Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Human Rights

Issue 15 - Evidence (afternoon meeting)


OTTAWA, Monday, June 11, 2012

The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 2:36 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.

[English]

The Chair: Honourable senators, we will begin. We have been meeting since 10 o'clock this morning, and we are continuing our study on cyberbullying.

In front of us we have two organizations. From the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples we have Jenna Burke, National Youth Policy Coordinator. From Jer's Vision, we have Jeremy Dias, Director and Founder. We are pleased to have you here. We hope the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples will be able to answer questions pertaining to Aboriginal children and, since we have the youth coordinator, youth especially in Canada experiencing cyberbullying and other challenges related to social media and safe Internet use. We are looking forward to hearing from both organizations.

Jenna Burke, National Youth Policy Coordinator, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples: Good afternoon, Madam Chair and honourable senators. On behalf of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, it is an honour to present to the committee today on the site of the traditional, ancestral homelands of the Algonquin peoples.

I am a Mi'kmaq woman from Prince Edward Island. I work for the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples as the youth policy coordinator. Chief Betty Ann Lavallée sends her greetings, as she is not able to be here today and has asked me to attend on her behalf. Also with me today is our chief operating officer.

Since 1971, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples has represented the rights and interests of non-status and status Indians and Metis Aboriginal people living in urban, rural, and remote and isolated areas throughout Canada.

Today, I would like to focus on cyberbullying and the effects it has on Aboriginal youth. I would first like to start off by sharing a personal experience I had with cyberbullying when I was 15 years old. At that time, someone hacked into my MSN account and impersonated me, spreading vicious and cruel rumours. I remember the feeling of being totally out of control, with no ability to stop it or even to know who was doing this to me or why. I turned to my parents for help and, although they were supportive and sympathetic, they were as helpless as I was to do anything about it.

Eventually, I regained access to my account and attempted to repair the damage that had been done to me, to my friends and to my reputation. With my parents' help, I called the local RCMP, but, in the end, nothing could be done.

To this day, I have no idea who did this to me or why I was targeted. I was lucky that I had my parents to support me. The anonymity that cyberbullies hide behind makes this type of harassment much more severe. They do not have to physically look into the eyes of their victims and see the hurt and pain caused by the malicious attacks. They do not have to wait for them after school or catch them in a playground. They can follow them home, right into their bedrooms, through the use of social media and text messages. It creates a whole other dynamic because it no longer matters how big or how small you are when you are hiding behind a computer or a cellphone.

When I first received the invitation to speak with you today, I consulted with members of our National Youth Council to get their views on cyberbullying. What they expressed to me was not all that different from how bullying would affect any other group of youth, such as undermining your self-confidence, self-esteem and sense of security, affecting your performance and attendance at school, affecting your reputation and, ultimately, affecting your overall health, which can lead to thoughts of suicide for some.

When you consider the effects of cyberbullying on all youth, add to that the already at-risk Aboriginal population, and the impacts are even more devastating.

I would like to read a quote from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which I believe speaks to this issue: Aboriginal young people

. . . are the current generation paying the price of cultural genocide, racism and poverty, suffering the effects of hundreds of years of colonialist public policies. The problems that most Aboriginal communities endure are of such depth and scope that they have created remarkably similar situations and responses among Aboriginal youth everywhere. It is as though an earthquake has ruptured their world from one end to another, opening a deep rift that separates them from their past, their history and their culture. They have seen parents and peers fall into this chasm, into patterns of despair, listlessness and self-destruction. They fear for themselves and their future as they stand at the edge.

The Congress of Aboriginal People and our National Youth Council is pleased that the Government of Canada has started this national conversation on this important issue. You have asked us for recommendations. It is important to note that this issue is not one that can be addressed from one side alone.

Our recommendations are as follows: First, establish a national steering committee on cyberbullying with memberships drawn from all relevant sectors, including the national Aboriginal organizations.

Second, develop a national communications and outreach campaign targeted to Aboriginal youth and parents. This would include education and prevention programs that recognize the unique and yet diverse Aboriginal cultures and challenges.

Third, an awareness and involvement from parents is crucial. Parents need to recognize the signs that their child is being bullied, recognize the signs of suicide, and they also must recognize when their child is a bully. Therefore, we believe this government must support the work of social service organizations and schools as they are a direct link to the Aboriginal children and the greater youth population.

Finally, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples wants to be an active member of any federal national initiative. This problem will not go away. In fact, we believe it will continue to grow. Our thoughts are with those who have faced and are facing this problem alone. Thank you.

The Chair: I must compliment you. We have never had such a person keep to the timing you have kept, and we appreciate that. It will give us an opportunity to ask more questions and I appreciate that. I am sure Mr. Dias will follow you on that.

Jeremy Dias, Director and Founder, Jer's Vision: My name is Jeremy Dias. I am the director of Jer's Vision. Our organization works in schools and communities across Canada to address homophobic and trans-phobic bullying. We work with about 80,000 youth every year and are excited to do what we do. We are Canada's only youth-run anti- bullying organization. Thank you for inviting us.

When we got invited to the committee, we surveyed about 500 youth members who had attended programming.

The Chair: Mr. Dias, I will stop you, not because you are doing anything wrong but I can see you are using your iPhone for your presentation. There is no issue with that, but the public is watching us so I want to clarify that you are not playing with your iPhone while you are speaking to us, especially on this study.

Mr. Dias: Our office has gone paperless, which has become a challenge for most of us.

We did a study with about 500 youth, asking them what their challenges are with cyberbullying, and we reviewed all of your notes and previous committee meetings so that we would not repeat anything that has been said.

We wanted to echo the concerns of the teacher organizations that have spoken in the past. We think that cyberbullying, as was mentioned by Ms. Burke, is a huge problem.

That said, one of the challenges around cyberbullying we wanted to emphasize was the real dangers happening around X-rated websites. We find that many youth, especially underage, are creating and distributing what would be considered child pornography. Sexting and uploading material onto X-rated websites of youth having sex is a huge problem. We believe that this is a problem growing around cyberbullying that needs to be addressed by this committee. We are aware that you have had in camera meetings so it has possibly been discussed in those meetings but, to be thorough, we wanted to ensure that that was brought to your attention.

Bullying is not a new phenomenon, yet it is a new cultural phenomenon. Youth in our community want to emphasize, and I want to thank you for looking at this issue, the need for a new form of legislation and a new way of looking at this cultural phenomenon. The two tools that were brought out by our youth that we see as being the most successful are reviewing the Criminal Code specifically around the harassment laws. We know this is a suggestion brought up by a number of organizations and we strongly endorse it.

We also agree with a number of the other organizations about a public campaign, as well as public funding for youth organizations to run awareness programming and educational programming around it.

As much as we do believe that law enforcement is a tool, we fundamentally believe that prevention programming in education would be the most successful tool. The challenge that youth have described facing is that they do not get any education about how to use Facebook or the tools they are introduced to. Most kids discover Facebook on their own, and their parents and educators do not often teach them how it works. Teachers federations across the country have discouraged teachers from even having a profile online, reducing their literacy, so that when challenges happen they are unable to address them.

We desperately need funding for community organizations to do that educational work. We need to create a new public literacy around these issues, and we feel a public help campaign, through Justice, Health Canada or Public Safety, would probably be the most successful.

There is one short story I want to share with you. Up in northern Ontario, where I am from, a group of students in middle school and high school got drunk, as we often do on weekends as there is not much to do up there. As usual, people engaged in sexual intercourse because, as you know, there is not much to do up there, but something different happened last year that does not normally happen. Kids whipped out their cellphone cameras and started filming each other having sex. After the videos were uploaded to adult-rated websites and after a parent found a video of their child on these websites, the school was notified. That school has since been closed and the students have been redistributed in a three-hour driving geography. Many of these students cannot talk to each other. This has brought bullying to a whole new level. It is not just about one kid at home crying because someone called them a fag on their Facebook profile. It has ruined the lives of people.

We applaud you for your hard work and dedication, but this is such a complex issue. The youth from that community said that the websites need to be held accountable — a recommendation that has not been brought up.

The final recommendation that we have, especially following this situation, which is being repeated in a number of communities across the country, is that we need some sort of government ombudsperson, maybe one paid person that can call up Facebook or X-rated websites to monitor and remove this sort of information when it does happen, when it is so severe.

