Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 12, Evidence - May 7, 2012
OTTAWA, Monday, May 7, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 4:04 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 14th meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights of the Forty-first Parliament. This committee has been mandated by the Senate to conduct reviews of issues related to human rights, both in Canada and abroad.
My name is Mobina Jaffer and, as chair of this committee, I am pleased to welcome you to this meeting. I would ask the other members to introduce themselves as well. We will start with Senator Brazeau.
Senator Brazeau: Patrick Brazeau from Quebec.
Senator Ataullahjan: Senator Ataullahjan from Ontario.
Senator White: I am Vern White from Ontario.
Senator Andreychuk: I am Raynell Andreychuk from Saskatchewan.
Senator Hubley: Senator Elizabeth Hubley from Prince Edward Island.
The Chair: We have representatives from the Parliamentary Officers' Study Program with us. We welcome you to Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights.
On March 15, 2001, the Rules of the Senate were amended in order to create a new standing committee, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights. This committee has a number of functions, in particular to educate the public, to ensure the proper enforcement and respect for international human rights legislation and principles, and to ensure the Canadian laws and policies are properly enforced, in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
On November 23, our committee tabled a report on the sexual exploitation of children. During our study, we focused on the causes of sexual exploitation of children, emphasizing the role of the Internet.
Here 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 regard to sexual exploitation of children, our committee decided to further examine ways in which the Internet compromises the safety of our children.
On November 30, 2011, our committee was authorized by the Senate to examine and report upon the issue of cyberbullying in Canada with regard to Canada's human rights obligations under Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
On November 30, 2011, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights was authorized by the Senate to examine and report upon the issue of cyberbullying in Canada with regard to Canada's international human rights obligations under Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
On April 18, 2011, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that mental violence as framed in the article 19 of the convention can include:
Psychological bullying and hazing by adults or other children, including via information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones and the Internet (known as "cyberbullying'').
The permanent standing committee on human rights is aware that the face of bullying has changed. For now, it has moved from classrooms and schoolyards into the security of our homes by way of the Internet. In addition to the social, verbal and physical abuse many children today are forced to endure cyberbullying which is yet an additional challenge to a young person.
Cyberbullying, as defined by the Montreal police, is the posting of threatening or degrading messages about someone using words, images and it also includes harassment.
Cyberbullying take place through emails, in chat rooms, discussion groups, web sites and through instant messaging.
This is a problem that many of our young people are facing. In fact, recent studies have indicated that 25 per cent of young net surfers say they have received hate messages about other 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 smart phones 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 their 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.
This is our third meeting on this study, and I would like to introduce our first panel. We have with us today Dr. Elizabeth Meyer, Dr. Shelley Hymel, and Dr. Tina Daniels. Professor Meyer, who is joining us via video conference, is an assistant professor of education at California State Polytechnic University and has published a number of books and papers on cyberbullying, bullying, harassment and gender, and she examines how those issues affect young people in schools.
Dr. Shelley Hymel is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. She has written a number of publications pertaining to psychological and social development in school-age children, and has focused on bullying and youth aggression.
We also have the pleasure to welcome Dr. Tina Daniels. She is an associate professor at Carleton University's Department of Psychology and is the Coordinator of the Child Studies program at Carleton. She is an executive member of the anti-bullying NGO, PREVNet, and is the current chair of the Ottawa Anti-bullying Coalition.
I would like to welcome all of you to the committee. I know you all have opening statements; we will start with Dr. Meyer.
Elizabeth Meyer, Professor, School of Education, California Polytechnic State University and Concordia University: Good afternoon, Madam Chair and honourable senators. Thank you for the opportunity to present today. I am proud to have the chance to address you as a parent, a teacher, a scholar and an advocate for youth.
I would like to start with some stories from the U.S. to contextualize my comments and recommendations. In the spring of 2009, a 13-year-old Hope sent a sext message to a boy at school she had a crush on. Another girl found this image on the boy's phone and forwarded it around the school. She was suspended at school for sending the photo and was then subjected to sexual harassment from her peers throughout the summer. When school started in the fall, the school councillor noticed Hope had started engaging in self-harm by cutting herself, and asked her to sign a no-harm contract but did not inform the family of her concerns.
Hope hanged herself from her bedpost the next day. Her mother found her when she came in to say good night.
There have been similar cases in Ohio, New Jersey and California where such cyberbullying led to anti-bullying and comprehensive cyberbullying legislation in those states. This legislation is important because recent case law in the United States has only muddied the waters on schools' authority to intervene in incidents of online harassment.
For example, a California case, J.C. v. Beverly Hills Unified School District, had a group of students who had been filmed talking about a classmate after school, calling her things like "slut'' and "ugly.'' It was posted to YouTube. The student complained and the school then suspended the one who posted the video. That student then successfully sued the school for violating her expression rights.
On the oppose side of the coin, a school district in West Virginia was in a similar situation where students created a MySpace page using sexualized insults about another female student, such as "slut'' and "whore.'' The school's action in this case was supported by the courts.
These conflicting legal decisions leave schools with no clear guidance on how to respond. Teachers and administrators feel insecure and powerless to intervene. Schools need clear jurisdiction to be able to address incidents that take place off-campus but clearly impact students' feelings of safety at school and, by extension, in their community.
We must also be aware of particularly vulnerable groups who seek information and support online, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. These young people are more likely to have minimal support at home and in school, and even experience negative and hostile responses from adults and family members in their lives. They need alternative sources of support, such as a national hotline or other federally-supported resources because their local networks will not always be supportive.
Transgender and gender non-conforming youth are particularly vulnerable. Research tells us that these young people experience extremely high rates of verbal and physical harassment at school and in their communities. Greater protections for transgender Canadians must be clearly incorporated in any human rights project.
School leaders, local law enforcement, health and social service agencies all must be encouraged to collaborate on solutions to these problems in communities across Canada, with a particular emphasis on issues related to gender and sexuality.
Targets of cyberbullying often skip school and experience higher levels of anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicidal thoughts. Therefore, there needs to be strong collaboration with and support from the health and social service agencies, as well as law enforcement and school discipline.
Teachers feel they have very limited influence and authority in school settings, especially related to cyberbullying. However, they are often the ones tasked with tackling these complex and difficult issues because they have the most direct contact with the students.
We must do more to support classroom teachers by recognizing and rewarding those who are modeling best practices, such as human rights education, sexuality education, digital literacy projects, and multi-cultural approaches to classroom management and instruction; and supporting efforts to pass best knowledge on through encouraging the development of professional learning communities and other workshops and professional development opportunities.
We cannot hope to effectively reduce the prevalence and impacts of cyberbullying if we do not explicitly address the most common and most hurtful forms of it: Those that are sexual, homophobic and racist in nature.
I offer five specific recommendations for your consideration. The first is to initiate and fund a public education campaign on cyberbullying — what it is and whose job it is to prevent and intervene. This should include traditional media outlets, as well as online resources such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
Second, create a federal liaison to support and work with provincial ministries, social service agencies, law enforcement and education to assist in investigations and coordinate responses and support mechanisms.
Related to this is my third recommendation: Build, endorse or fund a central reporting mechanism, using the StopABully website model, possibly including an app for smartphones. Having a central place to report cyberbullying makes it an easy entry point for students and parents to report and even tell them if "you feel unsafe right now.'' Depending on the severity, it can put them in contact with social services as well as law enforcement.
Fourth, fund action-based research projects that prioritize interagency collaboration, education and intervention in order to establish local and provincial networks to create more holistic and effective responses to cyberbullying.
Finally, partner with the Canadian Teachers Federation and provincial ministries of education to establish and fund initiatives to support teacher professional development and integration of human rights education and digital literacy activities in K through 12 classrooms.
In conclusion, cyberbullying is an important human rights issue to address, and any effort must also address the central issues of gendered, racialized and sexualized bias that is the most common and most hurtful forms of communication online. Prevention through education and effective response through collaboration are where we need the federal government's leadership on this issue.
Shelley Hymel, Professor, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, and Special Education, University of British Columbia: Honourable senators, let me begin by thanking the committee for giving me this opportunity to provide testimony and recommendations regarding electronic bullying here in Canada.
Some have described electronic bullying as simply a new medium through which to engage in relational or social aggression, and this makes some sense in that when sex differences are found, both forms are perpetrated more often by girls.
However, the electronic medium changes the message in very critical ways. Electronic bullying is pervasive and persistent. Everyone can see it and it is difficult if not impossible to take it back. Moreover, the online environment affords perpetrators significant visible anonymity and a sense of privacy and protection that can lead to even more negative behaviour.
Although this is the least frequent form of bullying that students report, it is not surprising that that is the form they fear the most.
Our research shows that with electronic bullying, distinctions between the bully and victim roles are often blurred, more so than the traditional bullying. Children are more likely to admit being both bully and victim. Perhaps students feel more comfortable or more capable of relating through online and retaliating through online aggression, making it difficult to determine where it all starts.
Research from our laboratory also informs our understanding of the links between cyberbullying and mental health. We have found that both cyberbullying and cybervictimization significantly predict student reports of depression and suicidal ideation, even after controlling for involvement in more traditional forms.
We know that bullying in all its forms increases during the elementary school years and peaks around grades 8 to 10. It declines somewhat thereafter, but it never goes away. It is with our adults in the workplace and in our communities.
To address this problem, I think we have to adopt a developmental perspective.
Social skills develop very gradually during the time children are in school. By the late elementary years, when bullying reaches a peak, they have well-developed skills sufficient to engage in bullying. However, there are three areas that are not adequately developed. First, children at this age tend to be entering a period of identity development, trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in. Some stumble upon bullying in this process and it works.
Second, we know that this is the time when the frontal lobe of the brain, the part that oversees executive functions and puts information together to help us make the best decision, undergoes a rapid period of development that continues into the mid-20s.
Finally, at this point most children are considered to be in the pre-conventional stage of moral development, focusing primarily on what is it in for me. It is not that these children are immoral. Rather, our research is showing that these children are just beginning to understand the society as a social system where we have to work together and help each other.
Our research shows that children who bully others, including electronic bullying, are much more likely to morally disengage in thinking about their own behaviour. They justify and rationalize it in such a way that they minimize their own responsibility for the outcomes and the outcomes themselves. Such moral disengagement also predicts bystander behaviour.
Given these developmental factors, my recommendations for addressing bullying, both electronic and traditional, focus on education. Dan Olweus, whom many consider to be the grandfather of research on bullying, told us long ago that every child has the right not to be victimized in school. If it takes a whole village to raise a child, then I think it takes a nation to change a culture, and that is what we need to do. We need a national strategy supported by the government that focuses on school and on research evaluating the efficacy of our work. The success of such approaches in other countries around the world, often led by ministries of education, lends hope to the success of such efforts.
Moreover, schools are the most cost-effective place in which to address bullying. For example, several studies have now demonstrated links between early bullying and later delinquency and criminal behaviour. Take that in conjunction with research by an economist named Cohen in 1998 who determined that one high-risk youth who drops out of school and becomes a career criminal costs society $1.3 to $1.5 million over a lifetime. In Canada, it is estimated that we spend over $9 billion annually on relationship violence. I contend that the costs of prevention through our schools and through research would be far less than the cost of dealing with the aftermath.
In my view, bullying is part of a much larger issue for Canada, be it electronic or traditional forms that we are talking about, the need to address social and emotional development in our schools. In the U.S., this movement is led by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, and their research shows that school- based efforts to promote social and emotional learning not only enhance pro-social behaviour and reduce negative behaviour but also foster positive academic performance.
This must become a mandatory part of training for both pre-service and in-service teachers, as teachers tell us repeatedly that they do not feel equipped to handle the problem. We need to stop thinking about bullying as a discipline problem and to start thinking of it as a teaching moment. The vast majority of schools today still rely on punitive methods of discipline. A more effective approach is to teach children to be responsible for their own behaviour through restorative practices and restitution practices that build empathy and help to make children who bully accountable for their behaviour.
Bullying is not just a school problem. It is a community problem and a societal problem. Still, I believe that our greatest hope in address bullying is by focusing on the next generation, helping them to develop the competencies needed to avoid negative behaviours such as bullying and aggression.
With that, I want to read you a quote from a young girl, Sarah, who at 17 had been the victim of much bullying, both traditional and online. She gives us this message: In conclusion, there is no conclusion to what children who are bullied live with. They take it home with them at night. It lives inside of them and eats away at them. It never ends, so neither should our struggle to end it.
Tina Daniels, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Carleton University: I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
In Canada, at least 79 per cent of Canadian youth have access to the Internet and more than half use it for at least an hour every day, primarily for socializing and communicating with their peers. This technological revolution brings with it many challenges, one being how to help children navigate this lifeline to their peer group with the pressures to fit in and to act in a certain way, tempting them into acts that may be harmful and hurtful to others.
This has led to much concern in the area of cyberbullying. However, in many ways, cyberbullying is not very different from traditional bullying. The underlying causes for these behaviours do not differ significantly. Cyberbullying meets the same needs, leads to the same emotions, and is motivated by the same desire for power, status and control as are other forms of bullying behaviour.
Where it is different is in the magnitude of both the behaviours received and the consequences of these acts.
Children report that they will use more hurtful and harmful behaviours on the Internet than they would face to face. The effects are more harmful and seem to contribute hurt over and above what traditional face-to-face bullying does. These behaviours infiltrate homes such that no place is safe and they are very hard to address. It can take many months to get a hurtful website taken down.
Many argue that the distinctive user mentality and the anonymity of cyberbullying represent a distinct difference. Although this can be the case, research suggests that in many cases individuals who are cyberbullied are cyberbullied by someone they know.
Another possible area of difference is the lack of feedback received by the perpetrator regarding the level of harm that is caused and that this may lead to more serious actions, but in general, children who are cyberbullied experience the same powerlessness and hopelessness as do those who are face-to-face bullied, although it may be particularly difficult for them to escape their tormentors due to the challenges of removing hurtful material from the Internet.
Finally, contemporary social norms that accept these behaviours as normal may foster online abuse.
Cyberbullying is becoming a widespread issue. In Canada, a recent Alberta study has demonstrated that almost a quarter of students report being targeted and 30 per cent state that they have cyberbullied others at least once in the last three months.
