers is to coordinate action, by a range of public and
private actors, on a number of interrelated issues that ultimately come under
the topic of building a safer Internet.
A multi-tiered approach is necessary to effectively respond to the potential
threats to children's well-being and safety in the online environment. Parents,
teachers, social workers, health professionals, law enforcement officials and
even the media all have a role to play. Of course, the best way to deal with
cyberbullying is to stop it before it happens, but no singular action will do
so. According to the UNICEF report, the development of a strategic protection
framework should be based on four main objectives: firstly, to empower children
and promote their resilience; secondly, to remove impunity for abusers; thirdly,
to reduce the availability of access to harm; and lastly, to promote recovery
and rehabilitation for children who have experienced harm.
While anti-bullying legislation is not a panacea in and of itself, it remains
an important prong of a multi-tiered approach to bring attention to the negative
and life-threatening impacts of bullying behaviour in all of its manifestations.
In our view, any effective anti-bullying legislation should contain the elements
set out on page 13 of our written brief.
Before anti-bullying legislation is developed, however, a child rights impact
assessment process should occur so that the best interests of children are
placed front and centre, risks can be mitigated, and further harm and rights
violations do not unintentionally occur. For example, some laws allow for
criminal charges for distributing and accessing child pornography by young
people when teens share sexual images of themselves and others and perhaps are
not even fully aware of some of the implications. One of the main objectives of
a child rights impact assessment is to ensure that while seeking to protect
certain rights of children and youth, other rights are not inadvertently
undermined. For example, in seeking to support the implementation of Article 19,
the right to protection, it is important not to undermine rights related to
education in Articles 28 and 29, as can happen when bullies are suspended or
expelled from school rather than receiving supportive interventions such as
In conclusion, in order to strengthen the protective environment and to
effectively address the risks inherent in cyberbullying, UNICEF Canada is
pleased to put forward 10 recommendations for this committee's consideration as
summarized in Appendix 1, on pages 15 and 16 of our written brief. In fact, the
way the written submission is formatted, there is an attempt to identify five
different prongs to support protective strategies, and then the recommendations
are grouped under those five separate headings.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to responding to your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Bernstein. We very much
appreciated you providing a brief beforehand so that we had an opportunity to
look at it.
I am pleased to say that we now have the representatives of the Red Cross,
Mr. Chris Hilton and Ms. Alisha Virmani.
Chris Hilton, Senior Manager, Government Relations, Canadian Red Cross:
Thank you for having us here. My name is Chris Hilton. I am Senior Manager,
Government Relations, with the Canadian Red Cross. I am happy to be here today
to participate in this study and to share some perspectives from the Canadian
Red Cross on this important issue.
We are an active player in Canada in the important job of raising awareness
of bullying and helping to prepare and train communities, schools and
individuals to deal with the problem. For the last 28 years, we have been
working on preventing violence in Canada and around the world. Part of this work
has resulted in the creation of a program called Beyond the Hurt. This is a
program that is specifically focused on preventing bullying and harassment.
Last year alone, in Canada, we trained more than 100,000 adults, children and
youth in bullying prevention. This program is unique because it engages youth
directly. We have more than 1,000 youth facilitators. What this means is that
the Canadian Red Cross train youth who, in turn, become leaders in their schools
and deliver the program to peers and younger students. They also play a lead in
bullying prevention events, such as Pink Shirt Day and bullying prevention
With me at the table is Amélie Doyon, who works in our national office, in
the RespectED Department, and hopefully she and I can provide some context and
understanding of the work that the Red Cross does around the country.
However, I think of greater interest to the committee and to senators is
Alisha Virmani, who is sitting beside me. She is a youth facilitator and has
travelled here from New Brunswick to be with us today.
Ms. Virmani has been instrumental in combatting the scourge of bullying in
her home province of New Brunswick. Recently she played a key role in helping
suggest legislative amendments to the Education Act in New Brunswick, which
focused on cyberbullying. She is here to talk to you about the reality of young
people in schools today and about how she is fighting bullying with the Canadian
Red Cross in her school and in her community. It is through courageous leaders
like Ms. Virmani, who herself has dealt with cyberbullying, that the Canadian
Red Cross is working to make communities, homes and schools safer for youth
across the country.
I will turn it over to her for a few minutes to give an introduction, and
then we would be happy to take your questions.
Alisha Virmani, Youth Leader, Canadian Red Cross: Hello again. I am a
student in high school, in grade 12. I am here from Fredericton, New Brunswick.
I am delighted and honoured to be here and to be able to talk to you today.
My role with the Red Cross is as a youth facilitator. We do training sessions
and presentations, not just for students; we work with adults as well. Locally,
at home, I do a lot of work with the Department of Education and some new
legislation that has been put in place in New Brunswick in terms of amendments
to the Education Act with regard to cyberbullying and bullying as well.
In talking about my recommendations and suggestions, I am always open to
talking about my own experience. I was a victim of cyberbullying in high school
and middle school. Much of the impact that bullying has had on me is able to
come out into suggestions as to what can be done so that other students do not
have to face the same negative impact that I experienced as a child. Again, I am
willing to take any questions you may have.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for being here and for your
Ms. Virmani, if there is one thought you would like to leave us with, what
can we, as a committee, do? What recommendations can we give that would help
young students like you, students who have been cyberbullied? Did you get help
from your parents, your peers or the teachers? How did you cope with this?
Ms. Virmani: In response to the question about the one main thought I
want to get across, my main suggestion for the Senate committee would be with
regard to education. When I was in elementary school, there was not a lot being
taught, as part of the traditional education curriculum, in terms of compassion
and normal social skills. A lot of the skills are assumed for children to
develop, and it is assumed that these skills are taught by their parents. Much
of the time there are missing links there and the actual education for children
is not put in place; it is put in place much later on.
Currently, programs are offered through the Red Cross regarding bullying and
developing compassion. However, that is an external resource. It is something
that schools can choose to participate in. It is not something that is
legislated in education throughout Canada. It is not something that is
mandatory. We need to focus on developing that education for children, and not
just for children but for parents as well, because many parents have the
misconception that if I was bullied as a child, it is a phase of life. My
children can be bullied as well, because that will happen.
Senator Ataullahjan: When you needed the help, who did you go to? Did
you talk to your parents, your teachers or your peers?
Ms. Virmani: I talked directly to my guidance counsellor, who reported
the bullying incident to my principal. Unfortunately, in my case it was not
dealt with properly.
To give you a bit of background so that you understand the scenario, I was
bullied on Twitter. A lot of sexually harassing comments about me were on
Twitter. When I reported it to my principal and my guidance counsellor, the
response given was that everybody gets bullied; this is kind of a normal thing
that kids go through. The response given through the administration was that
this is just boys being boys, and it was just shrugged off. The response was not
as good as I wanted, even though I had approached the appropriate group.
Senator Ataullahjan: At any time did you speak to your parents about
Ms. Virmani: I did.
Senator Ataullahjan: Did they go to the school and talk to the
Ms. Virmani: They did, and they were absolutely furious with how they
responded. My parents brought in the Human Rights Code. They brought it forward
to the principal and said they would like to talk to the constable about it,
that it was infringing on human rights because it was sexual harassment.
However, the school shrugged it off and said they did not want to discuss it any
further, that it had been dealt with. There are a lot of issues with regard to
Senator Zimmer: To all of you, thank you for being here; Ms. Virmani,
especially you, because it is courageous of you to be here.
This is a continuation of Senator Ataullahjan's questions. Maybe I did not
get this right. When you discovered someone being a cyberbully, did you just go
to the teachers or did you confront the individual who was doing it?
Ms. Virmani: I did not confront the individual doing it, for the sake
of my own safety. He is a large gentleman, a football player, and I am a petite
girl. My safety came first. I approached the guidance counsellor, my teacher and
the principal. The response was: "We will give a two-day suspension." That is
it. When I asked how will we change his behaviour and stop him from repeating
this, it was not talked about; it was just case closed.
Senator Zimmer: Did the bully know or find out that you had gone to
Ms. Virmani: He was under the assumption that I had told the
principal, but he did not have confirmed sources of whether it was me or not.
Senator Zimmer: With the suspicion, was there further retaliation
because he thought you might have gone to the teachers?
Ms. Virmani: There was, actually. It resulted in more bullying, not on
Twitter but in person, in terms of gossiping, bad talking, exclusion in the
classroom and discriminatory remarks made in front of me.