These websites need to be held accountable. If they are truly websites exclusively for adults, they should have policies or procedures that allow only adults to use them. That needs to be addressed.

One of the youth had a cute idea, which we also wanted to mention, and it is supporting the Human Rights Commission. We feel that the Human Rights Commission could do a lot to work on this issue if empowered and funded to do such things.

That is about it. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much also for keeping within the time limits. This gives us an opportunity to pose questions to both of you, and especially to you, Mr. Dias.

You spoke about the national ombudsman. I am sure you know that one of the recommendations that have been made for a number of years by this committee is a children's commissioner. Do you think that a children's commissioner would fulfill that role, especially to protect young people?

Mr. Dias: Absolutely. If you look at children and youth advocates in other provinces, such as in Ontario, they have done obscene amounts of work. What is neat is that they can work on both a policy legislative level but also on an on- the-ground, engaging youth level. We have seen success with that, especially with the youth advocates in Ontario and B.C. It is a demonstrated success model, for sure.

The Chair: Ms. Burke, you did not mention the ombudsman, but if I remember correctly, you talked about an advisory body. Would you see that a children's commissioner could fulfill that role of an advisory body?

Ms. Burke: Yes, I think that would be a great idea. I also think it would be great to have people and organizations around the table that work with and advocate for children, whether it be Aboriginal organizations or social service organizations. I think that a grassroots engagement process needs to take place.

Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentations.

Ms. Burke, what is the prevalence of Internet use among Aboriginal youth, and what social media sites are commonly used? Are there any forms of cyberbullying faced by Aboriginal youth, for example, via text, email and certain media? How do the trends vary between on- and off-reserve?

Ms. Burke: I can only speak about off-reserve. I do not have the numbers of how many Aboriginal youth use social media, but I know it is high. If an Aboriginal youth moves to a city or moves off-reserve, social media is one of the cheapest ways to keep in contact with your family and community, and family and community are very important in Aboriginal culture.

When I consulted our National Youth Council, the issues they discussed with me were no different than those of non-Aboriginal youth. They are accessing YouTube, social media, text messaging, and all the social media sites.

Senator Ataullahjan: Are you aware of any Aboriginal youth suicides that were related to bullying or cyberbullying?

Ms. Burke: Not personally. A lot of suicides I have known about, I do not know if it was particularly cyberbullying. I think cyberbullying would not be the cause, but it would be one of many causes. If a youth commits suicide, likely other factors are going on as well, but cyberbullying certainly does not help and it does have a drastic effect on youth.

Senator Ataullahjan: Mr. Dias, you heard about this endeavour to engage youth in developing and implementing policy and programs related to cyberbullying. Would you agree with this? Could you describe some of the youth initiatives that you have supported, what programs have been successful, and why?

Mr. Dias: The largest growing program that we have at our organization is an Introduction to Facebook workshop. It is a four-hour workshop where we teach youth about what Facebook is, how it works, and what it is designed to do. A lot of youth do not realize that Facebook is actually a tool to sell them stuff, and they are being bombarded with thousands of advertisements over the course of one hour alone, which is interesting. A lot of youth do not realize that.

When you look at other social media platforms, which are also included in the workshop, platforms such as Twitter, tumblr, foursquare, and so forth, you find a real similarity between these websites, which is that they are constantly being advertised to you and that this is part of a financial, consumer-based market that is trying to find out data from youth, collect their information and then make money from it. It is a lot more complicated.

On top of that, it is a poorly used tool because youth are not given literacy around it. We find that when we give youth literacy on it, they learn simple things. For example, if you type on my Facebook profile,  "Hey, Jerry, you are such a fag, " I might actually take it as a compliment because I am gay; and if I know you really well, you might be calling me  "fagulous, " which is another word for  "fabulous. " It is because I know and understand you. If I did not know you, we do not have that literacy. Maybe you are trying to have that literacy with me, but it does not necessarily come across.

By giving youth the tools to understand even the basics of how language comes across online, you all of a sudden have this educational basis to come together on the same level. What is most amazing about this workshop is how many parents stand in the back and participate. It has been fantastic. You have parents literally standing in the back, or just outside the door, listening to how this medium is being used. I think that is our most successful workshop around these issues. It has been fantastic and we really want to just see it grow. The only limitation we have is funding.

Senator Ataullahjan: It is interesting that you should say that, because if we have learned anything from this study, the recurring message has been parental involvement. We often wonder why some of the parents are not aware of acceptable use of social media. Coming out of the U.K., one of the courts has ordered Facebook to hand over data on cyberbullies in the case of a woman in Brighton, so changes might be coming soon.

Mr. Dias: We spoke to the director of Facebook in Canada prior to this consultation. On the bottom of every Facebook web page it says  "contact us, "  "terms of reference, " et cetera. We asked him to put a link that says  "Cyberbullying. What is cyberbullying? How does it work? How can you address it? How can you be aware of it? What can you do? "

They said,  "That is not the mandate of Facebook. Facebook is not designed to do that. " We were shocked that a youth organization would approach a senior manager, ask them for something so small, and they are not interested. Legislatively, we have the power to say,  "Listen, you are using Canadian telecommunications services to get your message across ". There is no reason why this should not be mandated or regulated, as we regulate smoking or for people to use a seatbelt. It is public safety.

Senator Ataullahjan: I think we got a call from Facebook just before we headed here.

The Chair: Just to let you know that it is not just you they ignore. Our clerk has tried hard for them to come here to make a presentation, and they have declined.

Senator Ataullahjan: They have given us a written submission. That is why we were a bit late coming.

The Chair: They have declined to come here. We have tried, Senator Ataullahjan has tried, and so we are all in the same boat.

Mr. Dias: We are surprised, as youth service organizations. Theoretically, we are one of their largest bases of users. I think that efforts by youth to black out Facebook will not happen anytime soon. Newer versions of Facebook, such as tumblr and foursquare are sort of cutting into that market. What we need to do is create literacy around it. If you look at smoking, TV or movies, we create regulations and we control it. I think that is probably the most effective way. Look at Disney. They are going to get rid of all their junk food soon. If it were not for Michelle Obama's work around those issues, it would not happen. Clearly, legislative bodies can have an influence; we just have to try to work together.

Senator Hubley: Thank you, and welcome. It is nice to hear that you are also from Prince Edward Island. How lucky can we be? Thank you very much for your presentations today.

Drs. Craig and Pepler informed the committee that many anti-bullying programs can actually make situations worse, and they stressed how important it is to identify key principles and evidence-based methods for the implication of such programs.

Ms. Burke, from your perspective and that of the Aboriginal community, are there issues that you feel have to be addressed specifically for Aboriginal persons?

Ms. Burke: Yes. I think that if you are going to start a prevention program or an anti-bullying program, you first need to do some work around self-esteem building, raising their self-esteem about being an Aboriginal person. If an Aboriginal person does not know their culture or heritage or where they have come from, it is hard to feel proud. There are a lot of good things about Aboriginal people. We have come a long way and have gone through a lot, and we are still here. That kind of message needs to be brought forward. They need to feel pride in who they are. That way, if they do experience cyberbullying in the form of racism, at least they know who they are and that they have a right to be respected. I think there needs to be work with youth and children to raise their self-esteem.

Senator Hubley: Since you have experienced cyberbullying yourself, have you seen an improvement in the resources that would be available to Aboriginal youth?

Ms. Burke: I guess when I first started using social media it was in the form of MSN. I guess my generation is a little bit different because I grew up not having any kind of contact with Internet. I did not have Internet the first half of my youth life and just kind of grew into it. When I did have the experience with cyberbullying, my parents were totally new to the Internet and to computers, for that matter.

There was really nowhere for us to turn back then. I would not have known where to look; the same with my parents. Right now there are a lot of good organizations out there doing good work. We need a database or we need to have access to the tools. There are a lot of things working out there. This is my first time hearing about Jer's Vision. It sounds like an amazing program. I wrote down the  "Introduction to Facebook " workshop because that is something I did not know about before. I would certainly be interested in collaborating with him to do something like that with Aboriginal youth.

There is a lot out there. We need to pool it together so that we have an online resource of these kinds of topics.

Senator Hubley: Thank you. I am wondering if I might ask Mr. Dias the same question. Do you feel that there are special needs within the gay community that have to be addressed specifically?