Many studies do not find gender differences, but when they do, they are small and it is girls who are more frequently experiencing these behaviours, in particular being called names, having rumours spread about them, and having someone pretend to be them online. These behaviours are what I would refer to as social or relational forms of bullying, which we do see in girls in traditional bullying as well.
The age effects in general have been found to be small, but the highest rates are for grades 7, 8 and 9.
All of these numbers that I have talked about for cyberbullying are similar to those that are reported for traditional bullying behaviours. In general, youth are reluctant to report cyberbullying incidents. Studies show that only about 1 to 9 per cent of victims of cyberbullying told their parents at the time it was occurring. Another study reports that parents are aware of only 8 per cent of bullying episodes on Facebook. Most children do not report because they are afraid and they fear loss of access to their technology.
We do know, however, from the general bullying literature that youth want help. I was recently contacted by two girls from a high school where there were several Facebook pages up that they found upsetting and they wanted me to do something about it. I go to many schools and the students often tell me they feel it is an adult's responsibility to deal with bullying, but they also feel that adults do not know what to do, and that is our challenge.
Given what we know about cyberbullying at the current time, I have given serious consideration to what I can suggest to you in terms of recommendations. I believe Canada needs a national anti-bullying strategy that encompasses cyberbullying that is human rights based. We need legislation that gives a clear message that bullying will not be accepted in our society. This is necessary, but it is not sufficient to stop bullying.
As a society, we need to focus on a social norms approach, a shared set of social values. We need to recognize that if our children are to learn and succeed in the world, the fourth "R'' — relationships — is as important or even more important than teaching them reading, writing and arithmetic. We need to teach skills that are incompatible with victimization, such as empathy, respect and acceptance of diversity.
We need to adopt a community approach to bullying. Schools need support. Parents need support. We need to work together, not at odds with each other.
Children are learning. They will make mistakes. This does not mean they are bad children. They need to be taught the implications of such behaviour. We need to focus on teachable moments, not punishment.
We need to engage peers. It is the peer group that supports these behaviours. In the bullying field in general, we are coming to see how powerful the peer group can be in either fostering and supporting these behaviours or in eliminating them. It is the social environment that supports bullying behaviours. As Walter Bandura noted, "conducive social conditions rather than monstrous people produce heinous crimes.''
We have to be careful we do not place our children at more risk by not supporting them. We cannot tell children to report bullying and then not be there for them with effective strategies. We need more education for parents and teachers, especially pre-service education for teachers. If this is an important concern for Canada, then we need to demonstrate the importance by putting it on the radar of everyone involved.
Finally, we need to provide parents, families, teachers and schools with guidelines for the use of technology based on our knowledge of developmental competencies when our children are able to cognitively understand the implications and responsibilities of having a cellphone or a Facebook account. In Canada, you do not drive until you are 16, even if you really want a car, and even then you have to have a lot of training before you do.
In conclusion, we are challenged with the task of changing our social milieu by focusing on building skills that are incompatible with bullying, that will modify children's behaviour online, that will empower victims of cyberbullying to report problems, and that will build a social climate that is not accepting of such behaviour.
Thank you for this opportunity. I look forward to your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Dr. Daniels.
I have a question for all three of you. As you are aware, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that in all actions of public or private social welfare institutions, which includes schools, the best interests of the child shall be the primary consideration.
How well are Canadians making the best interests of children a primary consideration when it comes to bullying, and especially cyberbullying?
Shall we start with you, Dr. Meyer? It is a little awkward for you, coming from California.
Ms. Meyer: Yes, I have only been here for six months. I was in Canada for eight years before this, so I am happy to speak to the question.
I was in Montreal for the previous eight years and worked closely with schools across Canada in my research. I do feel that Canada, especially in the North American context, is doing quite well in terms of having a human rights framework that is articulated in the Canadian Charter and in the provincial human rights codes. Unfortunately, I do not feel that we are doing a good enough job of having that translated into children's learning opportunities in schools and in terms of getting youth voices actively involved in shaping the human rights agenda of the country. I feel that we have a ways to go, particularly in engaging the youth in leadership opportunities and in giving them human rights literacy through our curriculum. However, I definitely feel that Canada is on the right path. We have the right conditions in place; we just need to take more affirmative action in schools and in working with youth and community organizations.
Ms. Hymel: I could not have said it better, Dr. Meyer. I agree that Canada is on the right path. However, when it comes down to the places where children live, work and play, that is where it all falls apart. Teachers and administrators of schools tell me that they have several incidents a day and they do not have the staff or the time to actually deal with these incidents in ways that do respect the dignity of the children.
Similarly, we have a lot of situations — coaching situations, little leagues, for example — where we have little effort to train adults in how this translates into their actual work with children. We have efforts in this regard. For example, a respected sport program is used in many places to give this information to the adults who work with children. I agree that we are on the right path, but we are not there yet. I think the fallout is the children who are being hurt by bullying.
Ms. Daniels: I would like to say that, specifically in Ontario, it is variable. It is certainly also variable across the country in different provinces. I know that in Ontario we have a mandate to have an anti-bullying program in every school in the province, but how that is implemented is different in different schools. Some schools are doing a great job and meeting the needs of children; other schools have been much slower to move forward, and a lot of that stems from not being sure about how to achieve that.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentation. I have a couple of questions. I will ask one now and wait for the others.
When I proposed this study in late September or early October, the issue of cyberbullying was relatively new. Even now in my conversations with parents and grandparents, travelling back and forth, I will discuss cyberbullying, especially with parents of young kids, and many people do not seem to be aware of it. Often I will be asked: What is cyberbullying?
How do we get the message out that this is something that is really hurting our children? I think there needs to be a community role. We need to have teachers involved. Maybe we need teachers who are trained in social media and the acceptable use of social media. Parents and the community need to get involved.
What can we do, as a community, as parents and as teachers, to become aware of cyberbullying and the harm it causes?
Ms. Meyer: You are absolutely right that there needs to be increased awareness. As you have been hearing, there is this issue of the "digital natives,'' which are the young people who have grown up with and are very comfortable and familiar with these new technologies; whereas the parents, teachers and administrators are considered to be "digital immigrants.'' We are not quite as well versed in the vocabulary and skills in terms of ways to navigate these online environments.
That is why one of my key recommendations was a public education campaign that uses traditional media that would access the older generation, who are more comfortable with newspaper and television, but that also would activate the networks through social media that the youth are being driven by and driving themselves. We have a shared vocabulary and a shared understanding, but a part of that social media and the public outreach campaign, I think, needs to explicitly address and give examples of what cyberbullying can look like. Oftentimes, as is the case with many anti-bullying initiatives, it is generic, people not being nice to each other, people calling each other nasty names; however, there is never the explicit mention that this could be biased in nature, racist, anti-religious, sexualized or homophobic. If we do not explicitly establish these social norms of what human rights mean and look like in Canada, then we will have a much harder journey in trying to get a holistic community response to have an effective intervention in dealing with these forms of cyberbullying. These types of behaviours do not emerge in a vacuum, as Dr. Daniels pointed out. The social context must be there that somehow condones this sort of language or behaviour in any context. That is why I believe that any public education campaign must be multi-pronged but explicit in its approach, very much like the sportsmanship campaign from a few years back, which I thought was effective.
Ms. Hymel: I would add one thing to that. I think that is an excellent idea. We need that information.
One of the challenges is getting the students involved. My experience is that the students themselves are not always aware of what is going on. This goes back to my comments about moral disengagement. They do not recognize the harm that is caused and do not recognize that they are contributing to it.
A few years ago we polled students from secondary schools about bullying, including cyberbullying, and asked whether they understood that some of the behaviours we are talking about were against the law such as slander, libel, et cetera. We found that a shocking 28 to 35 per cent of kids did not believe that was the case. They thought we were kidding.
I think the kids themselves have a problem. They are not aware of the laws that exist, that what they are doing is, in fact, bullying and does have a harmful effect. That is very important.
At the secondary level here in British Columbia we have students in competition doing PSAs about bullying, in particular with regard to racial discrimination and homophobia. That seems to be effective in getting the word out to kids.
Ms. Daniels: I would like to address what was referred to as the "code of secrecy'' that occurs in traditional bullying and also cyberbullying. In general, children are quite reticent to report bullying. Until it is safe to do so and we have effective ways to address it, this will be kept under the radar as much as possible. The statistics that I mentioned earlier — that less than 8 per cent of parents know when a cyberbullying incident has occurred — reflects that. There is also a fear amongst youth that if they tell adults about cyberbullying that they will lose access to their technology. They are highly motivated by the social connections that technology provides to them — to protect that — at quite a cost.
Senator Ataullahjan: Along the same line, they have discussed that youth often have an impulse to share private information in a public forum without thinking about the real world. The lines are blurred between public and private spaces. What can be done on behalf of parents, teachers and schools to provide guidance on how to navigate these spaces?
Ms. Daniels: My first thought is that we need to think carefully about what we are expecting of children, in terms of what they are developmentally capable of understanding. I think back to when my daughter was 10 and she got her first cell phone. I said, "It is for emergencies. Do not show it to anyone. Do not do anything with it. Put it in your suitcase.'' The next day she came barrelling home and said, "Look, mom. My friend put wallpaper on my cell phone.'' I said, "I told you do not show it to anyone or take it out of your bag.'' She said it was not anyone; it was my friend.
When we talk about private and public separations, at certain ages it is something that children are not developmentally capable of comprehending or understanding. We need to take those kinds of issues into consideration in terms of what expectations we place on children and what kind of access we allow them to technology at different ages.
Ms. Hymel: Another issue is that there seems to be a shift — and I cannot prove this — in what the next generation is willing to put out electronically. So many of us in my generation are appalled at what kids willingly put on Facebook about themselves. There seems to be a shift happening in terms what is out there and what is not. You have to put that into the equation as well. Certainly, the campaigns to warn students about the dangers and potential challenges of having information out on Facebook and the lot tends to be falling on deaf ears.
There are two things. I agree with Dr. Daniels that kids do not really understand the impact of what is online, nor the implications for themselves. We have to get to them, as well as to the adults.
Ms. Meyer: I want to echo some of the points made in the testimony provided by the Media Awareness Network. A lot of schools have so many firewalls and blocks up that when teachers are trying to do digital literacy activities they are not in an authentic online environment. They do not have an opportunity to work with students in an adult- mediated learning situation to help them learn to navigate and make judicious decisions about what goes online, in private spaces, semi-public spaces and public spaces online. We need to think about how our schools are dealing with this rather than building stronger firewalls — as far as fencing everyone in — to being able to provide our teachers with the technology, curriculum, and support to provide students with authentic online learning activities in order to develop this judgment, and to begin to recognize the impact of what they say online and where it goes.
Senator Hubley: Thank you all for your presentations.
The whole community approach is one that we are accepting as being the most effective in dealing with bullying and cyberbullying.
Could you tell me how difficult it is to create this situation? I believe some have suggested both students, family and teachers, but it was also mentioned that the onus should be the administrators and the school boards. What tools do they have, if any, to create that situation for all of these young people who are suffering from cyberbullying?
Ms. Meyer: I absolutely agree that in general the onus is being placed on the school administrators and school boards. They need greater support in order to do this effectively. Schools are the natural place to look because this is where all of our students are compelled to be to a certain age. Unfortunately, the administrators have thousands of other things they are trying to manage at the same time, which is why I feel we need to create capacity-building in local regions so it is not just the principal. Once the principal is informed, the principal can then activate a network of support — whether it is counsellors, mental health or law enforcement — so the sole responsibility is not lying on the principal's shoulders.
I think they are the natural first point of contact, but I do not think we should count solely on principals to be able to drive the train, as far as effective education and community response. That is why I believe need to put some funding and personnel into building and establishing these provincial and regional networks. Once a principal has noticed, he or she has a network they can activate to connect the family for support, do investigations with law enforcement, get health, mental health and physical health workers in for the perpetrators as necessary. I think it is short-sighted to expect principals and school boards to be left holding the bag by themselves.
Ms. Daniels: I wanted to mention the approach that we have been taking with the PREVNet research network and our joint work with a number of NGOs in the country.
I developed a program for Girl Guides of Canada called Girls United, which is a primary prevention program to address social bullying among girls in Girl Guide units. We have a number of other collaborations. I think what is important in terms of a whole school community approach to anti-bullying is that children get the same message in a variety of environments. When you are playing team sports you have the same language and the same message from your coaches as when you are going to Girl Guides, Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs and summer camp. An important aspect of addressing the issue in a country is that children have a common language and they get that same message across a wide variety of their experiences.
Ms. Hymel: I have a couple of comments. I agree with Dr. Meyer that it is not appropriate to pin it all on the administrators. However, my experience is that the leadership in the school is absolutely important. If they are not on board, nothing else will happen. I do not think that makes them solely responsible, but I think that without them, nothing happens.
With regard to a whole community approach, I want to make a point about that. As Dr. Daniels mentioned, it is important. There is a common message and common language, and kids are hearing repetition with variation, which I think is critical.
Let us back up a bit there. There is a huge push right now for evidence-based practice. In schools in particular, we are supposed to use those techniques that have been proven to be effective. However, the evidence in the last five years or so — large-scale meta-analyses and reviews of the intervention literature — does support the notion that the best approach is the whole community approach, but even those approaches have only reduced bullying by 40 per cent, at best.
After initially being evaluated, when these model programs are left to schools, the research is suggesting the reduction is more like 17 to 23 per cent.
I want to make the point that we do not really know yet how to stop bullying. I am talking here about all forms of bullying. One of the challenges we have is that I am hearing administrators tell schools that you must do a whole school approach, you must do evidence based, and you must avoid one-off programs.
I was on a symposium internationally about what is being done with regard to anti-bullying programs. I was to present regarding what is happening in Canada. In contrast to other countries where there are national strategies and ministries of education that have helped to develop these large-scale programs and implement them across schools, we do not have such a thing.
What we do have, though, is some amazing work that is often being done by people out there who are not connected to an institution. They are basically doing this because of the passion of their views. An example is the Roots of Empathy program developed by Mary Gordon, or the SAFETEEN program, an assertiveness teen program by Anita Roberts. In Alberta, there is the Dare to Care program developed by a councillor, Lisa Dixon-Wells, and the police liaison officers. These are people who, by their own experience, have created these amazing programs.
