Bullying issue under examination

(Graphic by Wade Thompson)

Bullying has recently resurfaced as a serious issue in the public eye. Despite the active efforts of parents, teachers, administration and the government, many have voiced the opinion that further steps need to be taken to advance bullying preventative measures.

With the recent suicide of Amanda Todd, a native of British Columbia, concerns over the effectiveness of programs that are in place to combat bullying are being discussed by both the media and the government. The 15 year old took her own life on Oct. 10 after facing bullying and harrassment online.

“The government of Canada takes the issue of bullying very seriously and a number of departments and agencies provide anti-bullying programs and information,” said Jessica Slack, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Safety, in an e-mail.

Slack went on to explain that the government has invested tremendous amounts of money into combating the issue of bullying through some major departments including the Public Health Agency of Canada, the RCMP and Public Safety Canada.

What has emerged as a relatively new concern in the communication age is cyber-bullying.

Slack explained that the government has actively invested in cybertip.ca, in order to adequately address concerns of self and peer exploitation.

“We have addressed cyber bullying, as it is a recent issue. What we’ve done is we’ve held parent-teacher nights, at those we have a member of the Toronto Police come in, and he is a social media expert, this is his forte and job. He addresses the issue to parents, so they can help at home, as well as teachers who can help in the school environment,” said Christine Nicholson, the program co-ordinator of education programs at the Argos Foundation, which is an organization of the Toronto Argonauts Football Club.

The Argonauts run a bullying awareness and anti-bullying campaign across regions in and around the Toronto area, and as far away as Muskoka.

In-school programs involve meetings with groups of students chosen by administration who then work toward starting a bullying prevention campaign with their fellow classmates.

In terms of who tends to be the victim in situations of bullying, Nicholson explained, “I think anyone can be a target. We try to pick students for the committee who are influential, and perhaps those who have been bullied.”

Despite the numerous independent anti-bullying programs, there has been criticism aimed at the Canadian government for the lack of a national initiative against bullying.

The Government of Alberta has answered the calls for change, and has introduced Bill 3: the Education Act 2012. This bill is intended to replace the current School Act. Some of the changes in this bill include an actual explicit definition of bullying being incorporated in the legislation, and provisions outlining students’ responsibilities, as well as parental obligations regarding the conduct of their children.

“The language in the Education Act speaks to a move away from ‘zero tolerance’ language and policies, which have proven to be ineffective in the United States and other provinces in Canada,” explained Lori Mandrusiak, senior manager with the Cross-Ministry Services Branch for the government of Alberta.

“Instead, the Education Act requires individual circumstances to be considered and support provided for those impacted by inappropriate behaviour, as well as those who engage in inappropriate behaviour.”

Bullying-related tragedies have created awareness for the potential of legislation and assistance for youth through accessible bullying services.

“Our slogan is, ‘Be a friend, support, report and defend.’ We try to encourage students to support those who they see bullied, and stand up when they see something happening,” concluded Nicholson.

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