Mr. Dias: Yes. I would turn the question backwards. In the mainstream community we need to talk about gay and lesbian issues; within the men's community, we need to talk about women's issues; within the non-Aboriginal communities, we need to talk about Aboriginal issues. In Montreal, we need to talk about anti-Semitism again because it is coming back with a vengeance. We are really concerned, as youth, when you walk into a school in Montreal and see a swastika in the bathroom. It is shocking to see that coming back again. We are noticing a lot of the life skills being pulled out of the curriculum. We have moved away from educating youth on how to treat each other, something my parents grew up with but I did not.

As a gay person growing up in northern Ontario, when people called me a fag my teachers told me to suck it up because that is what boys go through. When my best friend's father died, his mom looked at him and said,  "Don't cry; you are the man of the house. " These are the types of social stereotypes that we grew up with.

My have best friend in northern Ontario was sexually assaulted and ended up committing suicide over it. When she reported it to police they said,  "Well, you know, you probably should not be wearing what you are wearing. " That was in high school not that long ago. It is shocking. All of these are one-off incidents. It is maybe one bad police officer, one bad teacher, maybe one negative occurrence, but it is part of this whole system that we are not talking about.

Dialogues on controversial issues have actually reduced in our country. When my parents were in school they had debates on things like abortion. People on one side of the room and on the other side of the room would debate, contest and vote on it and then they would learn the tool to respectfully disagree. My mom said that when she was in school they talked about gay rights and same-sex marriage. When they had a debate about it the goal of the debate was not to prove who was right or wrong but to learn to respectfully disagree with each other's differing opinions. These are skills that we are not teaching our youth. I agree that evidence-based research must happen. There are so many anti-bullying organizations popping up, especially with this new phenomenon. There are a number of new experts adding letters to the back of their names and charging schools and communities an exorbitant amount of money for the work they are doing.

The biggest challenge around anti-bullying programming is that there is no funding in our country for it. There is no ministry in any part of our country, at a municipal, federal or provincial level, that funds this work. Organizations like ours, which are relatively new and completely youth run, are sort of at a loss and can only do what our donors allow us to do. It is a bit of a challenge.

Senator Hubley: You shared with us an incident that took place in a school, an overnight party and the resulting cyberbullying. The solution seemed fairly drastic to me. What would you have recommended?

Mr. Dias: I would have recommended that teachers and parents have literacy about the websites that are even on the Internet. One statistic from the Canadian Teachers' Federation said that almost 90 per cent of the Internet is pornography. If that is the case, then why do we not know about this? How come we do not know the websites that youths are accessing and what they are accessing? If they are accessing it, should we not give them literacy on pornography in the same way we teach them that Disney movies are bad? Beauty and the Beast is a story about a violent and abusive relationship. He yells and hits at her halfway through the movie and she falls in love with him. The Little Mermaid is story about a young woman who has to be pretty and keep her mouth shut the whole movie. In three days he falls in love with her and kisses her and she can start talking again. This is the negative messaging kids grow up with. When they graduate to Jersey Shore and porn, we are surprised they are acting out and misbehaving.

I do not know where the surprise is coming from with us as a community. We need to be less surprised and more proactive. We need to challenge the messages that youth are facing and give them the tools that my parents have given to me, namely, critical analysis, respectful disagreement and human respect. We need to bring Canadian values back.

Senator Hubley: Thank you very much.

Senator Boisvenu: Welcome to the Senate of Canada. I would like you to ask you to test the ear piece to ensure you will understand me in my language of French.

[Translation]

Thank you for your presentation and your professional work in this area. It is not easy.

This whole concern about social media and bullying reminds me a bit of all the discussions that happened 20 or 30 years ago about the introduction of violence on television. I get the impression that, in some way, the Internet has replaced television. Children watch less and less television and spend more and more time on the Internet, except that now they can be connecting with strangers. Worse still, the tool can actually be used to communicate with kids and to send them all sorts of messages.

I am a little bit pessimistic because we never resolved the debate over violence on television. There is still much too much. The violence has moved into video games. I see seven- and eight year-olds who spend 12, 13, 14, 15 hours a week playing war, dying and coming back to life dozens of times. All the reality of life has been taken away. Kids who are bullies are living in an alternate reality. A reality where they close themselves off psychologically into a world where they think they have power over others through bullying.

It is clear that, in the report we eventually produce, we will have to take a position on education and parental responsibility because, when a five-, six- or seven-year-old is being a bully at school, somehow parents must be held accountable. We are not going to put the child in prison. Where should we draw the line between parental responsibility, education and criminalization?

This morning, we heard from a woman who had been bullied; the acts were criminal. When your life is threatened, or you are threatened with having your property stolen, that is criminal. When five- or six-year-olds bully their classmates, is it criminal or is it a lack of parental responsibility? Where do we draw the line between criminal acts, to be punished more severely than the school can, and parental responsibility, including supervising their children's Internet use?

[English]

Ms. Burke: Very good questions. I will respond to you in English.

Senator Boisvenu: Go ahead.

Ms. Burke: I think the same tool that got us here is what we will have to use to ultimately get us out here. We have to go where the youth are. If they are using social media, then we have to use that to tackle the problem.

As for where to draw the line, bullying is a learned behaviour. At the first sign of bullying in schools, there should be some way where the youth can take responsibility for their actions, perhaps through restorative justice measures. It is not helpful to put a youth through the criminal justice system. We have proven time and time again that that just makes better criminals. They need to actively take responsibility, face their victim and actually learn what they have done to that person and to feel the pain that they have caused that person.

As for legislation, I am not a lawyer, but I do believe that the laws have to be looked at. Cyberbullying has progressed so rapidly, and I do not believe the laws have evolved with it. That needs to be looked at.

[Translation]

Mr. Dias: That is a good question. Our organization agrees with Ms. Burke. We certainly need a system that allows us to educate rather than to punish.

Jer's Vision supports victims but also we also believe that bullies are sometimes victims themselves, at home, at school or elsewhere. The majority of bullies I have met are kids from poor backgrounds; they have difficulties, they are gay themselves and are not recognized as such by their parents. So how can I, as a gay youth, rejected by my parents, turn the tables? By becoming a bully; I go after the gay kids at school and I stop being gay, so I am no longer the victim.

We must certainly look at the complexity of the problem and study it critically. There are no simple solutions. We can compare it to violence against women. That is not simple either. It took many years for changes to be made in that area. For example, when my father was young, girls were slapped on the face at school. Now, it would be totally unacceptable to do that. But is violence against prostitutes okay or not? Is violence against aboriginal girls okay? No, maybe or sometimes? There are certainly problems, and we have to take the time to study them.

There are many elements, layers, to consider and it varies from place to place in Canada. In the North, there is no work; in Toronto, there is a lot of cultural diversity; and in Alberta, there is a lot of money but there is also homophobia and machismo. All of that exacerbates the difficulties. We have to be flexible when making changes.

A police officer told me something really fantastic. Texting, if it is misused, can be used to produce child pornography. When she tells young people about the sometimes harmful consequences of texting, they change their behaviour immediately, because they understand the problems they could run into when they are 13, 14 or 15 years old. The solution? It is not only the law but also education.

We have to find a way to use all of these tools together.

Senator Boisvenu: Ms. Burke, you come from an aboriginal community where family is very important. The environment is a little more closed off, especially on reserves.

I am going to ask a self-serving question to satisfy my curiosity and to educate myself: how does bullying happen on an aboriginal reserve and how do you manage the consequences?

[English]

Ms. Burke: I come from an off-reserve Aboriginal community in Prince Edward Island. I am part of the Native Council of Prince Edward Island. P.E.I. is very small, and we have two reserves there. Communities live closely, and I have family living on both reserves. It is very interconnected.

There is a lot of bullying that happens, particularly around lateral bullying and lateral violence. If you do not fit the typical stereotype of looking like an Aboriginal person or you are not dark enough, your skin is not light enough, there is a lot of bullying around that as well. That is one of the priorities at our National Youth Council. This is a problem that is faced across the country, not feeling Aboriginal enough because you grew up in an urban area. Our National Youth Council addresses that in their national youth strategy as one of the priorities to tackle.