The problem is that they are not coordinated. A lot of times, they will put it into a school and the school will check off that they have done something to stop bullying.
Therefore we have to understand that a whole community approach is critical, but how to accomplish that is not clear, and we are still open to the possibility that there are other ways to combat this and that some of the our programs rights now are effective, at best, only part of the time. I think there is a lot of work to do and I think research is key. I do believe in evidence-based practice but there is no guarantee that the techniques that work in other countries or in other places will work in a particular setting. As Dr. Daniels mentioned, the context is absolutely critical.
I think all of us have experience where schools have been amazing in transforming the climate of their school and in reducing bullying. Yet we see other schools that believe they are doing the same but are very ineffective. Schools collaborating with researchers — which is why I support the PREVNet work — are important in evaluating whether whatever we are doing is actually making a difference.
Senator Hubley: When we are trying to prevent bullying, we have not been successful. Should we be focusing on coping mechanisms for children who are bullied in order to help prevent the extreme responses, such as suicide? Also, should we be doing more to focus on children's mental health in these situations?
Ms. Hymel: I can start on that: Absolutely. In fact, I find that it is almost frightening how little we have spent time on this.
In July, for example, we invited Dr. Phillip Slee from Australia to come to the ISSPD conference in Alberta because he has worked extensively on helping to develop programs for coping with bullying. Australia has been a leader here, with lots of support for the research on how to help kids cope with bullying. We need to do a lot more about that. One of the reasons that I invited Dr. Slee in particular is because he has the most experience in this area.
As for the links with mental health, that is absolutely imperative. For example, I work in a lot of teacher education programs. We do not give teachers adequate information and training — much less administrators — and, as Dr. Meyer pointed out, we do not have good connections between mental health service agencies and schools. Dr. Stan Kutcher is trying to do something about that in Canada. Right now, he is focusing on anxiety and depression, but I think that movement of linking doctors and mental professionals and schools has to move forward in a much broader way.
Ms. Meyer: It is essential to talk about the issue of children's mental health as we do see the long-term negative impacts of all forms of bullying. I am cautious, though, because sometimes when they talk about coping mechanisms, it falls into assertiveness training where you teach targeted children to stand up for themselves in unsafe settings.
If we are to talk about coping mechanisms, we need to work, again, as a country on removing the stigma of seeking counseling in mental health services. Family members oftentimes will avoid going to counseling because they are afraid that it will signal to others that there is a problem that they cannot handle. I think we need to be frank that oftentimes we need experts to help us through difficult situations. We need to remove the stigma for teachers, for parents, and for children to go in and see that councillor or go in and make an appointment for mental health support services.
Those coping mechanism can be valuable, but in a more whole school approach. We are teaching youth effective ways to interrupt any kind of name-calling or bias-based incidents and encouraging bystander responsibility so that you are not putting the responsibility on an already-targeted, victimized, or isolated individual.
However, we must get the whole community of the school to recognize that it is all of our responsibilities to intervene in cases of bullying. It is then also important to be able to stand up and help someone get the resources and support they need if they have been targeted.
Ms. Daniels: I want to mention that, in conjunction with CHEO, I had the opportunity to do a couple of town halls at one of the local high schools and one in Arnprior where over 400 parents came to ask questions from an expert panel about mental health concerns and worries in relation to bullying. The thing I saw was how much need for support there is out there for parents. There is a lot of worry and concern and not a lot of awareness of how to actually support their child through those kinds of experiences. I think there is a huge need there that we need to be thinking about in terms of addressing individuals who have been targeted by bullying behaviours.
There is another thing that I think is important. It is an approach I have been adopting in the schools a lot lately and that comes somewhat from the time when I was chairing the Ottawa Anti-bullying Coalition. I met many adults who had been seriously harmed as children through bullying experiences. They had a real desire to help kids not go through those same experiences. I spoke to many of them and never once did one of them tell me that they wished that the person who had bullied them had been punished more. However, they always said that they wished someone had said to them that what was happening to them was not okay.
We can go a long way to helping individuals who are being targeted if other kids can say — even not in the moment but later — "I saw what happened to you on the playground and that was bullying, and I did not agree with it.'' Most children who are being targeted say that because no one says anything, they think that everyone is in agreement and that everyone thinks they deserve what they got. Engaging other kids to provide some support can be important.
I also wants to reiterate Dr. Meyer's point that we need to be careful that we do not move into victim blaming, that there is something about the individual who has been targeted that needs fixing. I would caution about that in terms about talking about coping.
Senator Ataullahjan: My question is for Dr. Meyer. We keep hearing about cyberbullying being like a prison sentence, but I was wondering about the short- and long-term psychological affects. Does cyberbullying significantly affect a child's development into adulthood?
Ms. Meyer: We know that the acts of verbal and psychological harassment, which can be face to face or online, have much more negative long-term effects than isolated acts of physical bullying and aggression, because it does get into your mind and your sense of self, and it will stay there and, just as the quote from the student that Dr. Hymel read, it eats away at you.
I do not have research that shows that this is will have a direct relationship on someone's developmental pathway, but we know from these large-scale studies that students who have been victimized repeatedly over time with various forms of bullying and harassment have a much greater likelihood of engaging in a whole variety of self-harming behaviours. They are more likely to have symptoms of depression, anxiety, and physical health issues; and those students who have been targeted for their sexual orientation or their gender identity are even at greater risk for certain categories of behaviours because they do not have some of those buffering mechanisms that can help reduce the harm, such as a safe and supportive home environment or close relationships with other adult mentors. We need to pay attention to those different forms of bullying and harassment and how they can have greater impacts on certain populations because of certain societal stigmas that we are still working slowly to eradicate in Canadian society.
Ms. Hymel: It is a very important point. We have very little research about cyberbullying separate from traditional bullying. Some of the work has been done in collaboration with a former student of mine, Dr. Rina Bonanno. She was very much of the opinion that cyberbullying affects kids over and above traditional bullying. We do have some research to show that in terms of both suicidal ideation and depression, even after you control for the effects of traditional bullying, cyberbullying adds significantly to that prediction.
We also know that we have to be careful about the effects of all this. In the last round, we were talking extensively about the role of the witness, the bystander. In many cases there have been efforts to push that angle, that we need to have kids stand up and be part of that. I am not against that, but there is some caution that must be considered there.
First, many kids believe that you can really only do two things to help someone being victimized: You can stand up or get an adult to help. One of my colleagues has developed a racial discrimination program called active witnessing. He has effectively taught kids there are many things they can do. They can go and help the victim after the fact, as one example. He has nine different techniques. As part of the education system that we are talking about, we need to give kids the opportunity and the strategies for helping victims when they see it. It is all part of that coping process we were talking about earlier.
The other thing Rina Bonanno has demonstrated in her doctoral research is that bystanders are also at risk. We are not just talking about bullies and victims being at risk for long-term problems; so are witnesses. If you think of it as analogous to exposure to violence, her research has demonstrated that the more you observe or witness bullying in your school, and in fact the more you are willing to help, puts you at risk for both depression and suicidal ideation, over and above the experience of being victimized or being a bully yourself. We have to be a little cautious there as well and give kids more strategies.
Ms. Daniels: I very much agree with Dr. Hymel. I think those are important points. I want to add that we do not know specifically with cyberbullying, but with bullying in general we know that over time we see decline in self-esteem, so we know that children who have low self-esteem are not necessarily targeted but that their self-esteem is eroded by the process of experiencing that type of victimization.
Senator Meredith: Thank you so much, panellists. I enjoyed listening to your responses. Forgive me for missing half an hour of your presentations, but again, it was something that is near and dear to my heart.
As a youth activist, I have come across many young people who have been bullied. One of the things I keep coming back to in dealing with young people who have participated in violence or been incarcerated as a result of their violent acts is the involvement of parents. You talk about a community approach. What more can we do to engage parents to ensure that they are dealing with and "consequencing'' their children when caught in such behaviours, such as removing their devices or, again, recognizing, as Dr. Daniels talked about, a teachable moment, coming to grips with what they have doing to fellow classmates, to ensure that they understand that there are some consequences to their actions? What else can we do to engage those parents? I will start with Dr. Daniels.
Ms. Daniels: I think you have identified one of the biggest challenges. I was recently at a staff meeting where teachers were discussing that same issue. Often they felt that a lot of good work they had done all week went down the tubes when the child was home for the weekend. There are often big differences in expectations for children between home and school, especially amongst children inclined to use bullying behaviours.
In terms of engaging parents, there are several different levels we need to approach. We need a lot of education. I speak to many parents. I give parent talks regularly. There is concern and worry, but not many ideas about how to deal with it in an effective way. We definitely need a lot of education.
Also, for some children, the reality is that the expectations at school and the community will be significantly different than at home. One thing I find encouraging is that children can learn that the expectations are different in different places and that is why a community approach is so important. We need to change the social environment such that it does not endorse those types of behaviours.
Ms. Meyer: I agree. Many parents are concerned but again, our youth need more strategies, as do the parents. They feel like the only response they can give is to take away a cellphone or not allow the child to be on the computer for the next week.
What I propose, rather than turning things off, is engaging with and suggesting the parents sit down and play the video game alongside their son or daughter, or go ahead and visit some sites with them online and use that as an opportunity to engage in dialogue and as teachable moments. Even though it might be some place that they are uncomfortable, they might say, "Just teach me. I want to know more about what you are doing here and why this is important to you.'' That is a valuable in because if parents want to bridge differences with their adolescents they need to show interest in their interests and hobbies and activities, rather than removing access to those outlets. That will give opportunities for teachable moments. Watch a show with your child. Have a conversation about what you have just seen, a show your child has chosen, not one that you have chosen as safe for the family. They will watch it without you later so maybe you can be there and use that as a starting point for some of those conversations.
We need to include parents in our community outreach efforts, inviting them to be part of anti-violence task forces or anti-bullying initiatives in school boards. We need to offer educational opportunities to the parents who can come and can give of their time to be able to then become advocates in the community and share that information outward.
Just as Dr. Daniels pointed out, we need to be clear with our students. We know that our students sometimes go home and get conflicting messages from the message we are trying to send in schools. They know from classroom to classroom that the rules and expectations are different, so they are very capable of being able to identify and exhibit the appropriate behaviour in public that we as Canadians expect of citizens in our democratic society.
Ms. Hymel: There are several things I want to add to that. First, I totally agree with Dr. Meyer that we really need to get parents to engage with their children. That is more difficult than I would like to admit.
One of the problems is that parents are not necessarily very well informed. We started an initiative back in 2008 and we now have three editions. There is an online magazine for parents in the U.S. called Education.com. It is out of California, Dr. Meyer.
In 2008, we started with a special edition of Education.com on bullying. Over the last few years we have had three editions — the last one just came out — where we have had researchers from around the world basically trying to contribute readable, parent-friendly advice, information, or summaries of research so that parents can get educated. We need more of that kind of thing for parents, and we need to let parents know that those things are available.
One suggestion I found — and I am sure Dr. Meyer and Dr. Daniels would agree — is that we often do parent workshops, but what happens is that a small percentage of the parents actually attend. The problem is getting the information to the parents. I have two suggestions in that regard. One comes from Donna Cross, a researcher in Australia doing anti-bullying work. She says that if you want to get the parents to come, you need to feature their children. She recommended doing a school play in which kids are there and parents come.
We did this here in Vancouver. We talked to the school board about it. They took a school and did a whole thing on online and other kinds of bullying, but especially online bullying. They put all the kids into this play in various ways, and parents came; parents were out there in droves. They had information booths available for parents, and of course there was a message from the play. That is one way to get parents involved.
Many parents do not want to admit that their children are involved in this, either as victims or as bullies. Another suggestion is public service announcements, with online links where parents can get information and support. I think we have to start using new technology to reach those parents, more than ever.
I often recommend that parents have to start the conversation. When I do workshops, I often tell them about books that are available about bullying so that at least they have the opportunity to talk it over with their children.
I think the WITS program that has been developed at the University of Victoria, which is an anti-bullying program, also involves biblio-therapy. There are a number of avenues for getting parents involved, but we have to get more creative. It is no longer a case of "if you build it, they will come.'' If you build it, they will be too busy to come.
Senator Ataullahjan: My question is specifically for Dr. Meyer. You were just saying that instead of turning things off, engage in a dialogue. However, kids need to be responsible for their behaviour. We heard last week that zero tolerance does not work, but perhaps having some sort of consequences for their actions might be a bit better.
Ms. Meyer: I definitely believe in authentic consequences; however, I do not think it is possible to have meaningful consequences if you do not really know what is going on. Oftentimes what happens is that the student is punished because they retaliate because someone has already targeted them. If you punish a child because you only know one piece of the situation, and you have not been engaging with them in a meaningful way and you do not know the history of their relationships with their peers and their school and what has been going on in their life, there is that danger of punishing a child for an isolated act, when they were provoked and did not know what else to do because they did not have an adult they felt they could talk it out with.
I am not saying that we need to give students a free pass or give our children free rein on the Internet. I am saying that we, as adults, need to take the time to get to know the realities of our students' social lives, to know what kinds of media influences they are being exposed to and responding to, and to be there for them, on their terms.
Oftentimes, you will see that the parents are uncomfortable and they will avoid conversations because they are tired or they are getting dinner on the table and they do not have time. However, our children will not listen to us if we only ask them to listen to us when we are ready to talk. We need to create the context for those relationships so that our children know they can come to us in crisis, whenever, for whatever, so we can then provide them the coaching and the scaffolding.
In educational psychology we talk about Vygotsky's zone of proximal development. We cannot give students consequences for behaviours we have not taught them how to do in meaningful contexts. We cannot just set them free in the Wild West of the Internet and expect them to know intuitively what is appropriate, what is inappropriate, what is mature and what is irresponsible.
I am saying that parents need to be side by side throughout their child's development in order to respond meaningfully and with a deep understanding of the situation so that the consequences are authentic and not just punitive.
Senator Meredith: Thank you so much for that.
Let us get back to the schools. We heard several comments already with respect to differences of opinion. Dr. Meyer, you alluded to the fact that the principals ought to be responsible. Dr. Hymel said: No, I do not fully agree with that.
The principal, obviously, is the administrator in the school and they are responsible for behaviours within the school and when something is reported. If they are not acting upon it right away, these young people's lives — we have heard this — could be taken if appropriate action is not taken.