Senator Zimmer: What is the end result? Has that now been dealt with
and resolved with the individual, or does it continue?
Ms. Virmani: It was dealt with by the fact that we are all graduating
now, so we avoid crossing paths. However, it was not properly resolved. The
solution that the school gave was a two-day suspension. In the bully's opinion,
in terms of what he posted on Facebook regarding that, he said, "Awesome, a
two-day suspension. I can go party now."
Senator Zimmer: Did the bully continue to do this to others after
that, and has it not been resolved at all with him at this time?
Ms. Virmani: No. He has done it to other women as well and made the
same derogatory comments. If the behaviour is not being stopped, that cycle of
bullying is not being changed, especially if the school is not intervening by
providing supports for the bully. There are many supports for the victims but
not many for the bullies themselves. If that cycle is not being broken, he will
not learn a lesson and he will keep doing what he is doing. The behaviour that
he is putting in place right now as a high school student, he will go on to
university and to the workplace, and those behaviours will not change.
Senator Zimmer: Are the bully's parents influential in the community
such that maybe the school did not want to deal with them, because of who the
Ms. Virmani: That is a very valid point that you raise. It was not
about the parents being influential. The bully being a football player, and with
the homecoming game coming up, the principal himself had said, "They have a big
game coming up and I do not want to put anything else in place." In my opinion,
that is discrimination itself, because if a studious student came to school and
you said, "I am giving a two-day suspension," that is taking away something that
is important to them; whereas for a football player, sports are important to
them. Taking school away from them will not do anything versus taking away their
sports. Making a special exception for the homecoming game, in my opinion, is
Senator Zimmer: Let me know his number. I will call the opposition
playing against him and make sure they take the number on his back.
Congratulations to your mom and dad.
Senator Ataullahjan: You brought up an interesting point, I think one
we are hearing for the first time: support for the person who does the bullying.
What kind of support are you talking about? We have heard from previous experts
that we should engage them in dialogue, that zero tolerance does not work, yet
there should be consequences for their actions. You brought up the idea of
Ms. Virmani: When I was talking to the New Brunswick ministerial
committee, that is now in the New Brunswick legislation. I am not familiar with
the Ontario legislation and what is in place, but the suggestions that I had
made that are being put in place in New Brunswick are, as in support for the
bully, there needs to be more conversation and dialogue with the guidance
counsellors. Many students do not realize that the guidance counsellor is not
just there for the victim but is there for the bully as well; and that can be
made an approachable resource.
Another thing is education for the bully. Many times the bully does not
realize the seriousness or impact of what they are doing. They do not realize
they are infringing on codes that are in place. There is a Human Rights Act, but
do kids know that they are infringing on someone's rights? Do they realize it is
a criminal offence? It is not defined for children. They do not know. Much of
this language is either not shown to them or the language being used in these
codes is not in children-friendly words for them to understand. There are great
resources. It is just making use of them.
In addition to guidance counsellor support, there needs to be less emphasis
on suspensions. I understand schools have a zero tolerance policy, but a
suspension is not teaching anything and it is not breaking a cycle. It is a form
of discipline, but a better form of discipline would be encouraging community
service. If you are doing community service, you are becoming compassionate. You
are becoming more caring. You are learning proper social skills.
In addition to community service, they can be engaging in reflections,
refocusing on the behaviour and realizing what the root cause is, why they are
bullying. Until that root cause is discovered, they will not change their
behaviour. That bully will still bully.
Senator Ataullahjan: At any stage, do the bully's parents get
Ms. Virmani: In my situation, my parents directly approached the
parents and the parents defended the child. The exact words said by the father
were, "He is just being a child. He is just being a boy. I was bullied as a kid.
You get through it. It happens to everybody." The response from parents is that
every parent wants to protect their child. Many times parents do not even know
how to respond. They know how to respond if their child is being victimized, but
often parents do not know how to respond to the fact that their child is a bully
and coming to the realization that sometimes there are issues that need to be
Mr. Hilton: Chair, if I can add a little point, one of the focuses of
the Red Cross work is that it is not targeted just at youth. We have programs
targeted at adults. We have programs targeted at people who will be in charge of
youth and children, and making the entire population understand the problem. It
is not isolated with one student. It is not isolated in one school. It is a
better understanding overall that this is occurring, and giving schools and
community groups the resources to deal with this as the larger scale.
Ms. Virmani and I were talking on the way up here that bullying comes to the
forefront when there is an incident that is so significant that the media picks
it up and then there is a reactionary response. The Red Cross is working hard to
have knowledge and awareness across the country, in schools, with people who
deal with bullying, and we think that is key to bringing this idea of respect
for one another to the forefront and having students, youth and adults all
understand what bullying is and how to deal with it.
The Chair: Mr. Bernstein, do you want to add anything to that?
Mr. Bernstein: Yes. I wanted to reinforce the value of legislation as
one prong. Legislation is not a panacea. In Ontario, Bill 13, which has been
ordered for third reading, is the government's provincial bill. When you go
through the preamble in terms of the objects of the bill, it talks about the
importance of education and prevention. It does speak to providing support not
only for victims of cyberbullying but also the perpetrators and the witnesses,
the bystanders who are all impacted in different ways. It speaks to the value of
instituting implementation plans for prevention and intervention to address
cyberbullying. It places obligations on the minister, on boards and on the
principal within individual schools. Part of the preamble speaks to the fact
that there is a responsibility on members of the whole school. It also speaks to
the importance of providing training and in-service supports and information for
staff and students. It talks about the importance of the parents' role.
Sometimes what one hears is that there is other legislation: There is
criminal law, tort law, human rights law. The difficulty with looking to other
legislation that is not specifically targeting anti-bullying is that it is a
blunt instrument. It is not designed to address the problem, the mischief of
cyberbullying. It also is after the fact. It is responding to cyberbullying or
bullying that has already taken place.
We want to provide prevention, information and quality education. As we say
in our submission, an Angus Reid opinion poll conducted in February of this year
indicated that 90 per cent of Canadians support provincial legislation to
What we do not want to see is the focus on legislation that is all about
sanctions, consequences and penal implications, because just as this young girl
has indicated, many times the perpetrators of cyberbullying do not understand
the implications. They may not be receiving proper information and effective
parenting at home.
One of the points that we make in our submission is that one has to look at
the whole environment of violence. Oftentimes the victims of physical
punishment, those who are being abused or neglected within their own homes,
become the very students who are engaging in bullying behaviour. In a sense we
are penalizing them; we are re-victimizing them. It is not about consequences.
It is not about penal sanctions. The Ontario legislation also speaks to
We have seen that zero tolerance does not work. It is not about punishing
children who will then go out and repeat the same acts. How do we redirect them?
How do we give them proper information and engage them? What is the curriculum?
What is the intervention plan that will be developed within the schools?
That is exactly what we are seeing. The Ontario bill has a definition of
bullying and cyberbullying. In the Quebec legislation there is a reference to
student committees. The Ontario bill empowers young people to create their own
committees, to create their own organizations that they can lead, and they can
address gender discrimination and discrimination on the basis of visible
minorities, disabilities, sexual orientation.
The Quebec bill speaks to the fact that there can be student committees. They
also postulate a student ombudsman to support children within the process, to
facilitate ongoing communication and proper mediation.
Our concern is more rooted in the federal bill and in Nova Scotia, which
imposes liability and sanctions on parents who should know that their children
are engaging in cyberbullying. If we want to see a change in attitudes, we have
to educate; we have to prevent; we have to build in supportive counselling for
victims, for perpetrators and bystanders. We should not engage in a cycle of
more sanctions and more penalties. That will not turn this around.
Senator White: I want to congratulate you, Ms. Virmani, on the
maturity of your response. I am not sure many bullies would understand it, but I
do appreciate it.
We have heard a lot about bullying over the last few weeks, with many people
saying that sanctions are not the answer, although it seems to be the only
solution that we are using in most schools, namely, suspensions and expulsions.
My background is in policing, but primarily over the past 25 years, it has
been in restorative practices. In New Brunswick, do they use restorative
practices in their schools, and, in particular, would it have been a better
solution to your situation? Restorative practices mean peer justice systems and
community justice. Instead of a stick, many would say trying to get something
that does stick.