In a smaller community, I cannot give you an example of how it was dealt with. I have not experienced a situation where it has been dealt with. It just seems to have been accepted, I guess.

Senator White: My question was answered; thank you very much. It was in relation to criminal courts being a solution to this problem. They both answered the question. Thank you.

Senator Zimmer: In the last while, I have been observing a lot of young people on their BlackBerrys, walking around the streets with something plugged in their ears and hoods on, and I worry. They cannot handwrite or speak very well. They rely too much on these tools. When I hear the intelligent, bright assessments you make, I have hope again. Thank you for your presentations. They have been outstanding.

Mr. Dias, I think you really led into the other end of the culvert. It is looking the other way. Yes, we have all these problems, but what about the creators of all of these tools, the Zuckerbergs and the $100 billion they have made in 10 years? To me, it looks as if they do not care what is on there, how it is used or how it is abused, and it is abused. Many young people do not understand the ramifications. Many people who are bullied do not understand. You are absolutely right. They have to have some accountability. With smoking, drinking or whatever, there are rules, but there is nothing on this. I think you are absolutely right.

To ask the question, what can we do from our end at this committee to start to hold them accountable, in your opinion?

Mr. Dias: Respectfully, taxation. Respectfully, taxation has been the greatest regulator and the greatest balancer of how we regulate companies in our country. If tobacco is being bad, we tax them up the wazoo. If they will not do what we want them to do, then we take that tax money and run campaigns that work on the opposite. It is the same thing with automotive companies and alcohol-based companies. That is just how this country is run. Taxation is not something we should be afraid of. You take money from me to pay for my roads, schools and buildings. We invest into a service. I do not know why Canadians have become so afraid of paying taxes.

Not to be too personal, but my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in the last year, and Ontario Health did not pay for the more expensive drug. We paid from our own pockets. There is a problem when Canadians have to make that choice. We were lucky enough to be able to afford the nicer drug, but not all Canadians are that lucky. We need to change our dialogue.

If we cannot police them, if we cannot introduce laws to change how their companies are run, which truthfully we cannot, then we need to tax them, and we need not be afraid of that.

Senator Zimmer: That is a good answer. Hit them in the pocketbook, which others have done. To your mom, Senator White and I have gone through cancer, so prayers to her and good luck.

Mr. Dias: Thank you.

Senator Meredith: Thank you both for appearing before us today. Ms. Burke, you spoke of a national strategy around education and awareness. How do you see this implemented from the national council that you represent, especially when it comes to Aboriginal people? I also sit on the Aboriginal Committee, and the issues around Aboriginal people are very near and dear to my heart. We see the cases of suicides that have taken place and the fact that there has been almost a lack of attention to a lot of issues surrounding Aboriginal youth vis-à-vis employment, education, health and so forth, and we are working to address those issues.

How do you see this national strategy being implemented to really deal with bullying and cyberbullying across this country? Maybe both of you can answer that.

Ms. Burke: It has to be grassroots; you have to work at the grassroots level. You have to really consult. I know education is a provincial mandate, but I think we need to work closely with our provincial education systems.

It needs to be implemented at the school level. If there is some way that it could be the same kind of curriculum tailored to the specific needs of the group you are serving, I think that is important. It needs to engage the provincial and territorial governments, as well as the social agencies.

More engagement needs to happen to identify the specific challenges faced by off-reserve Aboriginal people. The Congress would certainly be very much willing to work with any kind of national campaign, or communication strategy or outreach. Also, our National Aboriginal Youth Council would want to be involved in that process.

Mr. Dias: I echo Ms. Burke's sentiment. The success of whatever this might turn out to be — a youth council, if one is created — would be that it does not just look at cyberbullying but rather at the intersections of bullying. It would also need to specifically outline the challenges in our country: homophobia, transphobia, rising rates of violence against women, et cetera. I think we need to be transparent on what these challenges are.

A very global effort and a youth committee made up of members from across the country would be helpful — one that would design youth strategies and maybe be responsible for a funding portfolio that would support local youth- based anti-bully efforts. I think that would be the most successful solution. You do not need to pay government employees, either, because they have giant pensions and that is expensive. That was a joke.

Ms. Burke: I just want to add that words alone are not enough, and the process needs to be done quickly and within a defined period of time. I think long discussions will only hurt Aboriginal children in the long run. We need the engagement, but it is also important that we act, because this problem is growing rapidly and is not going away. I would like to echo your sentiment that resources need to be committed by the federal government so that this work can be done immediately.

Senator Meredith: Talk to me about the support and coping. We have heard from victims, and individuals who have engaged in bullying. Tell me about the coping mechanism of how we can incorporate some of these recommendations into our report. You have both been bullied. What do you tell us about how we can help others, so they are able to get over this traumatic situation they face? Sometimes they are bombarded because they cannot get away from this technology. I am curious to hear about your coping mechanisms.

Ms. Burke: In my case, I was lucky that I have a good support system; I have a strong family. Even though they were not tech people, they were able to sympathize with me, help me through this and walk me through the steps.

Yes, you have to educate youth, but if youth are getting bombarded with this through text messages and are on their Facebook and Twitter all the time, it does not matter how good your self-esteem is. Eventually, it will take a hit and do damage.

We need to work closely with parents to educate them, so that they can recognize those signs, step in and be a support to youth. Teachers need to be educated, too, because they are often the ones to see if a youth or even a youth group is being affected.

We need to build a circle of support for these youth so they are not facing this problem alone.

Mr. Dias: Those organizations are running on year-to-year, month-to-month funding. We need to move away from project-specific grants, both at the federal and at the provincial levels. We need to look at long-term five- and ten-year grants that invest in a solution and invest money in causes.

I was privileged to get a tour of Kids Help Phone a few years ago and I was shocked to find out they get almost no federal dollars. It is a national service used by thousands of kids, and it does not get any money. Whether you are in a rural, urban, territorial or provincial community, it is the number one resource promoted across the country. Then it gets no support? When they lost Bell Canada as a sponsor, they almost shut down. That is shameful. We need to invest in services in Canada and make a real long-term investment.

We also need a message in prevention. It cannot just be about supporting victims. We need to invest in addressing the issue before it even starts.

Senator Meredith: I know you mentioned parents and that some parents are involved and others are not. How do we get more parents engaged in the situation going on with their young people? They buy them the technology, yet they are not there when this technology turns around to haunt them and somehow push them over the brink to the point where some of them commit suicide. How do we get more parents involved so that there is a strong support system in place for their young people?

Mr. Dias: We support parents. We try to get a national daycare program in so that parents can spent time with their kids and not have to work two or three jobs so that they can afford a computer for their family. They make those tough decisions between education and working all the time.

We need to give parents the opportunity to be home with their families and support their families in a way we have not considered before. We need to relook at the Canadian society we have created and look at investing in opportunities and programs that support families. We have not done that. It is part of a more complex and challenging problem. It speaks to a lack of education and support that Canadian families experience.

One of the families that I have known who have had a suicide within their families are ones who have two working parents and are struggling to make ends meet. They have lost a kid while they were not looking. Why? They were trying to pay their rent and their hydro bills. It is just a reality. Parents cannot be there over their kids' shoulders all the time.

My parents were not home when I got bullied and when I got home from school crying, because they had to work.

Ms. Burke: I think a lot of parents do want to be involved but they just might not have the tools. A lot of adults have grown into using Internet and they are not as technology-savvy as their children. We must be able to give them the tools or work with parent-teacher associations to develop educational resources for parents, specifically. Alternatively, it also opens up that dialogue if there is some way you can engage the parents and the children where the youth are the ones teaching the parents how to use these kinds of tools.

If it is to be addressed, it needs to be talked about. If you have a child teaching a parent how to use social media and a chapter is on cyberbullying, at least that opens up the dialogue to be involved and engaged.

Senator White: I have been listening for a few days and I am trying to get my head around how we battle something that has become so large. Parents can control what their children watch on TV at home by changing the code on the television. Then, 10 minutes later, they walk outside of the house and pick up their iPhone and watch pornography in a matter of seconds.

There must be some level of responsibility put on those who provide this service. That is what we would be doing if our local cable was providing unfettered access to pornography without the ability of a parent to limit that.