Are we doing enough to educate our guidance counsellors on the importance of administrators acting quickly when they realize there are incidents within their schools?
Ms. Daniels: There are a couple of issues. Ken Rigby's work in Australia has shown that how much buy-in there is from the administration very much predicts how well an intervention program works. Therefore, it certainly is very important to have the principal on side and taking a strong leadership role. In a school, that can be particularly important.
He also shows that teachers need to think it is important and to be able to relate to it. Teachers who feel it is a worthwhile endeavour certainly have a much better outcome, and that seems to be more important than what specific program they are implementing in the school. There have certainly been many suggestions that it is important to tailor a program specifically to the needs of a particular school. That would be my first thought.
Ms. Hymel: I definitely want to reiterate that I think administrator buy-in is absolutely critical, but it may not be sufficient. The extra challenge there is that principals, vice-principals and even counsellors do not necessarily have any training on what to do.
We did a study a few years ago asking teachers what they would do if they were faced with certain bullying situations, and the vast majority would send them to the administrators, a vice-principal or principal. What we realized was that often the vice-principals and the principals do not know what to do about that. Training is really important.
Second is adequate personnel. I will tell you about an incident. Several years ago, when my son was in grade 8, I got a phone call saying, "There has been an incident at school. I think your son is okay, but you will want to take him to the doctor.'' It took me about an hour to get there, which gave me a lot of time for thought. When I arrived, the principal said there was absolutely nothing that my son did. He was a victim. It was an older kid picking on a younger kid situation.
I said, "Can we get the boys together? Can we talk this out? Can we get the parents together?'' The principal looked at me and said, "Shelley, you don't get this. I get four or five of these incidents a day. I don't have the personnel or the time to deal with it. Moreover, most parents want a pound of flesh, and they want it immediately, regardless of whether their child was the victim or the perpetrator.''
Those words really stuck in my head. We have to realize what principals are facing in large-scale schools, especially at the secondary level. We also need to have personnel available. I do not think counsellors have more time either. They are often doing guidance counselling for educational advancement and college preparation. How much training do we actually do for school counsellors in terms of dealing with bullying? We have to rethink what we are doing in terms of giving them the skills and the tools in order to actually deal with it effectively.
Ms. Meyer: I echo Ms. Hymel's statement that principals are generally overworked. Many are moved into administration under a business management model, with the emphasis on running a tight ship and balancing budgets. Dealing with issues like school climates, human rights and positive relationships is not something that they choose to spend a lot of time on. Often times when they deal with reported incidents, they minimize the impact it has on the student and do more harm. I have heard horrible stories about times when a student went to a principal because someone called them a homophobic remark. The principal said, "Well, are you? You should expect to be treated like that if you are going to act that way in this school.'' There is definitely a disconnect between the school leadership model; I think a lot of us would advocate for that.
We need to have these visionary school leaders who come from this social, emotional leadership and human rights perspective; school boards are looking to hire a business person who will run a tight slip and balance budgets. We need to think about who the best person is for the visionary leader in the schools. When we talk about guidance counsellors, they often have 500 or 600 kids and are trying to get their curriculum plan for the next cycle of classes. The idea of making sure schools have funding to possibly have a vice-principal or administrator whose sole responsibility is school climate and positive relationships and healthy emotional learning is really essential. When teachers send those students to the principal's office, you end up with a band-aid solution. You do not end up with a long-term follow up, what can we learn from this, what behaviours are appropriate in our school and how can we deal with this?
The Jubran case in British Columbia is a perfect example of how the school fell short in its duty by the principal punishing every time they were alerted to a occasion of bullying against Azmi Jubran However, when the decision came down there was a laundry list of things that the tribunal said the school could have done to more effectively eradicate the discrimination and harassment that was happening in the school community.
Yes, the administrators need to be visionary leaders on this issue, but we also need a paradigm shift of what school districts and school boards are looking for when training and hiring administrators. Often, what the parents want and what the superintendents want are two different people.
Senator Meredith: It comes down to the correlation between low self esteem of pupils and being bullied. Do you have any statistics that you can share with us in terms of someone that already suffers from low self-esteem and compounded on that, they are being either physically or cyberbullied. How do parents or administrators deal with that double whammy in individuals that suffer from low self-esteem and compounding their problems within the school system is that they are being either cyber-bullied or bullied?
Ms. Meyer: What we know about all forms of bullying it is that often someone with more social power who is targeting or trying to get the better of someone, is in some sort of vulnerable situation. We know youth who have other issues related to self-esteem are more vulnerable because they are already socially isolated or do not have that gregariousness that allows them to surround themselves with a circle of highly socially competent peers.
I think Ms. Daniels spoke to the issue and that there is a close relationship between students being repeatedly victimized and a negative impact on their self-esteem. However, we also know students who are already vulnerable — for a whole host of social reasons — will also be more likely to be targeted because they do not have that buffering effect of a social group or a strong, supportive network they can turn to.
Ms. Daniels: I would agree with that and when we think about vulnerable populations, we see children who tend to be repeatedly victimized. That can have quite debilitating effects on children.
Ms. Hymel: Yes, much of this research goes back to the work of Dan Olweus in Norway. They started studying this in the late 1970s and have been following it for years. They have some of the best longitudinal studies. Kids who are repeatedly victimized show deficits in self-esteem, even into adulthood.
We have very few long-term studies. That is one of the problems. Longitudinal research is difficult, expensive and it is hard to get funding. When it has been done, I think Sorander's group has demonstrated that the kids showing the worst effects of beings victimized — in terms of self-esteem and other things — are kids who are already vulnerable. It is exactly what you said. It is the double whammy. Kids have already had a few problems and are coping, and then they have bullying on top of that. We have to look at our vulnerable youth.
It is complicated and the research is just getting in.
With respect to self-esteem, a paper was presented a few years ago — I cannot recall the author — and they were comparing kids who are the only child victimized in a classroom versus children who were one of several kids victimized in the classroom. That alone made a difference as to whether it had an impact on their self-esteem and other outcomes. It is complicated. It is not automatic that it would be a low self-esteem effect, although that would be the most likely first effect you would see. However, we have to look at each case individually. One thing I have learned in this area is there is no one-size-fits-all solution here and you have to look at each case individually.
Senator Harb: Thank you very much for your presentation. It seems to me everyone agrees on the fact that the age group — or the grade — where we have the most of the problems seem to be grades 7, 8 and 9; most witnesses told us the same thing.
The committee is looking at Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and looking at what to do. I will read one line of that convention which states that:
States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence
They defined mental violence as something that includes cyberbullying.
You spoke extensively about the science and the art and obviously we all agree. It is not perfect science or art, but a combination of the two.
My colleagues and I would be interested to find if there is anything legislatively that this committee can recommend for Parliament to do. For example, should we look at the Criminal Code and make it mandatory for every school board to subscribe to best practices or certain rules and guidelines? Or should we, for example, introduce a penalty for lack of action by individuals who are in supervisory positions over a child if they were to encounter cyberbullying? Those are the kinds of things I suppose my colleagues would be interested in hearing from you. Legislatively, is there anything we can or should be doing?
Ms. Daniels: It is certainly something my graduate students and I talked about a lot about when I was preparing to come.
I have been in the field for a long time and I was very excited when the Minister of Education in Ontario did require anti-bullying programs in every school in the province. We need more guidelines in terms of supporting that happening and dollars to have it happen. However, I thought that was a positive step.
In Canada, we are challenged in contrast to other countries that have been much more successful — Norway, Finland, Sweden, England and Australia — who have had countrywide anti-bullying programs for almost 20 years. We are somewhat hampered because education is provincial so every province is doing something different.
I am hesitant to move toward punitive approaches. I am reticent about that because they were not particularly successful when we tried them. We had zero-tolerance in Ontario and although the suspensions went up dramatically, bullying did not decrease. Therefore, I would be hesitant about a punitive type of approach. I am not a politician, so I am not exactly sure about a legislative approach. However, any kind of statement that makes it clear that this is a concern and is something to be addressed in Canada would be important.
Ms. Hymel: I tend to agree with Dr. Daniels; I am not convinced that punitive approaches will work. In fact, I would also argue that we already have a lot of those policies in place in other areas and they are not necessarily working.
However, in addition to the things we have already mentioned about more education and training, I think it would work to make this a priority in schools. I think Dr. Daniels' comment about it being provincial makes some sense. Here in B.C. in 2010, the Ministry of Education made social responsibility a foundational skill, which put it on par with reading, writing and numeracy. A couple of years later, the next Minister of Education made schools do accountability. Every year schools have to basically demonstrate that they are doing something with regard to reading, writing, numeracy and social responsibility.
That has basically forced schools to start looking hard and directly at what is happening. For us, we have been engaged in a lot of collaborative work with schools to identify bullying and whether it has been going down.
My experience has been that, when you start working with schools and you provide them with evidence year after year about whether things are going up, down or not changing at all, that is when you give them something to work with. In many cases, they are already very motivated to do something to improve the schools.
We have two years of evaluation in a number of elementary schools. Six months ago, I gave feedback to the schools about what was happening over the two years. Many principals were devastated by the fact that, although they felt they were doing a lot of things, things were not changing. That information alone really empowered them to step it up — "let us look and try harder and do more than any kind of superficial thing.''
Therefore, I definitely think that something more along the lines of empowering schools to do something and making them accountable is in order.
Also, if you really want to make kids accountable for their behaviour, we have to move from punitive to restorative practices. My experience both as parent and as an educator is that punitive practices teach kids in many cases how to get away with it and how not to get caught. I am not sure it works the same way for adults. I think restorative practices where you have to make up for any kind of harm that was caused are much more effective in getting kids to understand the impact of their behaviour on others.
Ms. Meyer: To echo my earlier recommendation, I think it would help clear the waters for a lot of administrators to be able to make that clear statement that it is within the jurisdiction of the school to take action in a case of cyberbullying that is impacting the health of the school community, particularly when they feel like "this took place off school property, on their own private devices, outside of a school activity — why does this fall into my lap?'' We need a clear message from the federal government where the school's jurisdiction lies in the case of cyberbullying. That would provide guidance to ministries and implementation across the country.
I also want to shy away from more punitive measures because we do know, as with zero-tolerance policies, that they are disproportionately targeted to youth of colour. LGBT youth sometimes suffer the consequences of these harsher punitive responses. If you pass legislation that says everyone needs to have more policies, oftentimes you get words on a page that change and you do not have life in the school that changes.
You have the carrots and the stick. The legislation is the stick and the funding is the carrot. If we can provide schools with incentives and opportunities to initiate these action-based research projects where they can evaluate themselves over years and implement some kind of sustainable change — so that after the two- to three-year projects it does not dry up and end but becomes part of the lifeblood of that school community — then we will be more likely to see some sustained success.
As Dr. Hymel pointed out, "one size fits all'' will not work. We have such a diverse nation with so many different schools, school districts and communities that we need to empower the local educators, families and community leaders to evaluate their own needs and establish language and priorities based on the specifics of their community, but within a human rights framework. We can have some legislative leadership in sample wording with enumerated, protected classes. We know that makes a difference, based on research in the United States. If it is not clearly listed as a protected class from formal bullying harassment, it is more likely to be ignored, minimized and not addressed.
We also know that response times matter. As the earlier senator pointed out, if you let something sit for 15 to 30 days, then the reaction and response will not be meaningful for the people involved. Ongoing evaluation and implementation over three to five years after a new policy has been put in place is also important.
If we have some kind of clear leadership that X is what a good anti-bullying policy should look like, you can provide effective guidance to the schools across the country to take that change, but from their own initiative rather than a top- down way. Therefore, when the policy changes in writing, it has an impact on the lives of the children in that school.
The Chair: Dr. Daniels, you mentioned some countries and they have been mentioned in the past as well. The retort has been that those are more homogeneous countries; we have a more diverse country, so we have more challenges. Can you expand on that — from the countries you mentioned that tend to be more homogeneous than our country is?
Ms. Daniels: Yes, I suppose that is the case. I think the challenges I have heard have not been as much related to the fact that we have a multicultural population but I think that the size of our country is a big challenge. I know that right now Finland is operating probably one of the best anti-bullying programs today. It is called KiVa. It is in every school in the country and it is funded by the government. Those are huge advantages.
The biggest issues to my mind are not as much the multicultural population that we have, though I think that is one challenge. The bigger challenge is that we need more of a national strategy. Right now we are dealing with bullying at the provincial level, and it is very variable what is happening in different provinces. Right now Ontario is moving forward; British Columbia has been moving forward for quite a bit longer and has made progress.
It is unfortunate that we seem to be reinventing the wheel back and forth across the country. Those seem to be bigger challenges at this point in time.
Senator Harb: Thank you very much for your intervention.
It seems to be unanimous that none of you would support punitive measures such as to put something in the Criminal Code or any of that.
Let me try this. What if, for example, we were to look at an amendment to the national health act where we have joint responsibilities provincially as well as federally? We talk about the mental health of the child. Is there a venue there for an amendment to the act in order to ensure that the provinces are in compliance with Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
As a country, we have approved and adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Therefore, we have to fulfill every article of it. I submit personally that we are not in compliance with Article 19 because every witness that has appeared before us told us the same thing: The problem is still there. It is not working because of the diversities and the multiple jurisdictions, and because it is not compulsory. They have yet to subscribe to a certain set of rules; yet the convention is quite clear, telling us what we are to do legislatively, administratively, socially and educationally. We did two out of those three, somewhat, but we have not done the third one. I am looking for some enlightenment from your end to tell me whether or not you think there is a venue there.
Ms. Daniels: It is important that we do have a clear message that is at both the provincial and the federal levels. I would be very much in favour of that.
Dr. Hymel's comments about emphasis on tracking and following school climate and monitoring would be valuable and important in the sense that it gives schools an opportunity to deal with the issue in a way that is tailored to them but also places a responsibility to track and monitor.
I was in a school on Thursday where we were tracking the amount of bullying in their school. Across the year it declined by 50 per cent. They had big charts in the halls and were congratulating the children. It was powerful for them and highly motivating as well.
Ms. Hymel: To ensure compliance is what you are asking for.