Ms. Virmani: In regard to that, on the school level, there is still a
focus on the expulsions and suspensions. That has not been changed, but the
education act and the suggestions that I made about legislation are being put in
place in September. I would be graduated by then through the school system, but,
again, those suggestions about a more restorative approach will be put in place
Senator Robichaud: Mr. Bernstein, you are saying that different
measures in law are being put in place in difference provinces, but what we
heard through the youth that presented some testimony this afternoon is that
cyberbullying is anonymous. There is no way of finding out, at least from what
the youth were telling us, who is doing it and where it is coming from.
Will this fact of having legislation put us in a sort of false sense of
security? We think we will be protected but it will not change much.
Mr. Bernstein: I think that it will change attitudes. I think young
people sometimes are not aware of the impacts. They may think they are engaging
in something that is a practical joke. What we have seen is the level of
seriousness. It is not just a mild form of embarrassment. We are not toying with
just the feelings of other children, other students, but we have seen youth
suicides. We have seen young people engage in serious acts of self-harm because
they have been ridiculed, and it is important for children to receive the proper
information so that they understand that not only are they hurting other
children but they may be also incurring some potential liability
"reputationally." When they transmit something, it has a permanent quality to
it. It could affect their job prospects and their educational prospects into the
It is important to provide this information and to have a focus within the
school. In many instances, these are children who are not receiving the
information from home. They may be children who are in institutional care,
children who are within the child protection system, so if they do not get the
information in the school, where will they get it from?
Senator Robichaud: You are making the point that I wanted to make.
Yes, legislation can serve a purpose, but it should be well communicated to the
people, the parents and the school system. All the recommendations we heard were
around education. I am trying to make the point here that if you have
legislation, people should know about it and there should be programs to put it
out so that the youth are aware. I suppose this would be done through the
Mr. Bernstein: That is right, and this ties in as well with the fact
that there needs to be some kind of campaign, some public awareness campaign so
that parents are understanding that this is reaching a certain level of concern
within the school system, and they should be attempting to remain vigilant and
support their children.
One of the things that came out of the UNICEF report is that one of the most
important considerations for children who are the victims of bullying and
cyberbullying is to have a responsive parent. Often there is a digital divide so
that parents and adults do not understand the online environment as well as
their children. There is a need for them to become engaged, not only children
receiving the education but parents as well, so that they understand some of the
risks that are being undertaken by their children, and they can support them.
They can build trust and more effective communication so that if their children
are experiencing some level of risk or concern, or if they have a sibling,
friend or peer who is at risk, they can go to their parents and talk about it.
That is an important point within this whole system. It is not just children. It
is families, it is parents and it is the community.
Senator Robichaud: With respect to the Red Cross, you said that you
work with about 100,000 individuals of all ages?
Mr. Hilton: Last year, we trained 100,000 adults, children and youth
in respect to specifically the Beyond the Hurt programming.
Amélie Doyon, Creating Safe Environments Officer, Canadian Red Cross:
We have different types of programs in violence and abuse prevention. Last year,
we trained 362,000 adults, children and youth in violence prevention.
Specifically on bullying and harassment prevention, we trained 100,000 people.
I cannot agree more with what my colleague is saying. The education needs to
touch the parents, the youth and children, and it needs to come at a very young
age, but we also need to provide some solutions and tools for schools. Most of
the time they do not know how to approach the problem, and they do not know how
to solve it.
That is our approach at the Red Cross. For every youth training session that
we have, we also have an adult component to it, so everybody is on the same
page. They all understand the problem in the same way, and they are all looking
for solutions that are applicable to their reality and to their communities.
Senator Robichaud: What initiates those training sessions? How do
communities go about it?
Ms. Doyon: It is usually a request from the school. There may be a
problem in the school, they come to us and we provide them with some training.
We usually enter into an agreement with the school and have a partnership with
them. Teachers select youth facilitators in the school — Ms. Virmani is one of
them — we train those youth, and they remain in the schools and provide
education to their peers and to the younger students. We have different
activities for different grades, so it is not always the same information that
is repeated over and over. We are kind of building on the knowledge, grade after
Senator Robichaud: If I may ask Ms. Virmani, what school and what
community? I did not catch that.
Ms. Virmani: It is Fredericton, New Brunswick.
I would like to add something, though, to what Ms. Doyon was saying. There
are great suggestions from adults about legislation and education, but as a
student, I would like to say there are many resources out there. There is a lot
of great community outreach, for example, through UNICEF and the Red Cross,
through the community programs, but they are not being requested until after an
incident occurs. The problem with that is people hear all these news stories
about bullying, those incidents are being shown in the media and turned into
this big news event, but people are developing a sense of immunity to hearing
about bullying stories. They hear about it so much that people do not realize
the impact, that it is still the lives of students that are being lost. Every
single story needs to be treated on an individual basis and looked upon as
something very important. Parents, students and educators do not see that
because they have developed a sense of immunity and a tolerance to the effect of
this is happening so often and what is going to change.
My concern regarding having just the legislation or even education is that,
if it is not something that all schools must participate in and it is not
something that is regulated — it is not a request; it is something that needs to
be put in place, it is not something that they have to go out and get, if that
Senator Robichaud: You are putting the responsibility to bring that in
the schools on provincial governments, then, so that this is part of the
responsibility of the school.
Mr. Hilton: To make it a little simpler across the board for
provincial governments, curriculum is defined by a variety of different reasons
and what students need. Clearly, we are seeing across the country that there is
a need for education and understanding around bullying. Governments, boards of
education, school boards and even individual schools need to try and take
responsibility to protect their children and educate themselves as to what tools
we have, what avenues we can put in place and —this is really important — what
standard operating procedures we can have so that we can deal with these kind of
You can see from Ms. Virmani's story that it is one-off too often; they are
dealing with cases in vastly different ways from one to the next, and that is no
way to find real solutions. There has to be an understanding that this will
happen, and we need to have procedures to handle it.
Senator Robichaud: Are attitudes changing? When Ms. Virmani made her
comment that the first reaction from the authorities was, "Well, boys will be
boys and they are fooling around; they have no idea of what they are doing or
the effect," are people starting to realize that bullying was happening? In your
case, it was not anonymous. I am just saying that from the students we heard
this afternoon, there is a lot of cyberbullying going on, which is anonymous.
Was that the case in your school, too?
Ms. Virmani: I knew the Twitter account in the Twitter incident.
Without my own experience, some of my friends have experienced issues regarding
bullying being anonymous. I am not sure if you are aware, but there is a website
called Formspring. People can ask questions anonymously; there is no way to
track who said it. It is supposed to help you better get to know a person or
better get to know your friends, but it is being used as a huge avenue for
cyberbullying and it is completely anonymous. One of my friends at my local high
school, instead of writing a question, there was a comment, and the comment that
was left was, "Why do you not go back to your own country?" This girl was a
student. She had just come to Canada; she was here from Sri Lanka, and she was
doing her exchange program here. That was the comment left on her Formspring.
There are incidents like that, even for me. I have experienced similar things
on Facebook. On Facebook, there are external applications. A lot of parents and
educators see that, yes, there is bullying on Facebook, but they only see the
surface of it. They see that people post photos and videos, but there is so much
more to Facebook that adults do not realize how much of an avenue it is to
bullying. There are external applications that students download and put on
their Facebook; there are things like Compare People, How Ugly Are Your Friends,
Rate My Friends, and Bathroom Wall. These are all applications hosted by
third-party companies. They are getting money to run these applications on
Facebook, so these are businesses promoting bullying, in a sense.
Through things like that, like the Bathroom Wall, people had written really
negative and mean comments about me and about my Indian heritage, they were
anonymous, so I could not track them down.
It was not just an issue of Facebook; it was an issue of external third-party
applications on Facebook. Therefore, it is a larger issue than people see.
Mr. Bernstein: I just wanted to talk about changing attitudes. One of
the recommendations that UNICEF is advancing to this committee is promoting
rights respecting schools. I did want to indicate that there are 12
rights-respecting schools in Canada that emphasize the importance of changing
the culture, having a healthy attitude, and bringing information around
children's rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is
reaching about 3,000 children in Canada. In the United Kingdom, there are 2,500
The research that has been done in the United Kingdom has shown that the
schools see a decrease in bullying, with incidents of bullying referred to as
"minimal," a reduction in prejudices, improved rates of attendance, improved
student self-esteem and a stronger engagement in learning and leadership.
Teachers also report a greater level of job satisfaction and a greater level of
communication about respectful behaviours.
This is an initiative that is taking hold incrementally within Canada, and is
a direction that we would commend to this committee.