I guess I have to put a question in here somewhere. How do you suggest we do that? I do not blame a lot of the young people engaged in this. For many of them, it is all they know. They grew up with technology. I do not think any of us have a solution for stopping them. I am trying to figure that out right now.

Ms. Burke: I have thought about that, too, because if a picture goes up on the Internet, it is up forever. I do not think there is any way to get it down. Once a picture or video is up there, that damage is done. That is something unique to this generation. When you are young and make a mistake like that, there is no going back. That could affect you for the rest of your life.

It is also not something that affects just youth and children; it can affect adults or any one of us around the table now, at any age. Once something embarrassing goes up like that, you cannot get it back down. I do not know if there is a way to get something off the Internet. I am not a technical person, but I think it would be helpful to look into that. Is there a way to block an image or video and take it down forever once it is up there? Maybe we need to be working more closely with the social media sites and website designers to be able to do that.

Mr. Dias: I would go in a different direction. I would say: Why are we not educating kids on what pornography is and giving them the tools and resources to choose not to watch pornography — a literacy around violence? It is really funny; part of one of the workshops we have done is a video game called  "Grand Theft Auto. " Similar to a violent video game, kids drive cars around, running over mothers with baby carriages, sexually assaulting prostitutes and stealing their money. We have spoken to youth and asked why they play a video game like this. The kid says,  "Because it is fun. " We talk about what the experience is for a woman who faces violence or for a mother who loses her son. All of a sudden, the video game becomes demystified and the experience falls apart and has a different meaning. Talking about Disney movies and explaining that Ariel is just a pretty girl who has to use her looks to seduce a man, all of a sudden the movie does not have a magic anymore. Why can we not have a healthy dialogue about those things?

I do not know that censorship is the exclusive solution — perhaps regulation or ensuring that service providers who are putting stuff out there are regulated. At the same time, the V-chip has never worked on TVs.

Senator White: As a follow up question, I do not disagree with you when it comes to the pornography discussion. However, as Ms. Burke referred to, when it comes to a 15-year-old making a mistake and having to live on cyberspace forever — that .ca or whoever controls it; in every country it is different: .com in the U.S. and .co.uk in the U.K. — the fact is that they are not obligated to remove material that is not just harmful but possibly dangerous to someone for the rest of their life. We know that people are committing suicide or finding themselves in extreme mental distress as a result of some of these things. I do get the censorship piece, and it is probably a discussion that will be held separately. However, in protecting young people, in particular, I am not convinced that we should not have a responsibility and that we should not make other people live up to the same responsibility.

Mr. Dias: Just to defend my point, I agree; as I mentioned to Senator Zimmer, we have to create policies for those companies in terms of what they do and how they act. An advocate or an ombudsperson would definitely be able to fill the role of a youth advocate, as the chair said. That person could navigate that role.

You are right; we should be able to find a way to destroy certain pictures. Mr. Harper in a cowboy outfit — no one ever wants to see that again. Seriously, though, we do need to find a way to protect youth and give youth the option to get that out there. We need an on-the-ground policy person who has the authority, and it would be that person.

The Chair: Your organization, Jer's Vision Canada, is a youth diversity initiative that works to stop bullying, discrimination, homophobia and transphobia.

I have a question for both of you. We are reaching the end of our study and we have heard how difficult it is for the LGBT and questioning youth when they are not supported or do not have a supportive family or community. How does your organization reach out to them, and how do you help them to deal with hate messages in particular?

Mr. Dias: We have focused a lot of our work on educating straight people. That is where we have seen the greatest amount of change. I just got back from rural Newfoundland, where, for the first time, for an entire community of people, they talked about gayness in public. It was the first time some people had actually seen a rainbow flag or heard about gay pride or known that in Canada 42 years ago it was illegal to be gay. Fundamental basics about Canadian history that everyone should know about were unknown to this entire community.

It is not just in rural Newfoundland but sometimes in downtown Ottawa, when the Ottawa Citizen reporter calls you and asks you silly questions. We are trying to shed light on Canadian history and on the international reality we are facing. In Sochi, for the 2014 Olympics, some Canadian athletes will not be going because by then it will be illegal to talk about homosexuality in public in all of Russia.

We have been bringing these dialogues to light. What is amazing is that straight people become the most compassionate. All of a sudden, when you say,  "That is so gay " and  "You are such a fag, " it takes on a new meaning when the Canadian women's hockey team cannot play there.

It has been totally incredible. We have been fortunate enough to have these sorts of dialogues with people. Our organization works on the grassroots. Mr. White knows. He helped us train a lot of the Ottawa police officers and give them literacy around our issues, which has been incredible, because now police officers deal with things differently and more compassionately.

The Chair: Earlier you spoke about the anti-Semitism going on in Montreal and that it is not acceptable. Do you think that hate against certain communities is on the increase in Canada?

Mr. Dias: We have seen a rise in hate crimes around LGBTQ communities, and Jewish communities are starting to report a rise in hate crimes as well. A rise in violence against women was also reported by Statistics Canada last year.

We are seeing a rise in these issues. What we are seeing a decrease in is dialogues around these issues. We are seeing an awareness of these issues. One study from New York said that of all pornography on the Internet in North America, 90 per cent of it was violent towards women. If kids get five hours of safer education in a school during their entire lifetime and then watch porn, it does not balance out. In those five hours, pornography is not mentioned, contextualized or explained, so how can an 18-year-old have any understanding of what sex is or means if their parents will not talk to them about it or if their teachers will not explain it to them? If what they see for hours and hours on the Internet is violent in nature, then men and women expect that that is what sex is supposed to be.

These are tough dialogues, but they have huge consequences. We have moved, as a country, into censorship and quietness. We have made movies X-rated and R-rated. As opposed to talking to our kids about abortion, sex and gays, we have said those are not appropriate; you cannot talk about that until grade 9, 10, 11 or 12, and even then you just sort of hint at it and say,  "Do not call him a fag, " but you do not explain what  "fag " is or why the word even came to be in Canada, which is because it was illegal to be gay here at one point.

The Chair: Ms. Burke, I am sure the same kinds of hate messages are faced by Aboriginal youth. Can you please tell us how your organization is dealing with that?

Ms. Burke: We just did our National Youth Strategy last year, and bullying and racism were some of the issues we tackled. We are hoping to support any national federal campaign that this committee takes forth. I certainly have to agree with Mr. Dias; we need advocates and we need to be educating people. We cannot be scared to start that dialogue. We have a good network of provincial affiliates, so anything that comes about we can share with them and then reach the Aboriginal youth and their parents in the provinces as well.

The Chair: I want to thank you. We have learned a lot from both of you. We found this session very useful. If there is anything further that you think we will be able to use, or thoughts that you have, please contact the clerk. You have given us a lot to think about and a lot of tools to work on, so thank you very much.

Honourable senators, we now have a panel before us by video conference. We have, from the Nova Scotia Department of Education, Don Glover, Director, Student Services Division, Public School Branch; and Rola AbiHanna, Guidance Consultant, Student Services Division. We apologize for keeping you waiting but we will make up the time.

I understand you have introductory remarks. Who will start?

Rola AbiHanna, Guidance Consultant, Student Services Division, Nova Scotia Department of Education: I will begin.

I am hoping that you have the PowerPoint presentation that we sent ahead of time. I will speak to that. I will give you a brief background of what has been happening in Nova Scotia over the last year.

Last spring, in 2011, we had a number of youth who died tragically in Nova Scotia. All of these youth were known to have some mental health concerns that were involved in their deaths, but there were also times when bullying situations were thought to have been contributing factors. There was certainly an increasing concern around bullying, which prompted the minister to strike a task force in April 2011.

The task force had a mandate to look at some short- and long-term recommendations and some practical strategies that could be used to address the issue of both bullying and cyberbullying. The task force membership was made up of myself and Professor Wayne MacKay, who chaired the task force. You have heard from Professor MacKay a number of times. We had a student representative, Breanna Fitzgerald; a parent representative, Wendy MacGregor; and a youth secretariat to the minister, Mat Whynott.

The task force had a working group that supported their work. The working group was chaired by myself and made up of many of our community partners. It included people from other government departments, youth support groups and organizations, other community organizations, parent organizations, educators, unions, policing agencies, and so on. I have included the list in my presentation. It was fairly extensive and they contributed a lot to the work we did over the course of the eight months that we were together.

