Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 148, Issue 131

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Study on Issue of Cyberbullying

Ninth Report of Human Rights Committee and Request for Government Response—Debate Adjourned

The Senate proceeded to consideration of the ninth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights entitled:Cyberbullying Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age, tabled in the Senate on December 12, 2012.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer moved:

That the ninth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, entitled Cyberbullying Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age tabled in the Senate on Wednesday, December 12, 2012, be adopted and that, pursuant to rule 12-24.(1), the Senate requests a complete and detailed response from the government, with the Minister of Public Safety being identified as the minister responsible for responding to the report, in consultation with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and the Minister of Health.

She said: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on the report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights on cyberbullying. The name of the report is Cyberbullying Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age.


Cyberbullying Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age.


In November 2011, the Senate authorized the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights to examine the report on the issue of cyberbullying in Canada, with regard to its international human rights and obligations under Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Before I proceed, I want to sincerely thank Senator Ataullahjan for bringing forward this order of reference and for her tireless efforts on this issue.

Honourable senators, the Human Rights Committee heard from 60 witnesses regarding this study, including, for the first time in the Senate’s history, young people during both public and in camera hearings. The young people really changed our perspective. They encouraged us to look at solutions achieved through the participation of the entire community. Our report calls for a whole-of-community approach to cyberbullying. Our six recommendations reflect the notion that all community members have a role to play.

The report highlights witness testimony about the need for students, parents, teachers and communities to develop and adopt a concept of digital citizenship.

Finally, the report reflects the committee’s rights-based approach to studying cyberbullying. According to that approach, all children have equal rights and must be active participants in the development of those rights. Our rights-based approach also emphasized the state’s responsibility to ensure those rights.

According to Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the federal government has a responsibility to protect Canada’s children from physical and mental violence.


During our study, we heard from more than 60 witnesses, including university researchers, volunteers, website operators, departments, non-governmental organizations, teachers and, of course, teenagers.


These courageous young people who came to tell us their stories and the many experts in this field told us that our efforts should focus on awareness and prevention.

Everyone must be involved in the fight against cyberbullying, and everyone has a role to play in promoting what is known as digital citizenship.

What we must do is create an environment where cyberbullying is unacceptable and considered a human rights violation. Parents, schools, public authorities, non-governmental organizations, private businesses, Internet service providers and young people themselves all have a role to play.

We examined cyberbullying as a violation of the human rights of children, as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Canada has signed.

We are asking the federal government to work with the provinces and territories on coordinating an anti-bullying strategy that includes a plan to increase awareness of cyberbullying across the country and support programs for children and parents.


I want to share some of the voices we heard during the hearing. Shelby Anderson, a student from Springbank Middle School told the committee:

Cyberbullying is everywhere, and it really hurts. It makes you want to crawl in a hole and just stay there. It makes you feel like you are the only one and no one is out there to help you; no one can help you.

Families need to know that there are services and supports available to them, no matter which part of the country they live in. They need to be confident that the appropriate programs are being offered. We heard from some witnesses that implementing the wrong program for a particular community can do more harm than good. Programs are currently being delivered in a piecemeal fashion across Canada, meaning young people are often getting different messages about cyberbullying.

The lack of a common definition of “cyberbullying” also presents a challenge for researchers in sharing their findings. A coordinated strategy can offer researchers an opportunity to collaborate more effectively on efforts to better understand the impacts of cyberbullying on the social and emotional development of children. Further in-depth study can also determine gender differences, risk factors and other protective factors linked to cyberbullying.

This research can, in turn, help develop appropriate programs and services that can benefit the different types of communities and schools where bullying problems exist. It is important that we work harder to understand cyberbullying from the perspective of those whom it affects.

During a private committee hearing, one witness gave the following testimony:

Every day of my life, ever since I joined this school, they have come on MSN and they have started making fun of me. This all started when I was in Grade 9. These girls would come online and start making fun of me. They would call me names and say things like “you are a fag, gay, stupid, loser, nigger, ugly.