The Chair: Ms. Virmani, I have a few questions of you. Before I ask
them, I want to say to you that we had via video conference a number of students
as witnesses earlier, and I want to convey to you that our committee very much
appreciates your being here. We certainly are concerned that you do not have any
other issues because you have presented here, so please stay safe.
What would you have liked to have happened immediately when you reported it
to the counsellor? We would like to look at recommendations as might emerge from
Ms. Virmani: In regard to my particular experience?
The Chair: When you went to report it to the counsellor, what would
you have liked the counsellor to do? You have mentioned some of the things, but
what would you have liked the counsellor and the principal to have done?
Ms. Virmani: At that very moment, I would have liked to know how
things were being dealt with, because the only response given to me by the
school was, "It has been dealt with; it has been taken care of." I understand
that schools have a policy about confidentiality and protecting other students,
but just being told that things have been dealt with is not satisfactory enough
for me to know that I am safe and that things will change for me. That left me
with no answers.
At that moment, that would be the number one thing: I would like to know what
the school will do; how will the school help protect me; and what changes will
they make directly, so that when I go to my next period class, I am not sitting
beside the bully, because I had to go to my next period class and sit right
beside the bully.
Simple things like that: Just having let me know in the moment how the school
will protect me would have been much appreciated.
Looking at a broader scheme of what I would expect to see within the week, I
would have expected to hear, "This is the consequence that has been put in place
and this is how we plan on changing it." It ought to start off with "these are
what our goals are for the procedure" and "this is how you can expect things to
proceed" — just hearing the expectations that I should have for the school.
The Chair: Was that the last you heard from the school on this issue?
Ms. Virmani: Yes.
The Chair: If you think of any other recommendations later on, please
let us know because it is really important for us to hear from people like you,
who are suffering. We have heard about Formspring. We have heard about Tumblr,
and these are all new things for us. However, we will certainly be looking at
what can happen on this. Thank you for sharing that with us.
I have a question for the panel. The committee has done two previous reports.
One is called Children: The Silenced Citizens, and the other one is
The Sexual Exploitation of Children in Canada. In both these reports we
recommended that, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, there be a
national children's commissioner. Do you agree that there should be a national
children's commissioner? If so, how would that commissioner help with
cyberbullying? We will start with you, Mr. Bernstein.
Mr. Bernstein: From the standpoint of UNICEF Canada, we would totally
support that recommendation. There is currently a private member's bill before
the House of Commons to establish a National Commissioner for Children and Young
Persons. That position would be very helpful in terms of dealing with
standardizing some of the approaches across the country.
We often see that children are treated differentially. Their rights are not
respected in a consistent way from one end of the country to the other. A
national children's commissioner could work effectively with provincial and
territorial child and youth advocates.
We hear about the proliferation of different pieces of legislation to address
bullying behaviour. The difficulty is that these pieces of legislation do not
always contain the same elements or the same approaches. If we had a national
children's commissioner who could look at what is happening in terms of best
practices, conduct evidence-based research from coast to coast and work with the
provincial and territorial advocates, we would have less of a fragmented
approach. We would have a more consistent national strategy and perhaps an
effective campaign across the country, looking at more standardized approaches
to combat bullying and cyberbullying. We need a coherent vision.
The other point is that within federal jurisdiction, although we have
education and child welfare that falls within provincial jurisdiction, there are
other areas that fall within federal jurisdiction. Many issues pertaining to our
Aboriginal population fall within federal jurisdiction. Oftentimes it is our
Aboriginal children, our children who look different, our children from minority
groups and disadvantaged groups that are the subject of cyberbullying.
I think that position perhaps could work more effectively with Aboriginal
peoples in terms of understanding some of the special impacts upon our
Aboriginal children. For those reasons, having a national children's
commissioner to attempt to work on the issues inherent in bullying and
cyberbullying would be extremely valuable.
Mr. Hilton: The Canadian Red Cross echoes some of the points Mr.
Bernstein just mentioned. More specifically, I think any national commission,
any organization, any group idea that has an end result of protecting youth,
protecting children and protecting the weakest people is something that the
Canadian Red Cross would support. We are an organization that stays as best as
possible out of the political sphere and decisions made therein. These are
issues that all politicians and legislators across the country can oftentimes
come together and find common ground on. If the goal and the results are
ultimately that children are better protected, then it is one that we would of
The Chair: My next question is on Article 19 of the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that all appropriate
parties take legislative, administrative, educational and social measures to
protect children from all forms of physical and mental violence.
General Comment No. 13 from the Committee on the Rights of the Child confirms
that physical and mental violence includes bullying between two or more children
and that mental violence includes cyberbullying. In your opinion, Mr. Bernstein,
is Canada meeting its obligations under Article 19?
Mr. Bernstein: I think there are attempts to address some of these
issues. One of the approaches that we have identified in our submission is the
importance of using child rights impact assessments before developing policy and
legislation and attempting to look in a structured way as to what would be the
best outcomes, how to promote the best interests of children and how to achieve
the best outcomes. Sometimes it seems to be a scattergun approach, very reactive
to particular events that occur in the media rather than looking at this and
applying a perspective that looks at the various rights contained in the
convention, the guiding principles of the convention and a structure that is
being used in many of our jurisdictions around the world.
We hear from other national committees globally, where UNICEF has offices,
that there are other countries using this approach, weighing competing rights
and doing literature reviews, being evidence-informed. What we are hearing today
encompasses the voice of young people. What do young people think about that
proposed policy, about that proposed piece of legislation? We are attempting to
develop more consistency in those approaches.
In terms of child protection, we see different ages of the maximum for
finding children in need of protection. In some provinces it is 16; in other
provinces it is 18; in British Columbia it is 19. There are different child
protection grounds and different reporting requirements in different
jurisdictions. There is some confusion around whether or not there is a need to
report online sexual exploitation as opposed to something happening in a more
There is a lot more that could be done in terms of addressing this issue, and
it seems as though we have a checkerboard approach. Oftentimes we wait until
there are serious episodes. We see teen suicides, self-destructive acts and
tragedies. Oftentimes that shapes policy. I think we need to be more reflective
and child-centred. We need to look at this whole constellation of rights under
the convention. We need to look at Article 19 and General Comment 13. How do all
of these pieces fit together? They are all interrelated.
Sometimes, in my experience, having spent much of my career in child
protection on the one hand and advancing children's rights on the other, we do
not integrate the two. We have a needs-based system in child protection, and
then we have child rights advocates. What he we need to see is an encouragement
of greater child participation within the child protection system. We need to
hear from young people, like this young woman here today, in terms of what is
happening and how we can improve the situation.
There is a lot of goodwill and commitment, people trying to do the right
thing, but I think we still have some distance to go.
The Chair: Mr. Hilton, did you want to add anything to that?
Mr. Hilton: Just a couple of quick points on that. First, I think
everyone can do better. Singling out one level of government, one provincial
government and one school, on an issue such as this and saying they are doing
well and another is not is not looking at the problem in the way that perhaps we
need to. All of us together can do more. All of us together can do a greater
Being responsive, as I think was noted here, is not the most successful way
to achieve the solutions we are looking for. We need to be more proactive. All
governments need to look at what we are trying to protect our youth from. What
conditions are they are in? How it is evolving and moving forward? What we can
do pre-emptively to start that?
Perhaps this is a good segue to point out one thing Ms. Virmani has not
talked about, which is she has turned her incident into a positive and worked
with the Canadian Red Cross to promote work groups within her school to make
activities that have now moved across the entire province of New Brunswick.
Listening to that side also gives you a better understanding of the potential
opportunities out there when we shine a spotlight on this problem that needs
The Chair: I was going to ask you this question, and you have started
answering it. Today's meeting has generated enough tweets that it has reached
almost 400,000 people. You have done a great service today. Earlier on we had 10
young people speak on this.
Mr. Hilton, I never thought the Red Cross gets involved in domestic
situations. I know you do when there is an emergency, such as fire or flood. I
understand that. That is my ignorance.
How would the Red Cross get involved in an issue like this in a school? If
someone is going through some of the challenges that Ms. Virmani has
experienced, how would they contact you?
Mr. Hilton: Unfortunately, we still get that often. People are
surprised that the Red Cross does this kind of work.
RespectEd, which was started in 1984, has done training and education for 4.4
million Canadians in just under 20 years. We are in several hundred Aboriginal
communities across the country. As you said, we respond to an emergency every
four hours throughout this country through our disaster management, but that is
only one side of our much larger platform.