Some of the key areas of focus that the task force was responsible for were looking at some of the challenges that come from bullying and cyberbullying situations. We wanted to hear from the public; that was an important piece for us. We had many opportunities for youth to contribute. We had youth focus groups and online surveys for the public, for community members, for educators, for parents and for students. Several of our meetings were open to the public so that they could attend and hear from the experts as we were hearing from them.

We looked at current programs, initiatives and resources that were being used. We looked at effectiveness of policies and practices. That was a key aspect of our work. We wanted to examine best practices and evidence-based approaches. We did not want to be throwing things around or taking shots in the dark without having a look at what really is effective and can bring about change to this problem.

We did look at current research. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of organic research that comes out of Nova Scotia and, as it turns out, not a lot from anywhere across the nation and beyond. It is a difficult topic to research. Much of it goes unreported. For example, incidents; definitions vary, which leads to different statistics around the prevalence and scope of bullying. A number of things came up.

We also wanted to look at the long-term impact, that is, the impact on children and youth, how it was affecting their educational experience, their relationships with others, their mental health, and so on. We wanted to look at people's basic understanding of what this is about. That is, do people clearly understand what bullying is and what cyberbullying is about, what education may be required for all of our different partners, and so on?

We had several meeting themes. We focused every month on a different theme. We invited experts and guest speakers to share information with us. Our goal was to become as well informed as we could over the next several months to put together a report in the end.

I will not go through all of that, but they are there for your review. I also will not go through the list of all of the presenters, but I wanted you to have a sense, looking at the list of presenters, about some of the experts that we did bring in and who shared some really critical information with us. We had leading researchers from across the country. We had lawyers who came in and spoke with us. We had people give personal impact statements, for example, a mom who had lost her daughter to suicide. We also looked at different things like the impact of the youth criminal justice system, educational experiences and issues around women, as Mr. Dias was discussing with you, and so on. There is an extensive list for you to review around presenters.

Moving on to the key players and partners section, we went at this as a community problem which required a community approach. We recognized that any one group or stakeholder would not be able to solve this problem on their own. It will require everyone's contributions, including schools, families and parents and sport organizations. A lot of bullying happens off of school sites and in extracurricular activity. It is something that we felt required a community approach. Messaging had to be provided to children and youth that this was not okay and that it was not okay not only in school but also in your family dynamic or in your sporting activities or extracurricular activities.

We recognized that there were many adults in kids' lives from whom they learned. Modelling appropriate behaviour was critical as well.

We wanted to ensure the people who required additional education around this issue were aware and would be provided that.

We also looked at some of the media influences and some of the Internet providers and what their limitations were in terms of dealing with this issue.

We developed a website where we shared all of our information with the public, which is cyberbullying.novascotia.ca, which is where our report is located. On the website, we had an online survey, which we opened from June to September of last year. You can see that we had over 5,000 participants, and 60 per cent of those participants were youth, which was very important for us. The survey results are on our website as well.

What we heard from youth was that basically there were a number of issues that seemed to be the reason they were being bullied, for example their physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity, which will be of no surprise to anybody.

The other key piece of information we got from them, interestingly enough, was that the reason they did not report many incidents is because they were scared of losing their technology or the parents shutting down the Facebook page. Although that might help deal with the issue of the current harassment that might be taking place, at the same time it cut them off at the knee socially, so many youth were hesitant about reporting incidents especially around cyberbullying for that reason.

We also conducted some youth focus groups across the province. We had over 35 focus groups that involved around 1,000 children and youth. We focused on three grade levels, so four to six, seven to nine and ten to twelve. We wanted to capture the young children at age 10 because we felt many of those children, although very young, were highly engaged in electronic and online activity. Some of them had phones and so on. We asked them several questions but also asked for their input in resolving this. Those results are found online as well.

Some of the recommendations and themes we focused on in our report are there. We wanted to look at partnering options and opportunities. The definition was a particularly interesting one for us, because it is where we started and where we ended. We thought the definition for bullying was something we would be able to put together quickly. It ended up being the most daunting of all our tasks. How you define bullying is very critical. Trying to define it from a different perspective or different lens became an issue for us. Do you create a definition that is from the lens of the person being targeted? Do you develop it from the lens of the person who is required to put down a consequence or boundary? Do you develop it from the lens of the person who is perpetrating that behaviour? That became an interesting task for us as well.

We looked at interventions and different educational approaches we could take.

In conclusion for my section, the report was produced by Professor Wayne MacKay, as our chair on behalf the task force. It is called Respectful and Responsible Relationships: There's No App for That. It is on our website, cyberbullying.novascotia.ca. In the report, we outlined 85 recommendations under the seven key theme areas and for all the different partners, because we wanted to maintain a community approach. The report was given to the minister in February of this year and was reviewed and published in March.

Don Glover, Director, Student Services Division, Public School Branch, Nova Scotia Department of Education: It is important to get a sense of how this report will function or work in terms of where we are and what we already have in place.

About 10 years ago, we started to examine how we could more effectively create safe and caring schools. We were very concerned that we had in place a discipline policy that was predicated on some principles of zero tolerance, and we were quickly discovering that the premise of zero tolerance was really not consistent with our view to a progressive array of intervention strategies to support children and youth and also did not take into consideration such things as developmental readiness.

We explored what the research was telling us at the time, and we came across the work of George Sugai and Rob Horner, and we started training in positive and effective behavioural supports. We were trying to provide support for the schools so they could establish school-wide expected behaviours and teach and reinforce those expected behaviours and would also have a sense of how they could address behaviours that were disruptive to the learning environment or behaviours more serious than that that necessitated a wide range of interventions and supports.

We started training in positively effective behavioural supports and also changed our discipline policy so that we were aligning it more with the work that we were doing with George Sugai and his crew, and we came up with the provincial code of conduct that established a framework and a philosophy to support school boards and schools as they created positive learning environments in their schools.

We also a few years later implemented Stand Up Against Bullying Day, a day in September established by the premier, and it really started the school year with a focus on promoting respect and reviewing expected behaviours, again aligning that with our positive and effective behavioural supports and our code of conduct.

The province also felt that it was critical that we recognized the good work of children and youth. We implemented, in 2008, the Nova Scotia Power of Positive Change Awards. Actually, those awards were just recently given out for 2012, last week, and of 90 nominees, 10 were chosen for their exemplary leadership supporting their community and schools. It is interesting how many of the students are supporting individuals who are marginalized or are often victims of bullying and cyberbullying.

Ms. AbiHanna is our guidance consultant and has worked closely with our eight school boards to support a more comprehensive model of guidance counselling than we have had in the past. We have advanced comprehensive guidance and counselling and accept that guidance counsellors play a critical role, as the task force identified, in supporting positive and effective schools.

We have been working closely with community partners. We have to mention Dr. Stan Kutcher, the Sun Life Chair in Adolescent and Mental Health. He worked closely with us in training school teams and teachers to recognize and support mental health issues in our school system and help us to collaborate with the mental health community.

We have infused our curriculum from P to 12 with elements of mental wellness —

The Chair: Mr. Glover, forgive me for interrupting. We know a lot of what is happening in Nova Scotia because we have heard Mr. MacKay before, and others, and we will also heard Mr. MacKay after this. One of the reasons we were very much interested in hearing from you in particular in reference to page 14, the slide entitled: Where do we go from here? I know senators have a lot of questions of both of you so. Do you mind if I stop you from where you were and ask you to go to that page? Please pick up from there. We know the great work that you have done, and we are aware of some of the programs in place in Nova Scotia. You have become our model as a province. We want to know where we go from here. If you would go to that slide, that would help us a lot.

Mr. Glover: We have the task force and its 85 recommendations, and we have attempted to look at the primary themes of those 85 recommendations and what work we will do in relation to those themes.

Our spring was very busy. We introduced Bill 30 in the house. It has passed and is now legislation. We made some changes to the Education Act, which will allow us to start collecting data. We are not sure we can speak to the scope and prevalence. We really need to start relating to that data, related incidents — for example, our incidence of bullying and cyberbullying related to homophobia, racism, gender bias and disability.

As Ms. AbiHanna mentioned, we had a 20-member working committee, and that committee was very strong. As important as it is to understand the scope and prevalence of bullying, it is also important to understand what factors are inciting bullying and cyberbullying, and to know those related factors.