A teacher by the name of Bill Belsey told the committee, “The use of technology is like the air that this generation breathes.”

When cyberbullying hurts, it is an all-consuming, constant hurt. As the committee heard time and time again, cyberbullying happens 24-7.


We are also asking the federal government to work more with the industry to make the Internet safer for children, including by finding ways to monitor and remove offensive, defamatory or otherwise illegal online content in a manner that respects privacy, freedom of expression and other relevant rights.


Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that presents a new challenge for young people due to the complexities of growing up in the digital era. They are navigating a cyberworld of ever-changing frontiers and possibilities while parents and caregivers are often unaware of the significant role that the Internet and mobile devices can play in their lives. Each new generation faces challenges that the older generation struggles to comprehend.

For young people, technology shapes the way they access information, interact with one another, and define themselves as individuals. Yet, many do not fully understand the short- or long-term consequences of their online actions on themselves or others and do not heed to the maxim “think before you post.”

We learned from young people that, for those who are cyberbullied, it sometimes feels like there is no escape. Many suffer in silence for fear that parents will take away their Internet access or smart phone. For them, this would mean being cut off from a big part of their social lives. It can be hard for them to know where to turn for help.

As adults, we need to ensure that the support they need is there for them. Parents and caregivers have a key part to play in protecting children from the hands of cyberbullies and in encouraging positive online experiences. We heard from more than one witness that parents would not buy their child a car and hand over the keys without making sure they had driver’s training first. Unfortunately, many people buy their child a smart phone without preparing them for the risks that come along with the opportunities.

Parents and caregivers may not have the same level of Internet knowledge and digital skills that their children have, but, as many of our expert witnesses pointed out, one thing parents and caregivers can offer is open and honest communication so that young people feel free to talk about what they are experiencing.


Experts have said that the behaviour that children observe at home can serve as a model for their lives online, for better or for worse.

If children learn to respect others and themselves and there is an atmosphere of tolerance and openness at home, it is more than likely that they will have the tools they need to avoid falling into the trap of cyberbullying, whether it be as a victim, a bully or a passive witness who watches without getting involved.

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we have an obligation to protect children from physical and mental violence, including cyberbullying. Cyberbullying violates children’s right to be treated fairly and protected from discrimination, no matter who they are. When cyberbullying poisons the atmosphere at school and has a negative impact on children’s peace of mind, it violates their right to an education. If we treat children as individuals with their own rights, they will eventually understand their responsibilities in society.

Cyberbullying may seem like an insurmountable obstacle, but the good news is that there are schools and communities that have managed to combat bullying by implementing the right programs and making the long-term commitment to change behaviour.

We have learned that punishments at school, such as suspension and expulsion, are not likely to result in real changes in behaviour.


Restorative justice approaches, rights respecting, and empathy-building programs are more likely to transform school and community cultures where cyberbullying is a problem. These success stories are exactly why it is imperative to share best practices and evidence-based assessments concerning anti-cyberbullying programs and policies across jurisdictions. They encourage us to believe that things can change for the better.

Student Katie Allen explained:

It is much easier to insult someone over texts or Facebook because you do not see that look of hurt and betrayal on their face.

Witnesses told us that punishments and courtrooms do not change that culture, but restorative justice and empathy-building programs can, so that is where our committee believes that the whole community should focus its efforts. Professor Shelley Hymel, Educational and Counselling Psychology at UBC, told the committee:

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 to make children who bully accountable for their behaviour. 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.


Our committee learned that the teaching moment is absolutely essential, honourable senators. As Professor Hymel told our committee:

. . . 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.