Ms. Doyon: We have been working in violence and abuse prevention with
RespectEd for 28 years. We try to be on the ground and really connect with
people. We have offices across the country. We try to reach out to the schools
in the areas we are in. The schools come to us and we go to the schools to
promote our program as much as possible.
Schools can contact us through our website or their local office. We have the
RespectEd program in all the provinces as well as in two territories, I think.
We respond when there is a need as well as trying to be proactive.
Senator Robichaud: Last night on Connect with Mark Kelley there
was a whole hour on this topic. I am sure you have seen it. How does that help?
Mr. Hilton: I saw only a small part of the program last night.
Perhaps Ms. Virmani can talk about how programs in her school have helped.
That may be the best way to show a real-time incident that turned into something
Ms. Virmani: Before I talk about that, I have a list of suggestions
that I would like to share.
My first suggestion is to follow up with the bully. A lot of bullies do not
know that their acts are an infringement on the law and they do not know what
consequences to expect if their bullying is reported. Although I was not aware
of what to expect, ideally the victim would be aware of that. The bully also
needs to be aware of what to expect if they bully and that it can be an
infringement of the law.
My next suggestion is to re-emphasize existing resources. Many times kids are
not aware of the community supports and outreach programs that exist. They are
often not aware of the rights of the child or of the Criminal Code of Canada.
Kids need to be more aware of when actions are infringing on the law and on
rights. They need to be made aware of things that are already in place.
I am not sure how much control you have on this, but many third-party
companies are promoting bullying behaviour. Those applications on Facebook are
getting money to support bullying behaviours. These companies need to be sure
that they are following the Human Rights Act and the code and be aware of the
impact that they are having on a national scale.
Another suggestion is to have more outreach programs mandated into the
education act and having more programs like Beyond the Hurt through the Red
Cross, or having UNICEF presentations. We do a lot of outreach with the Red
Cross where we meet with children and talk to them. Beyond the Hurt is a youth
program run by youth for youth. Students do not always have to approach a
teacher or counsellor if bullying is happening; they can talk to another
student, and we act as peer mentors. It becomes another resource, and more
schools need to have more resources like that.
Another suggestion is supports for workplaces. If parents are not educated on
how to change their behaviours, they will teach the same behaviours to their
children. Many parents missed out on the education that kids are getting these
days. In order to avoid the repercussions of youth engaging in negative
behaviours, we need to teach adults appropriate social behaviours. We need more
education not only in schools but also in the workplace, because it is a cycle.
As I said before, we should reduce suspensions and encourage community
service. We need more emphasis on reflective workshops. Suspensions do not teach
children anything. They are a form of discipline, but it is no different than
hitting a child. It just reinforces negative behaviours and negative
consequences. It is not teaching a child anything.
We need more supports for the bullies themselves. We need to ensure that
bullies are aware that these resources exist. We need to ensure that parents
know that their children can get support to change their negative behaviours
about bullying. They must be made aware that there are guidance counsellors,
teachers and community programs to which they can reach out to change that
My last major suggestion is early mandated education; teaching kids
compassion and social skills. In New Brunswick, sexual education is part of our
curriculum. As part of that, measures for the prevention of sexually transmitted
diseases are taught. If that is being taught in health class, why can measures
for the preventive of bullying not be taught? We could teach children at a young
age suggested behaviour, typical behaviour, social norms and how to act in
society. It is often assumed that children know these things. The thing is this:
To assume is to make a you-know-what out of you and me.
Senator Meredith: I enjoyed your presentation and your
recommendations. I had not thought about Facebook and other companies benefiting
from this. Would you recommend legislation imposing severe penalties on
companies that promote cyberbullying? I guess you would be a proponent of that.
Ms. Virmani: As part of the Red Cross, we encourage the protection of
children and making a safe environment for them. There is no sense in companies
making money from encouraging negative behaviour, and that is something that can
Senator Meredith: You said that you applaud the efforts of the
government on 273. Where do we draw the line on consequences when someone is
cyberbullied and then commits suicide?
The Chair: Senator Zimmer will ask his question and then Mr. Bernstein
can answer both of them.
Senator Zimmer: Ms. Virmani, when the bully was in class beside you,
were you the only one he was bullying? Most bullies are cowards. Did he bully
you in person or was he quiet?
The Chair: Senator Robichaud, please ask your question as well.
Senator Robichaud: Following on Senator Meredith's question, you said
that companies are making money from this. Are you talking about Facebook? I am
completely ignorant about the web. I do not know very much, only what I hear.
Are you saying that those companies are working through the web or through
Mr. Hilton: To give a quick example, oftentimes on Facebook, third
party apps are add-ons that you have to proactively move through to include them
on your Facebook site. This opens up to different forms of advertising,
different clicks and different web hits that they will generate money on; very
small amounts, but over the hundreds and thousands of hits they create larger
money. It is focused on attracting a certain segment of youth, with little
regard for how it will be used, or whatnot.
Ms. Virmani: On your question about how it happened, the funny thing
is that it was actually done a cellphone in class, sitting beside me. When these
Twitter posts happened I found out at home online, but the student had enough
courage to with write these posts on his BlackBerry sitting next to me within an
arm's distance away. Yes, he had the courage to do it.
Senator Zimmer: What a coward.
Mr. Bernstein: I think there is a distinction between adult
perpetrators and youth perpetrators. The emphasis in the case of other children
who may be the perpetrators really should be on education, prevention and
rehabilitation. What do they need to do? What information do they need to have
to correct their behaviours? If we start piling on criminal sanctions — if we
start expelling these children — they will not get the information. They will
just become more frustrated, more angry, no better informed, and likely to
repeat those acts on more unsuspecting children.
The concern from UNICEF is those children who are the perpetrators. For
adults who are malicious — punitive — I think that some level of sanction as a
last resort is a reasonable approach. However, we are very concerned about young
people getting caught in the crossfire.
The Chair: I want to thank the panelists for their presentations
today. As you can see, you have got us thinking about a lot of things. We have
learned a lot from all four of you. We certainly hope that if you think of any
other suggestions you will be in touch with us.
Ms. Virmani, the next person who comes on is an ombudsman from your province.
It is obvious you have not had a resolution to your situation and after hearing
him there might be one.
Mr. Hilton: Ms. Virmani has a bullying prevention bracelet for each of
Ms. Virmani: I have bracelets for all the senators for inviting me to
come all the way from New Brunswick and speak on behalf of my province and youth
in general. The bracelet I am wearing is a design that is happening in our
school, locally. Again, it is one of the ways, through the Red Cross, that we
are promoting anti-bullying movements. It says "labels are for soup cans." It is
based on and ad and T-shirt campaign I created that is being used throughout
In addition to the T-shirt campaign, our bracelet version says that labels
are for soup cans. The reason it is pink and blue is because of the
anti-bullying colours. Each bracelet is tie-dye and they are all unique. No
bracelet is the same. The reason we have done it in the tie-dye is it is similar
to bullying; students get bullied because they are different. We are trying to
send the message that all students are the same. In the end, all the bracelets
have the same message and purpose of being a bracelet, but are all different,
beautiful and unique in their own way.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
I would like to welcome the final witness for this evening. Joining us is Mr.
Christian Whalen from the Canadian Council of Provincial Child and Youth
I understand you have some remarks for us. Thank you very much for coming.
This is an important part of our study that you are here for.
Christian Whalen, Acting Child and Youth Advocate, Office of the Ombudsman
of New Brunswick, Canadian Council of Provincial Child and Youth Advocates:
I wish I had allowed more of my time for the exchange that I came in on the end
of. I made note of Ms. Virmani's recommendations and am looking forward to
following up with her in Fredericton. I had much of the same kind of feedback a
few weeks ago when I presented to the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Positive
Learning and Working Environments in New Brunswick. Ms. Virmani had been there
just before me and everyone was talking about it. There was really quite a buzz.
Honourable senators, thank you for inviting me to your hearings on this
important issue. My name is Christian Whalen. Since April 1, 2011, I am the
Acting Child and Youth Advocate in New Brunswick. In 2008 and 2009, in my
capacity as the legal advisor for our ombudsman, I had the opportunity to chair
the joint working group, which was comprised of various child and youth
advocates and privacy commissioners in Canada, and we were actually studying how
to protect the privacy of children in the Internet age.
My brief presentation for today's meeting gave me the opportunity to revisit
this subject, and for that I am grateful to you. I have left a copy of the 2009
report of the working group with the clerk of the committee.