We introduced some preliminary legislation. We are at the same time advancing a student information system; we are in the process of fine-tuning our behavioral incident tracking, so we will be able to collect data. We will be ready to roll for 2012-13. We will use that as the year to collect some baseline data. We will hopefully be able to look at those related factors and where incidents are occurring. We will have good data to drive our decision making.

We are also looking at support that is needed to coordinate an action plan to advance the recommendations of the task force. We are in the process of posting a position to engage an anti-bullying coordinator who will work at the department and who will work with other government departments and our eight school boards.

We have been engaged in sessions around the province, working with guidance counsellors and school staff on issues of cultural proficiency. We will be closely examining our RCH policies to make certain that our race relations, cross- cultural understanding and human rights policies and boards are reflective of the voice of youth and encourage and respect youth involvement in creating safe and caring school environments.

We are also having some preliminary discussion around subsequent legislation that we will probably introduce in the fall. We will talk about issues of bullying and cyberbullying, particularly cyberbullying that occurs off-site but that has an impact on the school environment. We are interested in having a conversation on what legislative potential there is and the required duty to report and follow-up on the reporting of incidents.

Senator Harb: Thank you very much for your presentation. I wanted to go to what the chair mentioned: Where do we go from here? I read your six different paragraphs. In the first one, examine further legislative changes; continue to develop; use benchmark data; examine further opportunity; expand cultural proficiency; support school boards. All of those seem to have the focus of provincial context — I presume the Province of Nova Scotia.

In all of your hearings and discussions, and you have had a lot of discussion and a lot of hearings, has anyone said, for example, the federal government should do A, B or C? Did that ever come up? If so, what do you recommend we should be doing?

Ms. AbiHanna: I can speak to that. You are correct: Most of our follow-up or action pieces are directed at us as a province. One of the key things that certainly did come up for us in our sessions with the working group task force and all of the experts were conversations around the possibility of Criminal Code changes; namely, how we define this and is it really harassment — when does it cross the line? One of the recommendations in the report was to have our provincial minister of justice speak with the federal Minister of Justice to talk about possible options for that.

A lot of people feel that, unless there are changes to the Criminal Code that allow for different types of investigations to occur, issues around privacy and information — if those are not adjusted to allow those investigations to occur — people feel very limited in the support that they can offer people who have been a target of this kind of behaviour.

In fact, the students told us that they did not want to call it  "bullying. " They wanted to name what it was. If it was homophobic remarks, they wanted to call it that. They want  "discrimination. " They want  "harassment. " They want very strong terminology that supports the impact that they feel this is having on them. They feel the term  "bullying " is too light.

The difference is that, when you get into that kind of language, you are getting into Criminal Code issues, so that would have legislative responsibility at the federal level.

Senator Harb: When we talk about cyberbullying, we heard many witnesses telling us we are dealing with grades 7, 8 and 9 — children basically. I am sure you would agree with me that you do not want us to turn them into criminals. Quite often they are not even themselves aware of what they are embarking on.

Ms. AbiHanna: I agree. I was responding to your first question about conversations at the federal level.

I think every opportunity is a learning opportunity for children and youth. What is critical for me is that you can have a consequence put in place for a child or youth, and I do not think there is anything wrong with that. However, on top of that, I think you should make the most of every opportunity for that person to grow. Understanding that this is a relationship issue, understanding that there has been harm to that relationship and understanding how you will respond and repair that harm becomes just as important as the consequence that is put in place.

I guess that is the approach we are trying to take in our code of conduct. It is not to make it punitive or discipline- oriented, but to make it more supportive and to provide an opportunity for social and emotional growth and a repairing of that relationship.

Mr. Glover: To speak to the comment around children and youth, no, we do not want them to be criminals. However, we do have concerns around the behaviour of some adults that might result in an understanding of a culture of bullying.

For example, it is often mentioned how frequently children and youth are exposed in the media to incidents of racism, homophobia, gender bias, and assaults on people because of their appearance or their disability. Certainly, we are concerned about a culture that celebrates or encourages that sort of behaviour in its adult population.

Senator Harb: My final question deals with the areas of focus. You talked about not defining best practices and evidence-based approaches to fostering good behaviour and healthy relationships. In your hearings and discussions, did you look at what other provinces have been doing? The Province of Ontario, for instance, just introduced a law dealing with anti-bullying. Out of all of those 85 best practices or recommendations, what are the three most important things we could do as a society in order to reduce the level of cyberbullying?

Ms. AbiHanna: We did a jurisdictional review of what other provinces are doing. We also spoke with many researchers that shared information.

If I had to isolate three particular things, it is exactly what I said earlier: The learning opportunity is very critical. We examined, for example, restorative approaches, which is something based on a restorative justice model but which we have implemented in schools. It is based on Aboriginal philosophy where they have a healing circle. You would be bringing everyone to the table and have conversations about what happened, how it could be resolved and how to go forward. Providing that learning opportunity is a very critical component.

Mr. Glover: We have looked at models of restorative approaches that have been more than just restorative approaches in schools. Hull, England, is a good example of a community that has a community focus on restorative practice.

Ms. AbiHanna: The researchers are very clear that whatever you implement is only as good as the environment in which it exists. You need healthy, safe and inclusive school environments, which involves a lot of work, even outside the scope of bullying. We need to have accepting schools where sexual orientation and gender identity are welcome and celebrated, as opposed to having people feel marginalized because of those issues. That is a very important part.

The other critical thing we heard is that educating all our key partners is very important. Many parents just do not have a sense of what this really means and the impact it can have on their children, and certainly their family, once a child is involved in a bullying situation, regardless of whether they are the perpetrator or certainly the target of this type of behaviour. That becomes very important.

We have educators who require education as well. Many of them are not fully informed about what this looks like, what it means, how they deal with the situation when a student reports something to them, what is the appropriate language to be used and the type of conversation to be had. The education of all those key partners is very important.

As Mr. Glover said, it is important to create a culture where these things are unacceptable and not celebrated, even fighting in hockey. All those things create a culture where harm is sort of accepted and normalized. We need to start to move away from that and use public awareness and public campaigns to talk about the harm that that creates and how kids take something that is within one context and apply it to another. When they are playing sports and think it is okay there, it is difficult for kids to transition developmentally and understand that it is not okay over here: It is okay for me to do this when I am in extracurricular activities, but it is not okay for me to do this when I am on the school ground during recess.

Developmentally, kids have a very difficult time transitioning or making that shift. People have to have a sense of where kids are, what stage of readiness they are at, and educate them appropriately as they move along that continuum.

Mr. Glover: We also heard a fair bit on the responsibility of the marketing community, the entrepreneurial community, the responsibility or the accountability to educate purchasers of the product they are purchasing. We have children who are accessing technology without being given any initiation or orientation to the use of that technology.

There is legislation that is not being adhered to. For example, we did not realize that children have to be 13 to have a Facebook account. How many children under the age of 13 have a Facebook account?

The Chair: I will cut you off on this answer because I have a lot of senators who still have questions.

Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentation.

It seems that schools are the hub of bullying and cyberbullying prevention; it is where we try to stop it before it starts. However, there is a role that outsiders can play, such as parents, Internet service providers, social media, companies, and so on. How linked is your school to the greater community? Are there policies or programs in place to educate and inform parents?

Ms. AbiHanna: They are somewhat linked. One of the benefits of having a working group is that it allowed people to network and build some of those relationships. For example, we had a representative from our home and school association who now has connections with Kids Help Phone and Bell Aliant. Those partnerships are starting to form. Are they all in place as much as they need to be and should be? No, probably not. That is starting to happen.

The key thing for parents is to be very involved in their children's education. The two key things there are educating parents and communication between the school and home. This is critical, we are finding out.

It is very difficult, because you do not always reach parents. Once their children are registered in school, then you may only see a select number of parents who come and go, such as during parent-teacher interviews, concerts, information nights, whatever. One of the critical times when we could get information to parents and help educate them about bullying and cyberbullying might be at the period of registration, because all students have to be engaged with school registration. Bullying and social engagement is very important to parents at that time. They want to know that their kids are leaving home, entering into the education system, and that they will feel safe and well cared for. In our discussions, we thought it would be an appropriate time to introduce that type of education or information session for parents.