My experience is that everyone wants to comply. That is not the problem. I do not think we need more legislation necessarily to enhance that. What we do not have is adequate skills, tools, training and personnel. We would be more effective in providing more education and training and providing schools with more opportunities and personnel to actually deal with it, and also providing the opportunity and the facility to track what is actually happening in their schools.
My experience with schools is that once we as a partner provide that information on a regular basis, they are more than willing to comply. The problem is that they do not necessarily know how or they do not have the personnel to do it in the most ideal way.
The other thing I want to remind the committee about is the fact that there is a real developmental perspective here. The fact that bullying reaches a peak somewhere between grades 7 and 10 has been found around the world. We know that these kids are developing. I do not think we will ever totally eliminate bullying. We can reduce it but we will not eliminate it because part of it is children learning about power. That does not mean we have to let it go and allow kids to do terrible things to each other. We can certainly minimize it. However, if we really want to stop bullying, as Dr. Daniels has said and I have said before, we have to start providing the education and the tools to do it. We will never eliminate it by creating more laws. We will eliminate it by providing the opportunity and the means by which schools can address it.
Ms. Meyer: The benefit in potentially amending this act and ensuring it is explicit that the federal government does have a role to play is in providing that support and coordination to the provinces. Yes, education is a provincial responsibility but that does not mean that the federal government cannot provide financial support, expertise and coordination efforts to ensure that the ministries and the local school districts and school boards get access to this information and take the time to coordinate their efforts, disseminate the information and encourage this sort of grassroots change that must happen if we want schools to have sustainable change. We know even within one school district or school board there is great variation from school to school, based on the leadership and the values within that local community.
We need leadership from the federal government. It is important for the federal government to find ways to explicitly partner with the provinces to provide the support, but just as Dr. Hymel so eloquently stated, we need to get the resources and the tools in the hands of the right people. Educators go into education because they care about kids. They will do the right thing if we create the context that makes it possible for it to happen.
Senator Brazeau: Given the fact that we are dealing with cyberbullying, I will focus my question on social media. Obviously, there are many similarities between traditional forms of bullying with the more modern form of cyberbullying. One of those differences in particular is the fact that any adolescent child could go on social media and come up with an anonymous name to publish various things about an individual on any type of social media on any type of blogs.
Individuals could basically go on these social media forums and invent an anonymous name for themselves and publish a whole bunch of nasty things about another child, while at times using their friends to do the same thing anonymously so that it seems more like it is a collective effort to target a particular child. I can go back to when I was a bit younger. Obviously, there was no Facebook or social media at that time, but to many of these kids social media is like the universe to them. Whatever is written is sort of the bible or the gospel, call it as you may.
Do you believe that the fact that children can now go on the Internet and use anonymous names to publish these nasty things is leading to higher rates of cyberbullying?
Ms. Daniels: I do not know that I know if it is leading to higher rates of cyberbullying. I know that it is one of the most problematic things for individuals who are victimized because of the feeling that the information goes out into the universe and there is no way to take it back. If someone writes a nasty note on a piece of paper, that can be torn up and put in the garbage. However, once it is out on the Internet, it is not able to be retrieved. I know that victims report that that is significantly disturbing to them.
When I think about these anonymous sites, what supports those is the others kids who log on, click "like,'' "comment,'' or whatever. We need to be educating our youth to not support those kinds of sites. I agree with you that it is incredibly difficult to get them taken down; it is incredibly difficult to address them, and they are particularly harmful. We need to work a lot on education in terms of how harmful the effects are because that is another thing that has been talked about in cyberbullying, that the individuals who perpetrate this do not see how harmful the effects are. If you are bullying someone in class, you see how upset or distressed they are, whereas you lose that piece of information when you are engaging in social media types of bullying.
Ms. Meyer: The anonymity of the Internet definitely creates problems for everyone, not just youth. Adults have a hard time composing a respectful email at times when they are frustrated, because the anonymity of typing to a screen and not having that immediate human interaction allows people to say and do things that they would not do in a face- to-face interaction. Being able to set up an anonymous user name as well gives an extra layer of power because you know what you are doing and the person you are targeting does not know where it is coming from, which makes the threat that much more intimidating because you do not know who is the source of this filthy, scary, whatever information.
I do feel that this is one of the other huge pieces of the federal government, being able to monitor and help investigate these cases, because that is where local law enforcement falls short. They have a hard time being able to track ISPs and get sites shut down. If we have someone at the federal level in each province helping to deal with these situations, then we can hopefully help schools take proactive steps to shut down these kinds of sites or blocking or removing these kinds of offensive content.
The media literacy piece, the digital literacy piece that has been spoken about, is also essential in being able to understand appropriate and respectful use. Also, if you are having a difficult situation with someone, rather than flaming them anonymously online, finding other ways to promote a healthy resolution or a more proactive way of dealing with that situation is definitely where schools have a role to play.
Ms. Hymel: I would totally agree with my colleagues. Yes, it is definitely true, as the senator suggested, that anyone can do damage via social media; and yes, it is true that peers can enhance or support the likelihood of such behaviour. The important thing is to educate kids so that they do not want to bully, which requires them to see alternatives, and for bystanders to not go along with it. We know from some of the research of more traditional bullying that the peer group can also stop it and suggest not to go there.
I think we have to back up and start earlier. We want to make it so that kids do not want to bully and so that they understand the negative impact of their behaviour. We also need to think harder — and I am not sure how to deal with this problem — about the role models that we put out there. It seems to me that kids have learned quite a bit from adults in terms of how to harass each other. We have several things we can do to minimize the likelihood of kids bullying.
Senator Brazeau: In the realm of cyberbullying, what level of responsibility would you put place on Internet service providers, social media outlets and governments in terms of developing public awareness campaigns and trying to discourage people from going on these Internet sites or social media anonymously?
I know this is probably more geared towards a larger debate, but what about the possibility or eventuality that a piece of legislation would be enacted that would outright ban individuals from going on these social media outlets on an anonymous basis, if at all possible?
Ms. Daniels: I wanted to add one piece to the last question, which I think will lead into this question. Christina Salmivalli, who is running the KiVa program in Finland, has some interesting research that shows that what predicts how much bullying occurs in a classroom is not the individual children but the peer attitudes, beliefs and norms of the school and the classroom. In a school where the attitudes and beliefs are positive about bullying, there will be significantly more bullying. It is not so much an individual characteristic of particular children; it is the characteristics of the social climate, whether they support and accept those behaviours or not. That is important when we start talking about how to deal with these anonymous sites.
Incident I was telling you about, where some high school girls sent a message to me that there were some Facebook sites that were unpleasant, and could I do something about it, by the time I got online, looked at them and contacted someone, two of them were down because the word was out that someone was doing something.
I read the Media Awareness transcripts when they spoke to you last week. I am aware that much of the time, although there are guidelines and regulations about what can and cannot be posted, compliance is not being monitored too closely. That is an area we might want to explore in terms of looking more at monitoring for compliance on those sites. The idea of not being able to post anonymously is not a bad one, from my perspective, in terms of children. I do not know exactly what the logistics of that are for the service providers.
Senator White: Some school boards in the province of Ontario — in particular, both the Catholic and public school board in Ottawa and Trenton, as well as Durham District School Board — have had great success when it comes to dealing with bullying through their use of restorative justice practices. In fact, they would argue that the training of all staff, teachers, counsellors, principals, as well as volunteers, has seen a reduction in recidivism among some of the youth. Because they use a peer process of restorative justice practices, they would also argue that it is a more fulsome response than some of the responses I might have used.
Have you seen that elsewhere? Is that something you consider to be a best practice?
Ms. Daniels: Yes, we are seeing the use of restorative justice practices increasing in general in school boards. I am doing some work in the Carleton Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, where they are running restorative practices in all their schools. They have a whole-board approach, which I think is important, and it seems to be working well for them.
I think that peer-mentored type solutions are very important. I have heard many researchers, and as you mention, say that it is their lives and that they have a much better understanding of the issues and how to address them and how best to deal with it.
The other point is that when we talk about formative consequences for those kids who are perpetrating bullying behaviours, oftentimes they have lots of leadership skills and they can be socially skilled. We need to channel those kinds of skills into more of a mentoring role.
Often with younger children I have seen it work very well, where children in grade 5 or 6 were having a lot of issues themselves. They had to put together a program for the primary grades and take it around and tell the little ones what they should do if something was happening to them on the playground. It was incredibly effective in reducing bullying and also in building competence in those individuals.
Senator White: They would also argue that the building of the conflict resolution skills themselves is something that they typically do not have the opportunity to do. Second, peers holding peers to account has a greater impact that someone in authority holding someone to account, which is similar to what we have seen in restorative justice in other countries as well.
Ms. Daniels: Yes. We need to be cautious that we do not confuse situations where children have a conflict where they are of equal status, where they are able to resolve the issue themselves, to bullying situations where there is a significant power differential, where often we have erred on the side of saying that kids need to solve problems themselves. Yes, they do, but not without support and scaffolding.
Senator White: Restorative justice practices are not one to one; they are group to one.
Ms. Daniels: That is right.
Senator Zimmer: When I put my hand up, it was to signal the page for a Kleenex. However, it is like a live auction; when you put your finger up to scratch your eyebrow, your bid stands.
I have a supplementary to the senator's first question. In my day, children or students who reported bullying were known as squealers. When the teacher or administrator went to the student who was doing the injustice, the student would say "Yes, I will change'' and all of that. However, late at night, on the way home, they got you in the back alley.
First, have you seen that in any of the reports? If so, how do you deal with it? Instead of solving the problem, you have made it worse.
Ms. Hymel: Thank you for raising that. Unfortunately, the notion of "do not be a tattler or a squealer'' is pervasive in terms of beliefs. Certainly, many of the intervention programs have worked to try to teach children the difference. For example, I have problems with Barbara Coloroso's work in other ways, but she says a wonderful thing about tattling versus telling, and she teaches the difference between the two. One of the anti-bullying programs developed by the Ministry of Education here in British Columbia has a beautiful section of lessons on ratting versus reporting.
Sadly, I think your observations are correct that this is still an issue for kids and they are told by adults not to be a tattler. I think that is pervasive. However, there are efforts to counter that in some of the training programs, where they basically try to tell kids what is the difference between the two. I am an advocate of education in order to change that.
Ms. Meyer: That was an issue that came up in my research with teachers. They felt at a loss as to how to respond because they did not want to exacerbate the situation for the student by making them more victimized, because then the goalie has been punished for the behaviour. I feel again this whole culture of no snitching is part of what has to transform with any effective anti-bullying initiative.
These examples that Dr. Hymel just mentioned are essential in helping students understand the difference and the teachers being able to model and respond effectively, because if we do not have a shared understanding, we do not have a shared vocabulary, the school community will not be able to have this holistic response. You do have the after school, back alley retaliation, but if you engage the youth, as Senator White pointed out, through restorative justice, and you get the whole staff involved in any kind of intervention, you will have far more success than trying to deal with these isolated fires as they pop up.
Ms. Daniels: I would add that one component of many successful anti-bullying programs is anonymous reporting, either formal or informal, that addresses some of the concerns. I agree with Dr. Meyer that much of it is setting up the expectation that we have a responsibility for each other, a circle of caring, and that the classroom is seen as a community where the goal is to keep each other safe.
Senator Zimmer: Is there a difference in gender and age, and what reason do bullies give to justify their behaviour?
Ms. Daniels: Is there a difference in age and gender in perpetration of bullying behaviour?
Senator Zimmer: Yes.
Ms. Daniels: In general, boys and girls traditionally bully equally, if we look at all forms of bullying, physical, social and verbal. In cyberbullying, although the numbers are not very different, girls may be targets a little more, but perpetration seems to be equal across gender. The incidence of bullying tends to peak around grades 7, 8 and 9.
Senator Zimmer: What reason do bullies give to justify their behaviour?
Ms. Daniels: A lot of work I do looks at social bullying and the reasons that girls give for social bullying. In general, it is power, control, status and self-interest. If you are using social bullying in contrast to physical bullying, children report they are significantly more concerned about not getting caught as it is more hidden, and trying to maintain a relationship with the rest of the peer group.
Amongst girls, we see that issues related to unrealistic expectations for close friendships and high levels of jealousy and desire for exclusivity will lead to social bullying.
Ms. Hymel: This is something that we started looking at in our research on moral disengagement. Based on a theory of moral disengagement developed by Albert Bandura studying soldiers and terrorist, with regard to how kids justify this behaviour, we found that kids are very good at justifying this behaviour. We find this two things. One is that many kids do not realize what they are doing is bullying so part of it is lack of awareness entirely. In those cases, in many situations we have been able to point out to them the impact of their behaviour.
It is also true that many kids can justify and rationalize their behaviour. For example, "It is okay to pick on losers.'' We had 25 per cent of our kids endorsing that. "Most students who get bullied bring it on themselves.'' We find that across schools there is a huge variability here in the degree to which kids can justify this behaviour. "I was not bullying him. I was trying to teach him a lesson.'' "I was not bullying him. I was trying to make him understand what is important to the group.''
In many cases, they actually believe them; they are not just excuses. We found there is a small proportion of kids who believe this is the way to solve problems.
We had one incident where there were two young boys who got together and picked on a child three years younger than they were because that child was bullying one of the boys' brothers. It was fascinating to watch what happened. Their intention was to stop bullying, but they did it by bullying. These kids just did not get it.
A lot of these kids are not able to look seriously at their own behaviour. We find that the degree to which kids morally disengage from their behaviour is a critical predictor, not only of an individual child but the context in which they live. If we have a classroom or school where most kids are able to morally disengage and think this behaviour is okay or it is all in good fun, we see a lot more bullying. There is definitely a problem with the degree to which kids can do this. Sadly, it is also something that is based on the context of the classroom or the school.
Ms. Meyer: Because we have all agreed that puberty generally is when much of this behaviour peaks and emerges, I focus on issues of gender and sexuality and how they influence the terms that people use to bully and why certain people are bullied more than others.