As I scanned the transcripts of the committee's hearings since December, I
was heartened to note the vast experience and expertise that witnesses have
shared with the committee. My expertise is not as great. However, I can offer
the perspective of a child and youth advocate and statutory officer who is a
human rights and children's rights generalist.
As senators will see from a quick glance at my brief, my main submissions are
directed at how the committee's work could help address some of the underlying
conditions which have allowed bullying and cyberbullying to proliferate. I do
not speak on behalf of the Canadian Council of Provincial Child and Youth
Advocates, but I am pleased to share news of these proceedings with my
colleagues on council.
I will limit my remarks this evening to three key messages which summarize
the recommendations contained in my submission. The first is this: to the extent
that cyberbullying is the symptom of a bigger problem pointing to the breakdown
of harmonious and responsible relationships between people, as Mr. Wayne MacKay
pointed out in his February report, we must figure out how to treat the
underlying problem and not only the symptom.
Second, creating a general culture around children's rights is not an easy
thing to do, but it is probably the best way to respond to the breakdown of
harmonious and responsible relationships which others have described. To achieve
this, we need powerful institutional leadership, which unfortunately is still
lacking in Canada today. It will also take the sustained action of all key
actors in the public sector and in civil society.
Just as the chair pointed out the interest people have for this afternoon's
proceedings, it seems that the participation of young Canadian citizens in
matters surrounding this file is mobilizing these actors. So we have to take
advantage of that.
Third, I will very briefly address the fact that, while cyberbullying is
without a doubt one of the worst problems facing young people today, an in-depth
analysis of the situation, based on an approach centered on the rights of
children, inevitably leads us to other issues, which in turn might lead us to
ask whether our basic laws rightly recognize the rights of children.
The first point I wanted to stress was made by Wayne MacKay, in his task
force aptly titled Respectful and Responsible Relationships: There's No App for
That. In our brief, I urge senators to ask about the root causes of this
supposed breakdown in respectful and responsible relationships. Of course, there
are many contributing factors. Mackay lists some of them: monster homes,
no-touch policies in schools, too much screen time and a drive-through culture.
I was also interested to note the committee's exchanges, in earlier proceedings,
with the Media Awareness Network, about websites to which young people flock and
the ways in which misogynist or other anti-social messages or subtexts may be
influencing young people. Here again, the linkages with Article 17 of the
Convention on the Rights of the Child are obvious. Article 17, senators will
note, indicates that States Parties shall: "ensure that the child has access to
information and material from a diversity of national and international sources"
— that much is achieved — "especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her
social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health. To this
end, States Parties shall: encourage the mass media to disseminate information
and material of social and cultural benefit to the child, in accordance with the
spirit of article 29," which outlines the aims of education, "and encourage the
development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of children from
information and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the
provisions of article 13 and 18."
What are these guidelines in Canada as they apply to cyberspace? How is Club
Penguin fairing in accordance with Article 17 of the convention? What about
newgrounds.com, the site to which Ms. Wing, from the Media Awareness Network,
referred the committee in her earlier testimony as one of the most popular sites
in Canada for kids in grades 4 to 9. Ms. Virmani spoke just now about Bathroom
Stall application on Facebook. How do all of these online services comply or not
with Article 17 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child? Again, if the
committee considered how much screen time Canadian children had, this could be
analyzed as an indication of their enjoyment or exercise of their rights under
Article 17. However, one would have to question how it is impacting a child's
right to play and rest, their physical activity levels or, in the words of the
convention, their "social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and
mental health." I have been seeking to get a handle on screen time usage in New
Brunswick for the last couple of years.
In November of 2011, our office, jointly with the New Brunswick Health
Council, published its Play Matters! report, and I have a copy of that
for the committee as well. It is our approach to a framework on the
implementation of the Rights of the Child in New Brunswick. How do we prove due
diligence? How are we keeping our promises to children? That is the challenge
that this committee has put out to Canadians and a challenge that we have sought
to take up in our province with method.
We took the 40 some articles and guarantees in Convention on the Rights of
the Child, analyzed them and grouped them into nine broad category areas, one of
which — question 2 — looks at how well children and youth are expressing
themselves in New Brunswick and all the rights related to expressive rights. For
those we identified, through our data sets, about 33 different indicators of
rights and well-being implementation, two of which deal with screen time usage.
Questions 13 and 14 come from our school wellness surveys. There is a
question there and data reported with respect to a child who has two hours or
less of screen time most days, at the grades 4 and 5 level, and another
indicator for grades 6 to 12 youth who spend two hours or less in sedentary
activities. These are described as watching TV, movies and video games, and
having computer time et cetera.
The difficulty is that this is self-reported data. It is reported as two
hours or less, which is not helpful in measuring how many youth are consuming
many more hours of screen time per day.
Next year, we will be able to break this down further and provide a clearer
picture in New Brunswick, but the data, as far as I have been able to ascertain,
is not available. There is no comparably data for that kind of indicator data
nationally. It is an example of the challenge in doing due diligence in whether
or not we are respecting children's rights. You want to try to measure it, but
then you get embroiled with identifying the right indicator, measuring it and
figuring out how we have reliable, comparable data. We are pleased that, with
the help of the Health Council, we have been able to provide this report as a
first template. We are looking forward to updating it next fall, and we are
hopeful that other child and youth advocates and health agencies — the Public
Health Agency of Canada, perhaps — can play a part in supporting that kind of
Essentially, there are many contributing factors of this noted breakdown in
respectful, responsible relationships. No one has said that this is a problem
related to youth, and we might question also how to nurture that culture of
tolerance and respect among adults in families and workplaces. We can look at
the ties with respect to workplace harassment policies and legislation in
different employment standards, which are now starting to develop, that prohibit
these kinds of bullying behaviours in the workplace, another human rights issue
for the committee to consider.
If we want to address this issue of the breakdown of respectful, responsible
relationships in relation to children, we must also consider the early stages of
child development and the ways that we can equip infants and pre-kindergarten
children with the supports they need to become caring and nurturing children and
adults. The experience, in our office, of working with youth with complex needs
suggests to me that we have to do more, as a society, to support parents in
their parental role, at the very early stages of life. These types of
investments will pay large dividends in the long run. I would urge the
committee, in drafting its report and recommendations, to consider, at every
step, whether each recommendation is directed at a symptom or a root cause. This
type of causal analysis is what methodic child rights-based analysis is all
My second point in terms of how we build this culture of rights respecting
children's rights is that it will be require an awful lot of leadership. It will
require partnerships at all levels of society and constant effort. Again, to
affirm the old adage, the best defence to bullying is a strong offence, an
offence of tolerance, respect, caring and diversity. That is what we have been
trying to do, in partnership with many partners in New Brunswick, over the last
year. We have established a secretariat and a working group on children's rights
in the francophone cultural space, jointly through the
Organisation internationale de la Francophonie and its member networks. We
have also developed a provincial youth engagement framework, developed with
Youth Matters, a provincial youth advocacy network. We have created a children's
rights and well-being framework, jointly with our Health Council and many
provincial child-serving ministries and departments. This Play Matters!
report also sets out a provincial roadmap for the progressive implementation of
article 31 of the convention, calling inter alia for a provincial
children's plan to coordinate the implementation of children's rights, in
accordance with Canada's National Plan of Action, and an annual publication of a
children's budget, tracking any increase or reduction in expenditures affecting
public services to children, their rights or well-being. Initial training on
children's rights was offered to all child and youth advocate staff and
representative staff from youth-serving departments and agencies presented by
UNICEF Canada. That was a huge piece. We just went through that process. I am
thinking that is the kind of training that would be of benefit even to
parliamentarians. Part of the challenge, just listening and following the
conversation and the transcripts of proceedings, is that we are all trying to
raise our game. We are all concerned with this issue. We see the potential of a
culture of rights respecting a culture of tolerance as embodied in international
human rights instruments and in our Charter. We want to achieve, we want to
implement and make those values real, but we do not have the language.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been in existence for 20 years,
the most universally ratified human rights instrument in the world, yet it has
not really percolated and impacted our universities, our curriculum. Our social
workers graduate from social work schools, our educators come out of faculties
of education, lawyers graduate from law faculties without any notion of
children's rights. There is a huge bit of work that must be done at that level.
We organized, in the beginning of May, a provincial sharing dialogue around
this document. We had a good cross-section of policy-makers in various
government departments, academics and community organizations, 60 to 70 people
from across the province to focus their work on children's rights and how we can
do a better job of implementing children's rights in New Brunswick. What we
found is that we did not have a common language. We were not really able to
approach that task.