Given that testimony and the testimony of so many other witnesses, honourable senators, our committee recommends a whole-of-community approach that emphasizes learning and prevention. The recommendations seek the participation of all members of the community. We recommend that the federal government work with provincial and territorial governments to establish a coordinated strategy to ensure the universality and equality of rights across Canada. We recommend that human rights education, digital citizenship and restorative justice initiatives form key components of that strategy so that students, parents and teachers can work together to prevent cyberbullying and promote positive relationships. We recommend that the government work with industry stakeholders to find ways to make the Internet safer for our children. We recommend that the federal government, together with the provincial and territorial governments, consider establishing a task force to define and monitor cyberbullying. Finally, honourable senators, we recommend that the government support research to improve our understanding of cyberbullying.

Our committee’s findings and recommendations reflect a complex problem that requires the active participation of every member of the community, especially youth. To ensure that Canadians of all ages have access to the important knowledge we gained during the course of this study, we created two companion guides.

Honourable senators, I know I have kept you waiting here today. I was anxious to deliver this speech as I have heard from many senators who wanted to know about these two companion guides so that during the holidays they could speak to young people in their communities and share these guides. These guides will be online. One of these guides is for parents and caregivers and one is for youth.

It was important for our committee to learn from young people, to hear their stories. They told us that even though cyberbullying may be discussed in the media, no one was speaking directly with them.

The Hon. the Speaker: I regret to inform the honourable senator that her time has expired.

Senator Jaffer: May I have an additional five minutes, please?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Jaffer: Our committee wanted to share the report’s findings directly with the young people from whom we heard and indeed with all young Canadians. We created for the first time in the Senate’s history a companion guide to our report written specifically for youth. We also recognized an opportunity to speak directly with parents and caregivers to share our findings, so we produced a second companion guide that puts the report’s finding in the context that is most relevant to them and that provides a tool for parents to initiate conversations with their children about cyberbullying. Our committee is very proud of these guides and we hope that they will be a useful resource for senators as they are travelling across the country, as well as for youth and parents.

Honourable senators, this study was a huge challenge and undertaking for our committee. I thank all committee members for their support; the deputy chair Senator Brazeau, Senator Andreychuk, Senator Ataullahjan, Senator Harb, Senator Hubley, Senator Ngo, Senator White and Senator Zimmer.

Honourable senators, we all recognize and appreciate that as senators we are part of the same team working to save Canadians. The work of our committee reflects on all senators, including those who are not part of the committee, so we thank you all for your support.

On behalf of the committee, I want to particularly thank the members of the steering committee of the Internal Economy Committee: Senator Tkachuk, Senator Furey and Senator Stewart Olsen, for their support in the production of our two companion guides. We also want to thank the members of the Subcommittee on Committee Budgets and International Travel: Senator Comeau, Senator Cordy and Senator Larry Smith, for their support and assistance in producing the two companion guides.

Honourable senators, I want to thank Daniel Charbonneau, and the clerk of the committee, and his assistant Debbie Larocque, for the yeoman’s job they have done to produce the companion guides. We all know how much work is involved in producing only one report. They went further in ensuring that the two guides were also produced.

I also want to thank Julian Walker and Lyne Casavan, the committee’s analysts, and the communications officer for our committee, Ceri Au, who went the extra mile. The companion guides were her idea.

By leveraging the Senate’s institutional Twitter feed and by using the correct hashtags, which are subject matter identifiers enhancing the potential audience of a Twitter message, honourable senators, I am pleased to tell you that the committee was able to reach an audience of over half a million users. The children and parents’ guides were also Ceri Au’s idea. Thank you all for your support.

Before I conclude, honourable senators, I want to express the committee’s gratitude and appreciation to the young people who shared their stories with us during the course of this study. Thanks to Mr. Belsey and his class at Springbank Middle School in Calgary who presented to us on the public record. I thank all of the young people who appeared before us in a very courageous way, both in camera and in public. They made a great difference to our study.

Documents Tabled

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I seek leave at this time to table the documents to which I have referred, Cyberbulling Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age, A Guide for Parents and Cyberbullying Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age, Youth Guide.

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, is leave granted for the tabling of the documents?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(On motion of Senator Carignan, debate adjourned.)


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