The issues of sexual orientation, whether you are perceived to be gay, lesbian or bisexual, issues of gender expression, whether you are seen to be as masculine as other boys or as feminine as other girls, those are highly involved reasons that students are targeted. They are often the most ignored by the teaching staff. They are not even acknowledged as forms of bullying because they are so embedded in the psyche and culture of our nation, of what it means to be a macho, popular, cool boy, a desirable feminine, attractive girl. These gender expectation, these sexualized criteria are taught and reinforced oftentimes by the adults in the community, that our youth then repeat and perpetuate on each other, and are often ignored as forms of bullying. The kids do it because it is completely modelled, condoned and accepted. They do not even have to justify it because it has already been justified for them.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank all three of you. We have certainly learned a lot from you. We will be reflecting on many of the things you have said. I want to thank you for your time and presentations.
Unfortunately, we could not hear from Egale Canada today. They were fogged out and their representative was not able to come today.
I would now like to introduce our final panel for this evening.
We have joining us Marla Israel, Acting Director General, Centre for Health Promotion, Public Health Agency of Canada; Erin Mulvihill, Coordinator, RCMP Youth Engagement Section, National Crime Prevention Services; Inspector Michael Lesage, Acting Director General, National Aboriginal Policing, Royal Canadian Mounted Police; and Daniel Sansfaçon, Director of Policy, Research and Evaluation, National Crime Prevention Centre, Public Safety Canada.
We welcome all of you here today and we will be starting with Ms. Israel.
Marla Israel, Acting Director General, Centre for Health Promotion, Public Health Agency of Canada: Thank you honourable senators. I am pleased to be here with you tonight.
I am Marla Israel, Acting Director General, Centre for Health Promotion, Public Health Agency of Canada.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has a mandate to encourage the promotion of health and the prevention of disease.
Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child emphasizes the need for member states to take appropriate measures to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury, neglect and abuse. The impacts of bullying, including cyberbullying, are included within this domain and relate directly to the agency's work.
Bullying, with its repercussions and implications from poor mental health outcomes, increased stress and diminished emotional capacity, is still in its infancy with respect to understanding its causes and effects. That is why I am looking forward to the committee's report in this regard.
Bullying is a public issue of concern that affects a number of Canadian children and youth. It is often based on power imbalances that arise through physical, psychological, social or systemic advantages or by knowing someone's vulnerability and using this to cause distress.
Cyberbullying allows bullies to hide behind a screen and be persistent with their threats, harassment and social exclusion.
Victims of cyberbullying can be perpetual targets. A victim who is sent harassing text messages, for example, can only avoid their bully by avoiding all forms technology. As well, cyberbullying does not stay at school. It comes into the home; a place where victims would otherwise seek refuge.
To better understand bullying, the Public Health Agency of Canada supports surveillance activities to collect data on the health of Canadian children. One of the most important studies on the health of young people in Canada is the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children. Funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and led by the researchers at Queen's University, the 2010 study — with its first time focus on mental health — has been able to collect valuable information to inform future policy directions and program initiatives for government departments at both federal and provincial levels, educator, academics and researchers.
Data from the 2010 study indicates that 22 per cent of students in Canada aged 11 to 15 are victims of bullying, 12 per cent are bullies and 41 per cent are both being bullied and are bullying others. Rates of cyberbullying are fairly steady across grades 6 to 10 for girls, and increase slightly for boys from 11 per cent in grade 6 to 19 per cent in grade 10.
Certain populations are at greater risk of being bullied, such as those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, those who have a disability and those who are overweight or obese. In Canada, bullying is reported most frequently in the school setting and is typically comprised of emotional abuse such as teasing, exclusion or spreading lies. Our research shows that children, both bullies and victims, are at much higher risk of immediate and long-term emotional behavioural and relationship problems.
Childhood bullying can lead to sexual assault, harassment, dating aggression and other forms of violence later in life, especially among boys. In terms of physical health, studies show that children who are bullied are more likely to report headaches, stomach aches, anxiety and depression. Both bullies and victims report increased suicidal tendencies and are at higher risk for poor school functioning, poor attitudes towards school, low grades and absenteeism.
Research also suggests that there are long-lasting changes to the brain that can be directly attributed to bullying, making it difficult to concentrate, remember and learn.
I encourage the committee to read the chief public health officer's report on the state of public health in Canada in 2011, which focuses on youth and young adults. Specifically, the third chapter deals with the impact of bullying.
No single factor determines who will bully, who will be a victim and what form of violence will be used. What is known is that anti-bullying interventions depend on the involvement of many players, including parents, caregivers, educators and communities. At the Public Health Agency of Canada we support a multi-sectoral approach to address bullying and cyberbullying. Through several programs, the agency works to foster positive self-esteem, healthy relationships and mental health and raise awareness about the importance of positive coping mechanisms in children and youth.
The agency's innovation strategy has invested $27 million in community interventions with an objective of building socio-emotional protective factors in school aged and children and increased self-esteem.
The WITS program — Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out and Seek help, which is implementing an anti-bullying interventions in four provinces — aims to reduce peer victimization and chronic bullying by enhancing child and adult confidence in dealing with peer conflicts and victimization.
As well, over $114 million each year is invested in health promotion programs for at risk children and their families, including Aboriginal Head Start in urban and northern communities, the Community Action Program and the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program.
We also support the Joint Consortium for School Health, which is a consortium made up of federal, provincial and territorial governments working together promote the health of children in the school setting. The consortium is currently developing its work plan and anticipates a strong future focus on promoting positive mental health messaging.
The agency also leads the family violence initiative and, through collaboration with partners like the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network, is facilitating the dissemination of evidence-based violence prevention programs on the agency's Canadian best practices portal.
Finally, the agency provides support and guidance through the Government of Canada Healthy Canadians website that contains information on bullying and bullying prevention strategies and intervention mechanisms.
Through these partnerships, the agency collaborates with our partners to promote violence prevention, encourage healthy relationships and promote positive mental health among young Canadians.
I wish you the best as you complete your study and I hope this information has been helpful. I am pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Inspector Michael Lesage, Acting Director General, National Aboriginal Policing, Royal Canadian Mounted Police: Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about initiatives the RCMP is currently employing to address the issue of cyberbullying.
The RCMP believes that awareness and education is key to helping youth, parents, teachers and police deal with the growing problem of cyberbullying. We have developed outreach initiatives and program initiatives at both the national and provincial level that deal with the issue. Our goal is to reduce the occurrence and increase the reporting of cyberbullying.
I would like to provide you with an overview of what the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is doing at the national level.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police's deal.org is a "by youth, for youth'' Web-based program geared toward the 12- to 17-year age group. It also has a companion site, deal.org/parents. Both websites have audience-specific products aimed at cyberbullying awareness, including fact sheets, an online interactive game and blogs written by youth.
The RCMP believes that youth have valuable solutions to offer and should play an active role in their communities. For this reason, deal.org also profiles young leaders who are addressing the issue of cyberbullying in their communities and schools in the hopes of inspiring other youth to do the same.
In 2011, the RCMP National Crime Prevention Services, in collaboration with the RCMP Musical Ride, produced an anti-cyberbullying trading card that was distributed to youth who attended our musical ride performances throughout Atlantic Canada, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The card was such a success that it will be distributed again during this year's tour in Ontario and Manitoba.
In 2009, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in partnership with other police agencies, developed the National Youth Officer Program. The program brings youth officers from across Canada together to train, share resources and best practices via the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Youth Officer Resource Centre, YORC. YORC is a website that provides front line youth officers working in schools with age-appropriate cyberbullying lesson plans that teach youth how to recognize, respond to and prevent cyberbullying behaviour.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police youth officers also provide DARE, the Drug Awareness Resistance Education prevention and education program, to school children across the country. The DARE curriculum includes a lesson plan on bullying where the issue of cyberbullying is discussed, as well.
The RCMP understands that we need to tailor our policing approaches to meet the distinctive needs of our youth. Accordingly, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Youth Engagement Section runs a youth advisory committee that we consult with annually to obtain the youth perspective on issues such as cyberbullying. This enables us to learn about new trends happening in our communities and to identify any gaps in the information we provide.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police recognizes that the root of the cyberbullying problem is not social media sites and/or the Internet but rather the manner in which Internet users interact while using social networking sites. In fact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police uses social media ourselves as a means to reach out to the public on the issue. For example, in November 2011 we ran a one-week awareness campaign where each day we used Facebook and Twitter to post information on topics such as forms of bullying, what to do if you are being bullied, bullying myths, and youth-led initiatives aimed at reducing all forms of bullying. We plan to do this again in 2012 during the Bullying Awareness Week.
There is also much effort being made at the provincial level of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to address the problem of cyberbullying. I will now take a moment to highlight after few provincial initiatives.
In British Columbia, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police developed iSMART, the Internet + Social Media Awareness Resource Toolkit, to provide police officers, educators and communities with access to current Internet safety information. This resource supports the RCMP's effort to prevent online victimization of children and youth by providing the information and tools necessary to engage smartly over the Internet.
In Nova Scotia, Antigonish Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the St. Francis Xavier University Department of Athletics and Recreation partnered to develop the X-Out Bullying program. The program brings local Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and varsity athletes together to deliver presentations to Grade 4 classes and community groups upon request. The presentation includes speeches, skits and discussions on bullying and the bystander effect. They also have brainstorm sessions on resolving the issue of bullying. Follow-up sessions are done with each group to determine progress made.
Antigonish RCMP also worked with their local Crime Stoppers to help a local high school launch a youth-led anti- bullying program called Eliminating Victimization Action Committee. As part of the program, the Crime Stoppers' number was printed on the back of each student ID so that when a student was being bullied or a student witnessed the victimization of another student, they could call Crime Stoppers to anonymously report it. The goal is to create a school atmosphere where all forms of bullying are not tolerated.
While the Royal Canadian Mounted Police strives to promote cyberbullying awareness and prevention, we recognize that we cannot do it alone. We stress the importance of establishing networks and/or partnerships with external community stakeholders who can assist us in delivering prevention and awareness programs.
The following summarizes a few of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's national partnerships that focus on cyberbullying.
In December 2011, in collaboration with Promoting Relationships and Ending Violence Network, PREVNet, and researchers at the University of Victoria, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began piloting the WITS — Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out, Seek help — program for the prevention of peer victimization and bullying, including cyberbullying. Seven RCMP officers from rural and remote sites in six provinces across Canada came together in Ottawa for the training. These RCMP members have already engaged 11 schools and 1,380 children in the program's activities.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police National Youth Services has also formed a partnership with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. We have taken on an active role in ensuring the Royal Canadian Mounted Police front line officers are aware of and have access to resources produced by the CCCP such as cybertip.ca; the national tip line for reporting online child abuse; and Kids In the Know, an interactive safety program for increasing the personal safety of children and reducing their risk of sexual exploitation.
One last example is our ongoing affiliation with the Canadian Teachers' Federation. In 2011, the CTF created an information package on cyberbullying for teaches. This package includes research, fact sheets and pamphlets to help educators better understand the issue of cyberbullying and how to address it in the school setting. We have committed to making these products available to our front line youth officers as another awareness tool they can use.
While, as government officials, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police cannot comment on whether there is a need for additional legislation to address the issue of cyberbullying, we can advise on how we work within the framework of existing legislation. Criminal activities conducted via the Internet such as bullying are traditional crimes committed through the use of an electronic device and are therefore covered by applicable sections of the Criminal Code of Canada. Cyberbullying is investigated according to the circumstance and evidence of the offence reported. Offences currently contained in the Criminal Code do address incidents of cyberbullying.
While the initiatives I have touched on today are not an exhaustive list, I hope it has given you some insight into how important the issue of cyberbullying is to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We continue to strive to maintain positive lines of communication with our youth to ensure that they feel comfort approaching us should they become victims of crime.
I thank you again for inviting me here. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.
Daniel Sansfaçon, Director, Policy, Research and Evaluation, National Crime Prevention Centre, Public Safety Canada: Thank you for your invitation to come and talk to you this evening as part of your study on cyberbullying.
Bullying can take various forms from physical, verbal and social to cyberbullying. As you will learn from my presentation this evening, the National Crime Prevention Centre has so far really only worked on the issues of physical and verbal bullying.
I will not repeat all the statistical data that has been presented to you so far, including what was provided by my colleague from the Public Health Agency. For the moment, I will point out, though, that the research indicates that, in general, the various forms of physical and verbal bullying occur more frequently than cyberbullying. Studies also indicate that boys are more likely than girls to engage in physical bullying, and that girls are more likely to bully socially and to be victims of this form of bullying. It is also interesting to note that, according to some studies, older victims of cyberbullying, individuals older than age 25, are generally less likely to know their bully than the younger victims, individuals younger than age 25.
Bullying in schools is not a new issue, but rather one that is re-emerging.
Bullying is a growing concern in many jurisdictions, and a number of provinces and territories have developed strategies and programs to address this problem. Education is indeed one area that plays a crucial role in responses to bullying, since most bullying incidents do occur on school premises. As such, recognizing their role in education and the management of schools, provinces and territories have a key role to play to implement measures that would address bullying.
Given that bullying has been linked to delinquency, it does constitute a part of NCPC's work. In fact, back in 2003, the NCPC funded a three-year initiative, led by well-known doctors Wendy Craig and Debra Pepler, and their report, A National Strategy on Bullying: Making Canada Safer for Children and Youth, proposed elements of a strategy to reduce bullying among children and youth through partnerships with national organizations.
The National Crime Prevention Centre's mission is to provide national leadership on effective and cost-efficient ways to both prevent and reduce crime by addressing known risk factors in high-risk populations and places. A primary area of focus for the NCPC is to develop and disseminate knowledge of effective practices that will prevent children and youth at risk from engaging in anti-social behaviour and delinquency. This is why the NCPC supports community-based crime prevention projects that aim to reduce the impact of risk factors and increase protective factors.
Risk factors are characteristics that increase the likelihood of an individual committing a crime, while protective factors are positive influences that mitigate the effects of risk factors and decrease the likelihood of individuals engaging in crime. The more risk factors a person experiences, the higher the probability that that person will commit a crime. For example, early aggressive behaviour, truancy, and low attachment to school, delinquent peers, and early contact with the police are factors that contribute to increased likelihood of juvenile delinquency.
We know there is a degree of overlap between risk factors for youth offending and bullying, particularly in the individual, family and school domains. In 2008, the NCPC published an overview of risk factors for bullying, best whole-school practices to prevent bullying, and promising and modern programs designed to prevent and reduce it.