We have to start with very basic steps. We have been trying to support that
as well, through outreach to professional organizations. Certainly, our office
has always had a very strong tie and working relationship with the New Brunswick
Association of Social Workers. We are almost unknown as a child and youth
advocate's office to members of the practising bar. The New Brunswick Teachers'
Federation has very little interface with us; Allied Health Professionals the
same. We are trying to establish that.
I do not think the situation would necessarily be very different in many
other parts of Canada. Unfortunately, the reality in Canada is that our
experience of child and youth advocacy really comes out of a North American
experience of having a champion in the corner for very vulnerable youth. Youth
in care and youth in custody need an advocate, but in many provinces of Canada
there is no advocate for children generally. When the committee put the
invitation out to the Canadian Council of Provincial Child and Youth Advocates,
we were seized of this matter May 9 and 10 at our meeting in Vancouver. There
were not many takers. Much as everyone was preoccupied with the situation of
cyberbullying and how it impacts youth in care and youth and children in their
jurisdictions, it basically fell to me to come. Like I said, I am here speaking
from our experience in New Brunswick and not speaking on behalf of council. We
do not have generally in Canada a national body, and even at the provincial
level we do not have provincial legislative authorities for the main part
responsible for implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In New Brunswick, in Newfoundland, in jurisdictions where there is a more
recent legislative model, that is the pattern that we have adopted, but we are
still learning. When we go to find and recruit staff and experts, we are looking
to social workers with 20 or 30 years of experience; we are looking to educators
and lawyers, but we are not finding people with all the skill sets in terms of
children's rights. There is much to be done.
To that end, we have, jointly with the Canadian Council of Provincial Child
and Youth Advocates and this working group on children's rights in the
Francophonie, established at the University of Moncton this summer a summer
institute on children's rights. It will be the first of an annual series of
courses, a 10-day course on children's rights, this year with a thematic focus
on Article 31, on the child's right to play, rest, leisure, recreation, arts and
We have also recently this year had UNICEF back down to New Brunswick to do
some training with our staff and other educators to roll out and implement this
rights-respecting school model. I know senators have heard about
rights-respecting schools from a number of witnesses. We see it as having huge
potential. When I presented the model to the New Brunswick Teachers' Federation,
they were early adopters all around the room, looking for that kind of an
answer, a program that is holistic, that looks at working with the strengths of
the local community school, and building upon those strengths to mobilize
students, teachers and parents in reinforcing a culture of children's rights and
human rights and building towards global citizenship.
We know that the rights-respecting school has had great success in Great
Britain. Mr. Bernstein was talking about 2,500 schools now throughout the U.K.
Interestingly enough, they borrowed the idea from Canada. It was Katherine
Covell at the University of Cape Breton who developed that model. It has been a
huge success, particularly in addressing bullying behaviour in U.K. schools. We
know that we can do the same in New Brunswick, so we are really motivated and
mobilized to have more rights-respecting schools. There are not any currently in
Atlantic Canada. Come September, there will be at least one in Fredericton and
we are hoping many more in the months to follow.
The Chair: I will ask you to sum up what you are saying because we
have many questions of you.
Mr. Whalen: To sum up, I will say again that all these concerns are
central to our times. They underscore the need today for stronger constitutional
and legal guarantees protecting privacy and children's rights generally.
Institutional protections and measures through establishment of a national
children's commissioner's office, ratification of communications procedure under
the third protocol to the convention, adoption of children's rights impact
assessment processes — these I hope will all be matters that the committee will
consider in its report and recommendations to Parliament by way of response.
There is also in our brief recommendations with respect to the role of child
and youth advocate offices and how maybe a process could be devised as to how
those offices could work better jointly with the national children's
commissioner toward building a culture of children's rights.
More broadly and fundamentally, I hope I will have at least piqued your
curiosity, if you read the brief, in considering that a dedicated focus on
child-first policy-making is an idea worth further study.
The Chair: Thank you very much. You have done a very detailed brief,
which we certainly will be reading, and looking at the nine recommendations that
you have made.
Earlier on I asked Mr. Bernstein from UNICEF this question, and I ask you: Do
you see that the time has come when Canada should have a national children's
Mr. Whalen: I think the time has long passed. I think this scourge of
bullying and cyberbullying really points out the need for a strong champion at
the federal level who can mobilize the live forces of Canadian youth that you
heard from here today in addressing that problem.
Senator Ataullahjan: On my way here I was looking at a study that I
heard about today and I was astounded. I want to share some figures with you.
This was a study of about 367 students and they found that the average time
they spent is about 2.78 hours a day; the highest amount was 8 hours. Talking to
a student from Alberta earlier on, that the average student gets about 189 text
messages a day, she said that was about right, and the highest is 3,000.
The average child has over two email accounts, but some have as many as 25
email accounts. Cyberbullying is something I follow, and I am just astounded by
Canada is a diverse country, and it is often difficult to implement one
technique or program in every school in the country. Do you find that there are
commonalities in anti-bullying or anti-cyberbullying programs among provinces?
Are there any best practices that you could share with the committee? I am
thinking of the peer intervention technique in particular, which has had great
success in countries like Norway.
Mr. Whalen: Absolutely, and the testimony that you had this afternoon
from Ms. Virmani reinforces that "labels are for soup cans" campaign she was
referring to. It has gone gangbusters. If you tap into the creativity of
Canadian youth and put the challenge out to them, they will find much better and
inventive ways of connecting with peers, opening up the conversations and
challenging behaviours that are unwanted.
I can think of another initiative by high school youth in New Brunswick on
another topic, but one that speaks to the global citizenship that Canadian youth
involvement in social media is awakening. There are a couple of high school
students at FHS and Leo Hayes in Fredericton this year that have established
Graduates without Borders, along the lines of Doctors without Borders, but they
are now fundraising through their graduation activities for overseas development
When one looks at the issue of bullying and cyberbullying, in particular, in
Canada, what is telling is this is an issue that Canadian youth themselves have
identified and brought to the fore through the pink shirt campaigns and in so
many other ways. Canadian youth are driving this agenda. I think that is
something they have to be commended for, and we have to, as adult allies, work
with them toward solutions that they may devise.
Senator Ataullahjan: How do we teach the youth responsible digital
citizenship? They know, yet we are seeing that cyberbullying is increasing.
Mr. Whalen: In the statistics that you referred to just a minute ago,
one of the most troubling points is seeing excessive use of social media or
online technologies. If children have over 10 email accounts and are accessing
thousands of individual communications per day, and if they are spending hours,
most of their waking day, in online activities, then, clearly, that speaks to a
challenge in terms of parental monitoring. When do parents have to step in? Is
the challenge more around how we educate youth, or as Ms. Virmani was saying
this afternoon, how we educate parents about their role in monitoring those
activities? That is one factor.
Senator Meredith: Thank you for your presentation. Ms. Virmani talked
about Facebook and companies benefiting from the promotion of cyberbullying. I
hope you were in the room for that comment.
Mr. Whalen: Yes.
Senator Meredith: In your final recommendation to us, you said that
this committee should look at the need for regulation of children's online play
space, avoid inappropriate behavioural marketing, data mining or other forms of
commercial exploitation of children online.
Can you dig into that a little more for me? That is where I think we have
opportunities to be able to bring about particular legislation to target that.
We have other legislation that is on the books now to deal with release of
information when it comes to an investigation and from the IP providers and so
on. I think we have something there that has been brought to our attention as a
committee, something that we may want to look into further.
Mr. Whalen: I am glad to have that question. I was thinking the same
thing when Ms. Virmani made the comments. I am not specifically aware of the
third party applications that she was mentioning. That is one aspect of the
commercial exploitation of children online, and I think she addressed that
point, as did Mr. Hilton.
Beyond that, so much of children's online play spaces have been completely
unregulated. We can think for a moment about the kind of environments we are
providing and reference article 17 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
look at the standard; look at article 29, the aims of education; and look at
Article 17 with respect to the role of the mass media, and then ask them the
questions. Are they doing a fair job? Is a federal legislated response the right
one? Possibly. What about industry self-regulation in this respect?
Neopets, Club Penguin, Webkinz and many of those "children's" websites are an
opportunity for data mining. Kids go online. They are doing these fun play
activities, but in order to get points, they answer questions. You can drill
down into some of those websites and look at some of the questions that children
as young as four, five, six or ten are answering. They are asked what kind of
brand preferences they may have for cigars. It is a lot of data mining for
consumer consumption habits in North American households. That is what drives
the business model for those online play environments.
