Thank you for your kind introduction.
I would also like to sincerely thank the Association of French Speaking Jurists for inviting me to participate in this important conversation on cyberbullying.
Young people across our country are confronted with a new challenge, one that many parents, educators and policy makers often have great difficulty understanding.
Bullying, which was once something young people encountered at school and on the playground, has now made its way into our homes by way of the Internet and electronic devices.
Today, in addition to the social, verbal and physical abuse many students are already forced to endure, cyberbullying is yet another form of harassment that continues to victimize our children.
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, conducted a study to better understand the scope of the problem of cyberbullying.
I’d like to begin by sharing some of the experiences and concerns that young people expressed to the Committee.
Shelby Anderson, a student at Springbank Middle School, said:
“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.”
Another young man, who appeared as an in camera witness, said:
“Every day of my life ever since I joined this school they have come on MSN and 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 say things like – you’re a fag, gay, stupid, loser, nigger, an asshole, ugly . . . “
Mariel Calvo, who also attends Springbank Middle School, told the Committee:
“The biggest difference between being bullied while in the classroom or playground and being cyberbullied is that we can be targets of cyberbullying 24/7, and that makes you feel as if there is no safe place.
Whenever you are at school or home, everywhere you go, you can be a target of this.
That puts a huge dent in your life, because you are always pretty shaken up by this and kind of scared.”
These are not my words or those of experts and observers.
They are the words of children who live with this problem every day.
I thought it was important to begin with these comments. They vividly describe what is going on away from school and the playground.
During its study, the Human Rights Committee heard from 60 witnesses including — for the first time in the Senate’s history — young people.
The witnesses who appeared before the Committee clarified the phenomenon of cyberbullying and helped us learn more about it.
Cyberbullying involves the use of electronic devices such as computers and cell phones to intimidate, embarrass, threaten or harass a person or group.
For example, sometimes inappropriate and hurtful comments are posted on Internet sites, embarrassing photos or videos are emailed, or harassing texts are sent by cellphone.
The anonymity permitted by certain forms of online social interaction can give the bullies a false impression that they can say anything they wish, no matter how hurtful, with little consequence for themselves or for the person they might have harmed.
Most frightening for many victims are the videos, photos and stories posted in social media that can be almost impossible to remove from the Internet.
As you can see, cyberbullying can be difficult to escape.
If the evidence of their having been bullied remains available online, it can continue to haunt victims well after the cyberbullying has stopped.
The children who appeared before the Committee really changed our way of looking at things. They encouraged us to consider solutions that take a whole-community approach.
The brave young people who told us their stories and the many experts who appeared said that everyone’s efforts should be focused on community-based awareness and prevention.
In its report Cyberbullying Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights examines the phenomenon of cyberbullying and its impact on young Canadians.
When preparing this presentation, I was asked to answer the following question:
What recommendations did the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights make in its report on cyberbullying?
To begin with, our six recommendations take into account that all members of the community have a role to play.
The Committee’s first recommendation is as follows:
The Committee recommends that the federal government work with provincial and territorial governments to help establish a coordinated strategy to address cyberbullying.
As I mentioned earlier, this national strategy should take a whole-community approach.
Everyone has a role to play: children, parents, schools, volunteers, social service providers, corporations and businesses, legislators and government officials, policy advisors and other participants in society.
Witnesses said that provinces are “reinventing the wheel” by developing their own anti-bullying programs and laws, rather than sharing best practices and research.
The problem calls for some form of nationally coordinated action to address cyberbullying.
We should, for example, ensure that anti-cyberbullying programs and resources are available in every region.
The Committee recommends that the promotion of human rights education and digital citizenship be a key component of any coordinated strategy to address cyberbullying developed in partnership by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.
Many witnesses told the Committee that not enough time was being spent in schools on developing healthy social skills and ethical behaviour.