Existing literature establishes that bullying behaviour during childhood is closely associated with future delinquent and criminal behaviour in adolescence and adulthood. Self-reported delinquency studies, for example, reveal that 40 per cent of the boys and 31 per cent of the girls who frequently bully are also involved in delinquent behaviour, as opposed to 5 per cent of the boys and 3 per cent of the girls who never or infrequently bully.
Furthermore, research has found that children who bully are 37 per cent more likely than those who do not to commit offences as adults. They may also be affected later in life by psychological problems, such as aggressive tendencies, depression and substance abuse.
The literature indicates that key risk factors for bullying include persistent negative attitudes and early aggressive behaviour. Other risk factors for bullying are also general risk factors for delinquency, such as those I mentioned earlier.
Given that many of the risk factors that underlie bullying are similar to those that contribute to juvenile delinquency, interventions funded by the NCPC to prevent youth crime are likely to also impact on the factors associated with bullying and subsequently help to potentially prevent it. Between 2007 and 2012, the NCPC funded roughly 30 community-based projects that address primarily youth violence and, indirectly, bullying. These projects take place in schools and communities and include examples such as Stop-Now-And-Plan, reconnecting youth in schools, youth inclusion programs and alternative suspension, which aims to reduce the number of repeat suspensions among at-risk kids.
The NCPC, as the national centre of excellence for crime prevention, collaborates with various federal organizations such as the RCMP, the Public Health Agency or Health Canada, to facilitate information sharing, consultation, and integration at the federal level. Through the federal/provincial/territorial working group on community safety and crime prevention, the NCPC works closely with the provinces and territories to advance effective crime prevention strategies and programs, including for bullying.
Thank you again for your invitation. I will now be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
The Chair: Thank you very much for all your presentations.
I have one clarification from you, Ms. Israel. In your presentation, you mention on page 3, in the last paragraph, that certain populations are at greater risk of being bullied, such as those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, those who have a disability and those who are overweight or obese.
We have been holding these hearings for the last several weeks. We heard that another group that faces these challenges are the racialized groups, the ethnic, visible minority groups. Has that not been your experience?
Ms. Israel: It was not mentioned per se in the course of my remarks, but certainly within the health behaviours for school-aged children, that has been the focus of our study, other community health surveys. I would have to go back and see if our data was aligned with your data, and I am happy to do that. I did not specifically look at the research with respect to those disadvantaged groups.
Senator Brazeau: Thanks to all of you for being here this evening.
My question is for Inspector Lesage. Obviously, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police cannot comment on whether there is a need for additional legislation to deal with this issue. Having said that, obviously you have experience; you deal with some of these issues. I am sure you look into some complaints that may be made across the country. You are probably aware of what some of the barriers may be in fully tackling this issue. Would you be able to comment on the following: If there were legislation, what would that look like to better facilitate your job in dealing with cyberbullying?
Mr. Lesage: As I said earlier, as government officials, we are not in a position to comment or support the legislation. It is our duty to enforce it if it becomes law. Any advice that we would give when it comes to legislation, we give at the drafting stages. That is about all I can say on that one.
Senator Brazeau: If I can perhaps just try to dig a little deeper.
Earlier I asked a question to previous witnesses with respect to the phenomenon of social media and the Internet, people being able to go on Facebook, for example, create an anonymous or fake name, and start spreading lies and rumours about any adolescent kid across this country, which would basically come under the definition of cyberbullying; however, very little could be done, unless I am wrong.
Can you comment on what happens with some of those cases where there may be complaints by parents, either by clicking with the social media in terms of trying to report someone? What does the social media outlet do with the RCMP? Do they contact you? Could you elaborate on what the process is for some of the complaints that are being made, specifically with social media, which come into your hands?
Mr. Lesage: With social media, it is the same as with most offences; once the RCMP would receive a complaint, we would initiate an investigation. When we do that, we have to determine what offence has been committed. Once we determine an offence, if it happened over Facebook or over the Internet, we would use our conventional investigative techniques and start to draft search warrants or production orders for the service providers to gain the evidence we need to go forward.
Senator Brazeau: Essentially, a big bulk of it is the responsibility of Internet service providers and/or other social media outlets to follow up on, perhaps, some of the rules that they have against these things in order for it to get to your desk, for example?
Mr. Lesage: In order for it to get to my desk, a report would have to be made. Someone would have to come to the police station and report an offence committed. We would work with the service providers. Generally, we would need some type of judicial authorization to be able to get the actual information within the database or within the service provider.
If there was an offence that had been committed, we would continue an investigation using whatever investigative techniques we have within our realm of jurisdiction.
Senator Brazeau: Would you happen to have any statistics with respect to how many complaints have been made or provided by Internet service providers, how many investigations have been conducted and if any charges have been laid?
Mr. Lesage: Our police reporting system does not collect specific data to cyberbullying. Our statistics are collected according to the Criminal Code offences. I would not have any of those statistics.
Senator Harb: Mr. Lesage, it is excellent what you are doing in conjunction with the teachers' federation as well as with the many youth groups across the country.
My question to all of you would be, given what we already know, namely, that bullying happens in schoolyards and through the Internet and so on, and given the statistics that we are mostly dealing with kids in grades 7, 8 and 9, as we were told by many witnesses, I cannot not see Mr. Lesage chasing a bunch of kids in order to put them in jail for sending an email. It is difficult for him to do that. The Criminal Code will not apply in this particular case. My colleague asked, what else can we do?
I suppose my question is slightly different, given your answer to Senator Brazeau. Are you aware if there has been a stakeholders' meeting in a national format where partners were brought together, that is, teachers, psychologists, people in the field such as the police, parents, and so on? Are you aware of anything like that having ever taken place in Canada? If so, can you share with us your observations on that?
Ms. Israel: Coming out of the 2011 report, The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children, one of the things we are conducting in the agency is the dissemination of that report in terms of some of the statistics that are available with respect to bullying, and now cyberbullying, and the whole effects of mental health, being the first report that has been specifically on the mental health of young adults and young children. There is a whole dissemination strategy that goes out. There are conversations that take place in the school setting, for example, and through the Joint Consortium for School Health. Each of those individual jurisdictions take it upon themselves to disseminate that information and have conversations.
With some of the other work we have done with Wendy Craig and others from Queen's University, a forum took place about a year ago where 400 students were brought together with educators and parents, et cetera, for conversations on bullying per se, and the effects that it has not only on the person being bullied but the bullies as well. Those are some of the fora that I know have taken place from a Public Health Agency perspective.
Mr. Sansfaçon: I am not aware of any from NCPC. Maybe I could find more from a historical perspective. I am not aware of any forum that would have dealt specifically with bullying.
As I mentioned in my presentation, we commissioned reports; some studies, including through the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, for example, the self-reported delinquency survey in Toronto, which also included elements of it, but this was more from a knowledge perspective. Otherwise, in terms of meeting with stakeholders on this issue, no, there have not been, to my recollection anyway.
Senator Harb: I suppose, Mr. Lesage, you have the same kind of response?
Mr. Lesage: We have meetings at the national level and partner with various organizations. I spoke of PREVNet earlier. We partner with the teachers' association and any other agency that allows us to get our awareness and education programs to children.
Senator Harb: From your perspective, it makes a lot of sense, for example, as a way to set up a national strategy on cyberbullying, which many of the witnesses told us we need, best practices and so on.
Would it be of help if, for example, the minister responsible for health were to initiate a national gathering and bring in all of the different brains, leaders and players from the different sectors together in one big room and have a day or two where we can come out with some sort of strategy? It strikes me now that because of the jurisdiction of the issue and where it is happening, there are way too many stakeholders and not everyone is speaking the same language. Everyone knows what the problem is but we do not seem to be coming together collectively.
Ms. Israel: One of the things that speaks to your point is the number and diversity of stakeholders who are involved in an issue like this. If you look at bullying, your committee has been studying this issue, and you see the multitudes of players — parents, schools, police, public health officials, et cetera. Ultimately, there could be debate in terms of the roles and responsibilities of those players or the effectiveness of coming up with a strategy. From the public health perspective, we have put our emphasis on prevention of bullying to begin with.
What is it that could prevent someone from deciding to become a bully? There are many factors involved, including the need to promote positive mental health and positive relationships. Some of the research has shown that successful interventions come from the perspective of being able to communicate openly. Individuals can be reluctant to communicate openly or to bring issues in a transparent, open way.
The Mental Health Commission has been studying this and will be releasing its strategy. It is getting a lot of attention in the media. It has talked about those positive, protective factors that my colleague Mr. Sansfaçon was talking about.
From the standpoint of bullying as an issue like so many public health issues, it goes deeper than might be on the surface and as we come to understand what works and what does not work, much of it has been around positive mental health and being aware of the need to talk about things in a transparent way, which is what a lot of educational institutions and educational settings are looking at.
Mr. Sansfaçon: If I may add, from the crime prevention perspective, and I admit this is more specific in a sense than bullying, or less so, and bullying being more specific, but many of the same risk factors will apply to those who will eventually become bullies in the more systematic way to those who will eventually develop tendencies for later delinquency.
Also, without commenting on whether it might be pertinent, for example, for the Minister of Health to convene a table of the stakeholders, I can say from the crime prevention perspective that federal, provincial and territorial ministers of justice and public safety, at one of their recent meetings in Charlottetown, made crime prevention a priority issue for this country. Therefore, there will be more sharing of information as well as, hopefully, the development of even more evidence-based practices that will help prevent all these trajectories that lead, not only to delinquency, but also more specifically to bullying.
Senator Ataullahjan: My question for Public Safety Canada is this: Have you specifically looked at youth to the age of 15? Previous witnesses we heard told us something surprising: I thought behaviour like bullying and cyberbullying would stop in university, but apparently that is not the case. I would like your comments on that. Is it just that you looked at younger youth and did not touch on the older students?
Ms. Israel: We look at youth writ large, but you are quite right that research has found that bullying does not stop simply at adolescence. If someone has a tendency to be a bully in the teenage years, then unless something happens and allows them to realize the error of their ways, they would continue into adulthood. That is what our research shows.
Senator Ataullahjan: How important is peer support in stopping bullying and cyberbullying?
Ms. Israel: Our research has shown that peer support is very important. Research has shown that the ability of developing a sense of leadership and trust is critical. The WITS program has been found to be successful because it is done in conjunction with peers.
Youth and adolescents understand that their leadership role is not only to look at an educator or to look at a parent; they themselves have a voice. If they see something happening — if they see a child or a friend suffering from being bullied — they have a responsibility to tell someone, especially when it comes to cyberbullying, which happens through texting.
We think of it as being quite obvious that youth would feel empowered or have an ability to say something. However, with each emerging public health issue, whether it is abuse, bullying or cyberbullying, students or young people need to be taught that they do have voices. It is learning how to use that voice and how to be safe in using that voice that ends up being the most successful.
Senator Ataullahjan: Is it also true that generally, when the peers speak up, that most times the bullying stops, if they speak up within the first short while after an incident?
Ms. Israel: Sure. Some of our research has shown that the earlier you intervene, the better it will be at stopping the incidents of bullying. Sometimes the courage to be able to speak up and to be able to not worry about the effects of doing so is difficult. Peer pressure is quite extensive at younger and younger ages and at younger stages.
You are quite right that research has shown that the earlier you intervene, the better the likelihood that you will have success in stopping the bullying.
Senator Ataullahjan: For Public Safety, how are the current anti-bullying programs faring, and how effective is the whole school approach? Is there a need for a national anti-bullying initiative?
In your presentation, you spoke about studies revealing that "40 per cent of the boys and 31 per cent of the girls who frequently bully are also involved in delinquent behaviour.'' For kids who bully, is it part of their lifestyle? Are these children more and more involved in alcohol abuse and drugs? Does your research support that?
Mr. Sansfaçon: On the first question regarding the most effective practices, it appears that, among others, the whole school approaches are quite effective — for example, the bullying prevention programs are very effective — as would be, most likely, the more targeted programs. Those are the ones that will try to focus more specifically on those who do seem to show systematic tendencies.
This is the segue to your next question, too. These youth are the ones who, on a repeat basis, do these types of bullying behaviour and they are at higher risk of turning to delinquency. As you pointed out, this becomes, in a sense, a lifestyle. They do have other risk factors, such as early substance use and, in particular, frequenting delinquent peers. Just as having positive reinforcement from peers can be a protective factor, frequenting delinquent peers will be a risk factor.
The culmination of these risk factors ends up creating a kind of lifestyle. The risks are that this will become entrenched, although not for everybody. This also, therefore, points to the need to have programming that focuses particularly on these youth. Otherwise, not only will they go beyond the age 16, 17 or 18 when it might peak and continue these behaviours when they are adults, but they may also commit other types of offences and potentially more serious offences, because of the multiplicity of the risk factors that they demonstrate.
Senator Ataullahjan: My next question is for the RCMP. In your experience, have there been many criminal offences related to cyberbullying in Canada? Do you know of the latest statistics or trends on this issue?
Mr. Lesage: Currently there are no statistics on the cyberbullying because the incidents are reported related to Criminal Code offences, and there are no Criminal Code offences for cyberbullying. It would fall within the other categories of the offences we would investigate, so we currently have no statistics for that right now.
Senator Zimmer: Looking at the other end of the culvert, how soon after the bullying starts is it reported? The longer you delay, the worse it gets and apprehension sets in with regard to reporting it. Do you have any research that says how quickly or how soon after it occurs that it is reported?
Mr. Lesage: The RCMP does not have any research on that; sorry.
Senator Zimmer: Thank you.
Senator Meredith: This question is for Mr. Lesage. Thank you so much; I used to work for a Mike LeSage; I know you are no relation.
I admire the work that the RCMP is doing in working with various police agencies, especially within the Greater Toronto Area, around youth violence and so on. The question keeps coming back to me in terms of just seeing the devastation that is caused to families when a message is sent and a child becomes quite disturbed by those messages — in some cases taking their lives. At what point do we draw the line and begin an investigation to ensure that the perpetrator is actually held responsible?
We heard from the previous witnesses about "teachable moments.'' When someone commits suicide, their lives are over. Someone goes on — sort of carries on with their life. What interventions are there between the time that the RCMP hears of certain cases and a suicide is committed that there is a tracking of those individuals, so they can be held responsible?
For me, I believe that is the crux of the matter here, going across the country: You cannot bring back that loved one, but somehow there must be some consequences. Yes, we have an opportunity within the education system.