Other kinds of online play environments that are questionable are situations.
I know that barbie.com has evolved and made some changes, and Valerie Lawson is
a local Canadian expert with respect to how large corporations may groom young
children as clients, and how they may play on a child's impressionability. The
child may be invited into a relationship of friendship with this online
commercial product. Is that appropriate? Those are important questions, and they
would certainly be an interesting area for further study by this committee.
Senator Robichaud: I would like to go back to the question put by
Honourable Senator Meredith. In your last recommendation, you say the following:
Finally it is suggested that the committee also consider at an early
opportunity the need for regulation . . .
Do you have any suggestions? Have you considered how this could be done?
Mr. Whalen: The 2009 report produced by the Privacy Commissioner and
Child and Youth Advocate Task Force was the start of the thinking process on
this matter. One of the models that drew our attention at that time was in fact
the Quebec example. This province had, for a long time, consumer protection
legislation that bans advertising directed at children. The Quebec legislation
came into force back in the 1970s. It was not specifically drafted to consider
cyberspace or the Internet. However, it is interesting to see how this
legislation has been applied and we are starting to see these principles being
extended to advertising campaigns of large North American corporations that are
on the Internet.
Rather than testing the Quebec regulator's position through the courts,
Nestlé, McDonald's and these large corporations have preferred to comply. So I
do think that there are ways that will enable us to have an influence on harmful
At the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, in New Brunswick, we often
receive public complaints in the Acadian communities. We hear people wondering
why they saw television advertisements aimed at children. They do not think that
this should happen. We have to then correct their misconceptions and explain
that this is a Quebec standard that comes under Quebec legislation. When you
watch Radio-Canada, you become accustomed to certain practices. How could we
expand this principle?
And in the famous Irwin Toys case, which went before the Supreme Court
of Canada, the Quebec legislation was challenged. The Supreme Court defended
this so-called violation of a corporation's commercial freedom of expression
precisely on the grounds that the child is vulnerable. Children under the age of
13 are very easily persuaded by marketing and therefore the child must be
More recently, the Europeans developed guidelines on behavioural marketing
aimed at children. If the Europeans can do this, I think that there is certainly
a way that we should also be able to do this in Canada. The difficulty in this
debate pertains to the fact that we are often dealing with a North American
reality. American Internet regulatory standards are very different from European
and Canadian standards.
Senator Robichaud: When we consider Facebook, Twitter and other media,
in order to identify whether children are exposed to advertising, you first of
all have to find out whether the children are able to go on these networks,
right? And this is not an easy thing to do because young people, from what we
hear, and even the very young, have the communication means to access these
Mr. Whalen: Although the fact is they often have to lie to have access
to the service. According to Facebook policy, you have to be 13 years of age in
order to have an account. Senators probably all know one or two children under
the age of 13 who have a Facebook account. That is another issue of debate.
In the report, I in fact refer to the work done by John Lawford, at the
Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which in their report entitled All in the
Data Family put forward some very interesting proposals for better
legislation and monitoring of pre-adolescent activity in the social media. The
American approach is typically to say that the youth can have an account
providing he or she has parental consent. The problem with this approach is: how
do you really ensure that the legislation is being respected? Very often, the
legislation is respected more through violations than it is through compliance.
That is why the PIAC recommended more regulatory approaches.
How do we ensure compliance with the standard? Once again, this is quite a
challenge. However, if we set the standard, we could find ways to make the
Senator Robichaud: And the parents as well.
Mr. Whalen: Of course.
Senator Robichaud: We on this side have a tremendous amount of work to
do. People do not understand all the information that is out there and how easy
it is to have access to it.
Mr. Whalen: That is why I am suggesting that this could be the subject
of another study. The question is a broad one, there are pros and cons. The
senators certainly heard the testimony given by the Media Awareness Network
about the advantages of digital literacy and how we can use social media in the
Canadian youth also have expectations. We have to move with the times, but I
think that we have to be prudent and responsible.
Senator Ataullahjan: If I have taken anything from today's witnesses
and experts, it is the involvement of parents. We seem to be hearing that
consistently. Why is it that the parents are not realizing the effects of social
media? Are they not using it themselves? What is it? Why is there a disconnect
between parents and children?
Senator Meredith: That was actually along the same lines in terms of,
again, I believe in parents being engaged in their children's lives so that they
know what their children are viewing, and vice versa; that their children are
able to come to them and talk to them about being cyberbullied. We heard today
about the fact that many kids are detached from their parents. They are going
through a crisis in their lives, and the parents are not at all there for them.
What is the education piece? What else do we have to do in order to engage
these parents more in the lives of these youth who are being traumatized on the
Net, and also physically bullied?
Mr. Whalen: There again, I think the best opportunity forward is
really to engage parents in those conversations through the schools.
Senator Meredith: Some of them are not even showing up at school, Mr.
Whalen. They are not even coming for the PTA meetings and IPRCs. They are not
showing up for the fact that their children are not even learning properly in
Mr. Whalen: Right. I think there is a role for school authorities to
engage and require attendance at times. It is hard to imagine the case, but
certainly in the case of cyberbullying.
Senator Meredith: Should we legislate that?
Mr. Whalen: I am not in favour of legislative responses across the
board. I know that the senators have heard from most witnesses with respect to
the need to emphasize educational approaches. Obviously, the questions are
difficult ones. They call forward a kind of broader social change.
Again, I will go back to the quote that I lifted from Wayne MacKay's report
that talks about monster homes and drive-through culture. That is the reality we
are confronting, and I think it is a huge issue for senators to try to determine
what the answer is.
My mother grew up in a house where she shared a bed with two of her sisters.
I grew up in a house where I shared a bedroom with my brother. In our house, all
four kids had their own bedroom, and that was progress.
Are children more isolated? How do we re-engage in those conversations at
home or in a school setting? In terms of what public regulators and legislators
can do, the task is probably to work through public institutions. We do see
great testimonies and success coming from the U.K. with respect to what they
have seen in terms of a culture change, with 2,500 Rights Respecting Schools
through the country, and so we are putting a lot of our efforts in that
Another program that was launched by an educator in Fredericton last year, at
his school, has expanded now to four different schools. We are hoping to roll
out to many other schools in the province this Young Leaders Program. However,
Young Leaders is based on the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Programme, which is a
leadership development program for adolescents. What these early-years educators
were saying is that leadership starts very young, and they have lots of K-5
leaders in their primary schools. They were saying we can celebrate those kinds
of successes in the school community, and whether it is a success in the
classroom or a success outside of the classroom, validating it and celebrating
it in the school community is nurturing the kind of caring community, leadership
and global citizenship that schools should be developing.
Therefore, through that program they look at developing leadership skills,
community development skills, physical activity, school involvement, and there
is a fifth plank of the program that I am forgetting now. However, it is amazing
what these young K to 5 kids can do when you put the challenge out to them. That
is about developing sound, respectful, tolerant behaviours and rewarding them. I
think it is the best kind of anti-bullying policy you can have.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I appreciate you took on the challenge
to meet with us. As you can see, we need people like you to make presentations
to us so that we get a better understanding. We could not have timed this better
to have Ms. Virmani and you here at the same time, so that was fortuitous. We
want to thank you for your presentation today and certainly for the paper that
you have prepared, which we will be referring to many times.
Mr. Whalen: Thank you, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Senators, there is a motion in front of you that has been
in front of you before. As you remember, we were to have minor in camera
witnesses, and there were issues about ensuring those witnesses have proper
protection. We have put that in place. You have two motions in front of you. One
is to allow recording and transcription of an in camera meeting with minors.
This transcript will stay with the clerk and anybody can go refer to it. Can I
have a mover?
Senator Robichaud: No, I have a question, Madam Chair.
The Chair: But before that, can I get somebody to move this?
Senator Robichaud: I am not a regular member, so I cannot.
Senator Meredith: I will so move.
The Chair: Go ahead, Senator Robichaud.
Senator Robichaud: The last part of the motion in French is not
complete. It should read as follows:
That the documents be destroyed by the clerk once the Subcommittee on
Agenda and Procedure has authorized this destruction.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Is there anything else or any other discussion? All those in favour?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Any against? No? Thank you.
The second motion is to exclude staff for this in camera meeting with minors.
Senator Ataullahjan moves it. Is there any discussion? No? All those in favour?
Thank you very much. It has been a very long day. I appreciate all the
support that you have given.