The breakdown in interpersonal relationships that several witnesses believe is manifesting itself through cyberbullying and other forms of inappropriate online behaviour is a specific challenge for the present generation of children.
A practical step suggested by witnesses, and supported by the Committee, is for schools, school boards and ministries of education to make sure that digital citizenship and human rights form an essential part of school curricula throughout a child’s education.
The Committee recommends that the promotion of restorative justice initiatives be a key component of any coordinated strategy to address cyberbullying developed in partnership by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.
Cyberbullying incidents can range in severity from inappropriate comments on a social media site to criminal harassment.
Inappropriate behaviour in any form requires an appropriate response.
According to witnesses, the most appropriate response involves restorative justice practices.
They are more likely to be successful not only in dealing with individual bullying cases, but also in helping to transform school and community cultures that support bullying behaviours.
For example, we should be promoting training in this area for all stakeholders, particularly teachers.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada prioritize working with relevant industry stakeholders to make the Internet safer for children and support these stakeholders in finding ways for removing and monitoring offensive, defamatory or otherwise illegal online content in a manner that respects privacy, freedom of expression and other relevant rights.
Another concern that was expressed frequently during our hearings was how difficult it can be to have cyberbullying messages, photos and videos removed from the Internet.
The Committee believes that the federal government should work with stakeholders to find better ways of making the Internet a safer place.
Some witnesses suggested introducing better ways to report inappropriate or offensive material on social media sites and have it removed.
The Committee recommends that the federal government explore the possibility of working with the provinces and territories to establish a task force whose terms of reference would be to define cyberbullying and to establish a uniform manner of monitoring it nationally.
The absence of an accepted definition of cyberbullying is a genuine obstacle that prevents us from fully understanding the scope, severity, causes and consequences of the phenomenon.
In light of the evidence heard, it is the Committee’s view that we need to develop a unified definition of the problem and a unified way of monitoring it.
This would enable us to explain to young people and adults what cyberbullying is and how it manifests itself.
The Committee recommends that the federal government work with the provinces and territories to support long-term research initiatives to enhance our understanding of the phenomenon of cyberbullying and to provide us with information about gender differences, risk factors and protective factors linked to cyberbullying and about the influence of information and communication technologies on the social and emotional development of young people.
Speaking before the Committee, Marla Israel described the situation as follows:
“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.”
We are fortunate in Canada to have prolific researchers in the field of cyberbullying.
We must give them the tools they need to move research on cyberbullying forward, and to identify the most effective ways of preventing bullying and promoting healthy relationships.
These recommendations were prepared at the end of our study on cyberbullying.
We should bear in mind that witnesses emphasized there is no “quick fix” for cyberbullying.
The whole-community approach requires a long-term commitment before we see any results.
We also have to remember that there is no “one size fits all” anti-bullying program.
What works well in one region or country may not work in another.
Canada’s diversity may pose certain challenges, but it is also our strength.
The whole-community approach to cyberbullying is about embracing our diversity, engaging our various communities and learning to appreciate individual differences.
And so a national strategy involving all citizens will eventually reduce the impacts of cyberbullying and promote the positive social values to combat it.
Cyberbullying is an issue that concerns all Canadians, and the federal government has an important role to play in addressing it.
Reactionary policies, like zero-tolerance and other mandatory punitive measures, haven’t worked.
That is why we believe our recommendations are important.
Our Committee heard from several young people who testified behind closed doors.
They had all experienced cyberbullying in some form.
Their testimony was extremely compelling, and had a huge impact on all senators during our deliberations.
I want to close with a quote from a young person who appeared as in camera witness before our Committee.
When asked about how to best address cyberbullying, here’s what this young person told us:
“I think we need to start getting this out to younger kids and really educating that the Internet is not just a place where you can go and do whatever, say whatever, act however, post whatever you want. It is so deeply engrained that we need to be educating kids about responsible use of the Internet and what is ok to say and why.”
Thank you, and I look forward to taking your questions.