Mr. Glover: We are also working to make our schools more accessible. I do not know if you are aware, but we have implemented an integrated service delivery model, SchoolsPlus, which is predicated on the belief that schools really should have more services than just the public education system housed within them. We are trying to collocate with other government departments or service providers. This has resulted in a number of excellent programs and sessions for parents and students that have been facilitated by members of the community. Opening up our schools so there is greater parent involvement has been tremendously beneficial.

Senator White: Thank you for your presentation. I was pleased to hear you refer to restorative practices, but I was a bit surprised that nowhere in the material we received does it talk about NSRJ-CURA and Jennifer Llewellyn and that group as to whether or not they are helping to develop some solutions, since Nova Scotia has by far the greatest level of restorative practices in the country right now, and probably the best developed. I did not see any of that in the material. If I missed it, please correct me.

From my perspective, would they not have a better input as you are trying to develop solutions to these problems?

Ms. AbiHanna: Yes. Jennifer Llewellyn has worked closely with us, both through SchoolsPlus and during this process. She did present. You will see her name as one of the presenters.

Also, we have been working on a framework for the implementation of restorative approaches, and that was done on a committee with Jennifer Llewellyn and others who have worked on some of these practices and how to embed them through some of the other initiatives that we already have in place, and under such frameworks. She has been very active, knows us all well, and has been part of the discussions. You are right; she is quite a leader in this work. We would always access as many people in terms of leadership and knowledge roles that we could bring into the implementation.

Mr. Glover: We are also partnering closely with the Department of Justice, and they are playing a lead role in helping us to advance this.

Senator Meredith: To pick up on the restorative justice piece, where do we draw the line? We see perpetrators and bullies push someone to the brink, to the point where they commit suicide, as has happened in your province. Do we charge this individual or do we put them in a restorative justice program? I would like your comments on where we go from here as we look at various alternatives.

My colleague Senator Boisvenu spoke earlier to the other witnesses with respect to the fact that there must be consequences at some point when it comes to cyberbullying and bullying to ensure that those victims and their families get a sense of justice for what has been done to their loved one.

Mr. Glover: Justice comes in many forms. We are often asked why we do not exhibit zero tolerance or why we are not more punitive in nature. What we are trying to do is create an environment that restores order and benefits all parties. Our concern, first and foremost, is that the learning environment be a safe and secure environment. We are not at all hesitant to suggest that we will remove a student from the environment if his or her behaviour affects the safety or security of others. We need to be thinking at all times about how we can restore the kind of order for success for all. It is a challenge; I admit it. Our focus is on the safety and security of all students.

Ms. AbiHanna: It is important to remember that these are children, so where do you send them? For us, one of the critical issues is school engagement and the opportunity to grow and learn from those kinds of experiences. When you have children and youth that you expel or suspend, many of those children and youth are not in environments where, after being suspended, someone is sitting down and teaching them about those opportunities and they are growing from those experiences. You have many children and youth who end up on the street, involved in criminal activity and with addiction issues. I wish we did have a society that functioned a bit differently, but unfortunately it does not. We know that those kids go on and become part of other systems.

I think our approach is important and steadfast in that we believe that all kids the need to be supported in those situations, that these are young children and that there is an opportunity for them to learn and grow. As long as what Mr. Glover is saying is true, namely that we will create a safe and secure learning environment, we will try as much as we can to provide that learning opportunity for those students and to keep them engaged in school.

The research also says that suspensions do not work. When those kids are suspended, we have more disengagement. It creates situations where, when they come back, the kids are angry and more disengaged. We see an escalation in their behaviour rather than a de-escalation.

The Chair: You may or may not know that in England a woman has won a court case to force Facebook to reveal the names of the cyberbullies. In your recommendations in the task force's report, sections 42 and 43 speak about working with the police to develop protocol and to have an investigation. It states:

It is recommended that the Nova Scotia Department of Justice, the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association and Internet service providers work together to develop a protocol to facilitate police access to information during the investigation of bullying and cyberbullying cases.

What role could or should the federal government play in working with Internet service providers and with the provincial governments to develop protocols, guidelines or laws to address cyberbullying?

Ms. AbiHanna: One of the things that came up was about the responsibility of Internet providers and technology alike to educate the people that they are selling these features to. That is, understanding, when you are an Internet provider and you are providing someone with Internet access, that you also have a responsibility in educating those people about their inappropriate behaviour, consequences for that behaviour, and so on. I think there is an education piece for them to play.

In my experiences they have been very supportive when working with policing agencies, but they are also bound by privacy and information laws that prohibit them from sharing some of that information. For me, that is certainly something at the federal level that could be looked at in extreme cases or in cases where such an investigation is occurring where there would be more opportunity or that information may be more accessible in order for that investigation to move or to go forward more easily.

Mr. Glover: The task force, for me, identified that our technological advances are far exceeding our capability or our readiness for the advances as they occur. We maybe need a more careful federal monitoring of the implications of advanced technology.

I am concerned that what we are talking about today may be old hat a year from now. We really do need to be more vigilant regarding the implications of technology and particularly the lives of children and youth.

The Chair: You were speaking earlier about educators, and I did not want to interrupt you. As you know, we have been hearing from young people today and last week. One of the things that has come up a number of times is,  "We went to the principal and they said that it was not within the school grounds; it happened outside, so they were not going to intervene. "

The huge challenge is where does school end and the outside world start? In this country, there is a continuous vicious circle. When does the school intervene and when does the school say,  "No, this is outside our jurisdiction "?

Mr. Glover: We have a sense, as educators, about how to answer that question. We would talk to you about what the impact of the event occurring off school ground has on the culture, climate and operations of the school. The challenge we face is our ability to translate that into the language of the law. It sounds so straightforward, but I would suggest to you that most educators in Nova Scotia would be very supportive of their ability to address issues occurring possibly off-site but that are having impact on the day-to-day operations of the site.

Ms. AbiHanna: When I was speaking with folks from Ontario, one of the other factors that they also looked at was how likely is a reciprocation to happen? That is, how likely is it that someone would come back to school and reciprocate, or offend, or reoffend because of that initial reaction? That is something they would weigh in terms of addressing whether or not an issue happened on or off a school site.

The Chair: In previous reports, the committee has recommended that Canada create an office for a national children's commissioner who could advocate on behalf of children and examine issues such as cyberbullying. You have spoken about a coordinator. I see that almost as the same role, but a coordinator would be provincial and this is national. Do you see a role for a national children's commissioner to look at these issues?

Mr. Glover: It certainly would have made our task easier when we were looking at this issue as a task force in the task force working committee. It would certainly help in addressing complex issues where we want to get some sense of what is occurring in other jurisdictions. It would be tremendously beneficial and supportive for us, yes.

The Chair: How do you see this national commissioner working with provincial commissioners, youth advocates or coordinators? Have you given some thought as to how that would work?

Ms. AbiHanna: Number one, establishing baseline data across Canada so that we are using a consistent definition and have a good sense of how many incidents are occurring related to bullying and cyberbullying and what are the root causes of those incidents. Having a comparative across the country would be helpful to facilitate that work.

The other thing that would be important is to look at some of the initiatives that are being put in place in other jurisdictions and to measure their effectiveness. There is not a sense or a need for us to reinvent the wheel. If something is happening in Ontario or out West that is showing great results, a coordinated effort to have that put in place across the nation would be very important and helpful. We have many transient families that move across Canada, for example, where so many different things are happening in different provinces that it would be nice to offer families and students some consistency when they go from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Some of those pieces, I think, would be helpful.

Mr. Glover: Everyone talks about the day when to bully or to engage in cyberbullying will be as culturally and socially unacceptable as driving without a seat belt, or using racial slurs, or smoking in a restaurant, if we can create a national identity where, as a country, this is culturally unacceptable; it is certainly contrary to the Canadian way of life.

I also think it would be beneficial in terms of what works best, a clearing house model, to help us appreciate it. I am concerned that if we are not careful, we will get people investing in or buying programs that are not research-based or evidence-based. It would be a quick-fix solution as opposed to a well-thought-out or carefully considered solution.

The Chair: Thank you. This has been useful for us. We will be reflecting on the PowerPoint presentation that you have prepared and also on what you have said. You have given us a lot to think about. Thank you very much.

We will now go in camera.

(The committee continued in camera.)