We have heard about it before: administrators feeling overwhelmed, teachers not being adequately trained, guidance counsellors not being in a position to deal with these issues, but yet they are very important.
At what point do we begin to say that we need to hold people responsible?
Mr. Lesage: I think the earlier the better. With the education and awareness programs, it will give kids and youth the ability to report these crimes as early as possible.
The second part of your question, if I understand it correctly, is how long after the fact? If an offence has been committed, we can go back as long as the service providers would have that type of information on their servers if it was done through the Internet. It can go back quite a period of time, but it depends on the different providers and how long they keep the data.
With a lot of the incidents, if they are reported immediately, the police can contact the service providers to preserve whatever data is on that until we have the opportunity to come back with a judicial authorization to obtain that information.
Senator Meredith: Walk us through that process. Enlighten myself and the other members — Senator White will be very abreast of this — in terms of the procedural aspect of things. When a case is brought to your attention and saying, "Here are the facts,'' so that individual can be criminally charged, walk us through that procedure, if you could.
Mr. Lesage: It would all start with a complaint to the police, to the area of local jurisdiction, depending on where it was. Once a complaint is initiated, that is when the investigation would begin. It would begin immediately.
It would start by trying to pull the information — as much information as we could or as the police could on the offence — on how it was done and are there any other witnesses to interview? It would go along that route. If there was an offence committed over the Internet, the police would contact certain service providers or phones would be looked at. We would look at telephone company service providers and gain that evidence.
As I said, there is such a wide variety of how they would go, but generally the police try to gain as much evidence as possible that we could present in court.
Senator Meredith: Ms. Israel indicated that Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child emphasizes the need for member states to take appropriate measures to protect our children.
Where do you see Canada today? Are we doing enough when it comes to cyberbullying and physical bullying within our educational system? Are we doing enough to ensure that we are fulfilling this article?
Ms. Israel: There is so much around issues; cyberbullying and bullying are the types of issues that are emerging and have started to gain ground over the course of the last five years, as colleagues will be able to testify. As with any public health issue, the first critical thing to do is to raise awareness. As you correctly noted, you do not want to end up at the end, which is in a suicidal state.
Provinces and territories are certainly aware of this issue. At the federal level, we do what we can. However, in order to prevent the issue from arising, it really does require a multi-sectoral approach. It is like you say and like you see; it is not only the police or governments. There is a wide variety of involvement in order to be able to address this.
Generally, over the course of the last five years with Canada — when compared to other countries — there is an awareness of the importance of the issue. I think many provinces and territories are taking steps to be able to address it. As with any public health issue there is always the perception that more would need to be done.
Senator Meredith: Mr. Sansfaçon would you like to comment on that, please?
Mr. Sansfaçon: It is always difficult to compare one country to another and to determine whether Canada should do more in this regard.
Generally in regards to youth crime statistics, indications would be that, first, we have rates that are in reduction and second, we have rates that compare quite well to those of other countries. With regard to the types of interventions done similarly in my domain of crime prevention for example, we certainly have a strategy, knowledge, tools, engagement strategies with stakeholders that I would argue would put Canada at the forefront internationally. We can probably do more, but certainly to my knowledge — with regard to the domain of crime preference — our country is one of the leaders.
Senator Meredith: We heard previous witnesses talk about providing the resources and not the punitive measures of zero tolerance or cross-jurisdiction, but ensuring that proper resources are being put forth.
I would like you to comment from the RCMP standpoint. We have done a lot of work with improving technology and capacities within various police detachments. However, from the police, Health Canada and the public service sector, are we ensuring that we are doing what we can in terms of the resources that need to be put up front so that we are not looking at the back end — which is always what we tend to do — which is more reactive than preventive?
Ms. Israel: From the Minister of Health's perspective, the emphasis in recent years from her colleagues and provinces and territories has been exactly that. The declaration on prevention and promotion is something that all provinces and territories signed on to. Efforts to be able to raise greater attention and awareness on issues like mental health promotion and being able to develop some of those protective factors goes a long way in being able to have children communicate with their parents and parents communicate with their children on, in essence, what is right and what is wrong.
I think more that emphasis is placed on the front end, like you say, and recognizing that treatment and care is important as well. In this case, I think the need to raise attention at the front end is something that is being pursued.
Mr. Lesage: The RCMP welcomes every resource that the government has to offer us to help prevent crime. However, resourcing can sometimes be challenging. We employ a number of existing strategies to work effectively with the existing resources by redistributing them through our priorities.
One of the RCMP's five priorities is youth.
Mr. Sansfaçon: From the crime prevention perspective, clearly we do not know how much is actually invested throughout the country. We would need to include, for example, the strategies adopted by provinces; Nova Scotia recently adopted one, Quebec has revamped its own, and so on. We do not have the total tally of all the monies that would be invested in crime prevention generally, or for that matter, in the prevention of bullying.
Sufficed to say that sometimes it may not be so much a question of how much is actually invested, but to what end it is invested. In particular, there is a need that we would promote in the NCPC to advance evidence-based preventive interventions so as to have the maximum impact possible with limited resources, because there are limited resources.
We think that by developing, disseminating and promoting the use of evidence-based practices we can then maximize the use of limited financial resources.
Senator White: Some could argue that the criminal harassment section of the code is not used for cyberbullying or bullying in general because it specifically refers to contact, whether it is physical or through email.
Do you have any comments to make as to whether or not it could be used more often or in a more fulsome way?
You have identified what I see to be a lack of legislation when it comes to accessing information, in particular, from ISP providers. I guess the question is whether you think Bill C-30, which is presently in committee at the House of Commons, would have in some way allowed us greater access to the information from ISP providers; and second, whether the retention requirements in that legislation also would have satisfied what you identified as a lack of legislative authority in the country.
Mr. Lesage: On the first question on criminal harassment, I think you would have to look at each case individually. We would have to follow the evidence as to how we would pursue the investigation. I know there are a number of issues. The police would just do the investigation, and the ultimate prosecution is left with the Crown prosecutors.
Senator White: I am always fearful because some states in the United States have actually enacted more legislation to do what I would argue the criminal harassment legislation in Canada already does. I am always fearful that if we identify a lack of legislative authority, that in some case it is not necessarily because it is not there; it is because we are not using it. That is my greater concern.
The second point is on accessing ISP providers.
Mr. Lesage: I have no information on that. I did not come prepared to answer any questions on that bill.
Senator White: Would anyone else like to answer? You may or may not be familiar with Bill C-30, which is the legislation that would allow greater access for police agencies and others when it comes to ISP providers and more immediate access to information and retention requirements that were identified.
Mr. Sansfaçon: I would not be in a position to comment on this bill of law.
Mr. Brazeau: I want to come back to the data collection again. Mr. Lesage, you mentioned that the RCMP has no such data on some of the complaints and investigations that are conducted. Could you perhaps elaborate on why not?
Mr. Lesage: The Uniform Crime Reporting Survey is a computer system that the police use. It collects statistics based on offences. For cyberbullying, the closest would be uttering a threat. The offence would be linked to uttering threats or criminal harassment, so it would not be specific to cyberbullying. In our system, we report only on criminal offences.
Mr. Brazeau: Perhaps it is the fact that I may not know how your system works in terms of data collection, but I was just looking at the kit that you provided specifically for Aboriginal communities, information on bullying and cyberbullying; and if the RCMP is not collecting any data or cannot report back on incidences of complaints of cyberbullying, then how can First Nations people feel comfortable in going to the RCMP?
Let me provide a bit of context. As you are well aware, there are First Nations communities that work well with the RCMP; in some parts of the country there is more reluctance, for whatever reason. How can we give the assurance to parents and others to feel good about maybe going to the RCMP and providing a complaint of cyberbullying? At the same time, if the RCMP cannot respond back with respect to what they have been doing, how many complaints have been submitted, how many investigations were conducted and how many people were punished in some way, shape or form, how can we give them that assurance?
Mr. Lesage: We look at it from each investigation to charges laid. We would be able to deal with those specific cases. Through Deal.org, our prevention website, we track the number of visits to certain cyberbullying fact sheets. We would track those visits. For the local areas, we would have to rely on our front-line police officers, who would make the connection with the communities.
For the RCMP, another one of our priorities is the Aboriginal policing. On a national level, we promote many of these crime prevention initiatives and provide them nationally to our Aboriginal policing sections within the country. We also work with some of the stand-alone police forces in Ontario.
Senator White: In line with Senator Brazeau, if I may. Under the UCR survey, there is also UCR2, which allows you to gather data survey data, which is not criminal in nature but secondary in nature, specific to incidents or people. If there were a survey code put in place for the incidents you referred to earlier, it could be linked directly and allow for the later search of cyberbullying; is that correct?
Mr. Lesage: I think it could be. It would be to deal with computer crime. We would have to go back to a computer crime variable, I believe it is called, and we would track it that way.
Senator White: We could make a recommendation to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics to look at a survey code. That is how it is done. Survey codes are added, whether it is alcohol related or young offenders. We have done it by race, by individuals, and by incident, so it could be done, I guess. I am not suggesting it is; I am not even suggesting it should have been. I am trying to assist in responding to Senator Brazeau.
Mr. Lesage: From my knowledge of it, it could.
Senator Zimmer: To carry the line of questioning, would the charge be criminal harassment? What specifically would the charge be?
Mr. Lesage: It would depend on the offence. If it had to do with a threat, it would be uttering threats. If it was ongoing emails, it could be criminal harassment.
Senator Zimmer: What if it was straight bullying?
Mr. Lesage: We would have to look at the offence, how it was committed. Through our investigation, we would obtain statements. We have to link all our investigations to a criminal offence.
Senator Zimmer: You would look to see how severe it is and the repetitiveness and all of that?
Mr. Lesage: We would take that into account. We would build our evidence to which offence. We would identify an offence based on our first interactions and statements and investigate through there, whether it is through witness statements or through the Internet, trying to obtain any of the data. It would depend on where the evidence led us.
Senator Andreychuk: I am a bit confused. You say that you could add cyberbullying as a subset to what you collect now. However, you are saying that it is not cyberbullying that you are collecting; you are collecting existing offences, whether they are under separate legislation or the Criminal Code, because there are some other quasi-criminal statutes. How would you do a subset?
Mr. Lesage: It is under the Uniform Crime Reporting. It is within the way we collect our data. There could be a variance. For example, computer crime; from my understanding, it adds an extra search capability. You would add a computer crime variable. The offence of an utter threat or criminal harassment, when it is linked to a computer, would be tracked.
Senator Andreychuk: That is my point. It would still have to be harassment, as the section is in the Criminal Code.
Mr. Lesage: That is correct.
Senator Andreychuk: So it would not be cyberbullying; it would be the criminal offences. Would that not be misleading? There is cyberbullying going on. There is not zero tolerance within schools and parents and communities, so you will pick up some statistics but not all the statistics. You might, at best, get the most severe because there was a criminal charge, but you would not have any idea what is going on in the community beyond that. That might mislead the public to think there are only these cases so it is not a big issue. What I am asking is, would that be a good way to go? You know what I think.
Mr. Lesage: It would only be one aspect that we could add to the search capability. That is from my best understanding of it.
The Chair: In the cooperation you have spoken about, you talked a lot about local, provincial or national cooperation. Is there any international cooperation on this issue by any of your departments?
Mr. Lesage: There is not, that I am aware of, specific to cyberbullying. However, the RCMP partners with a number of different agencies on crime prevention and we provide crime prevention education to other countries. We do teach, but specifically to cyberbullying, I cannot answer that.
Mr. Sansfaçon: Similarly, we cooperate with the likes of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime from the crime prevention perspective but, again, that is more general than specifically on bullying. To my knowledge, there is no specific international cooperation, at least from a prevention perspective, on this specific issue.
The Chair: I would appreciate all your opinions on a gender perspective. I will put all my questions.
Do boys and girls experience cyberbullying differently and who are more likely to be victims, boys or girls? Who are more likely to be perpetrators?
Ms. Israel: The research that I have shows that rates of cyberbullying are steady across grades 6 to 10 for girls, so 17 to 19 per cent, and increase slightly for boys.
Research would show that boys are more likely the perpetrators of cyberbullying and bullying writ large. From a gender-based perspective, that is what our research would show.
The Chair: Do you, Ms. Mulvihill, have anything to add to that?
Erin Mulvihill, Coordinator, RCMP Youth Engagement Section, National Crime Prevention Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police: No. We do not collect statistics.
Mr. Sansfaçon: That would also be generally what we have observed as well from available statistics. In terms of those who commit and those who are victims, in one survey of 1,150 students, 48.8 per cent of those reporting being involved in bullying were girls compared to 46 per cent of boys. As you see, there are similar percentages in either case, which by the way is very different from what we know from general delinquency patterns, where we know that boys are indeed way overrepresented in general delinquency statistics.
Senator Hubley: Ms. Israel, you have identified some of the negative health outcomes associated with bullying and cyberbullying and you have had research on both the victim and the bully. Could you elaborate on where the research was done and how it was gathered? If you might like to expand on that, it might be interesting.
It seems to be fairly serious in that research also suggests that there are long-lasting changes to the brain that can be directly attributed to bullying.
Ms. Israel: I will have to verify the statistics, but most of the work was done from the community Health Measures Survey of Statistics Canada. Some of the research was also drawn from the researchers at Queen's University. Often people think that there is no cause and effect when it comes to being bullied, but the repercussions are not only felt from the physical side but also from the mental and emotional side. That is where you see some of the mood disorders arise, certainly in those who have been victims of bullying; and our research is showing that depression and anxiety are manifesting at younger ages.
This is more anecdotal than anything else. I would have to go back to the research. I think probably colleagues around the Senate table are also hearing about younger children who have access to texting or what have you and are experiencing that. The effects of it may not rear themselves until later ages and later stages, but they probably have their origins in being bullied as a youth.
The Chair: I want to say to Mr. Sansfaçon that it is good to have you back here in the Senate. We know that you were one of the main researchers on the illegal drug study under Senator Nolin. It is good to have you back here in another capacity, but back in the Senate.
I want to thank all of you for being here. As you can see, we are trying to gather information on this very difficult issue. We have a lot to reflect on, and your help makes our job easier.
(The committee adjourned.)