House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was criminal.

Topics

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

An hon. member

Not just the law.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Not just the law, the hon. member across the way says. I have to agree with him on that. Because he was not specific, I will not assume to what he was referring. I will just take it as a generalization and keep us in good spirits here.

I do think the point is made in terms of “the law is a ass”, and goes on to say, “a idiot” after that.

The fact remains that for Mr. Chen's point of view, this law is “a ass”. Here was a store owner, and as far as he was concerned, there was complete proof of who was stealing from him. When the person returned, Mr. Chen thought this was his chance to get at the source of the theft and stop the stealing. He knew the person, so he wanted to grab him before he came back to steal even more. Then, as we know, Mr. Chen ends up with all these charges and a potential criminal record. If he had been found guilty of those original charges, he would have been in a pile of trouble, probably doing time in a federal penitentiary, assuming there is one that is open.

Luckily, in this case one could say that our system actually worked. To recap, here is a situation. The grocery store owner went through these incidents, had taken the action he did, believing that he was completely in the right, doing exactly what he had a right to do to protect his property and his business from theft, only to discovery that he was the one who was in a lot of trouble because of, as the justice had talked about, highly technical, excessively detailed provisions deserving of much criticism. The law is “a ass”, and every now and then that is the case.

The only thing that would be worse is if nothing was done about it. If all that happened was that Mr. Chen had it resolved one way or another, it went off the front pages and out of the media, people did not talk about it anymore and we, the chamber of law making, did nothing. That, to me, would be an even bigger crime.

I think it is worth pointing out from the lay person's point of view that we had an incident. A citizen believed he was in the right, only to find out that due to the technicalities of the law, he was not within his rights. In fact, he was in a lot of trouble. As we know, Mr. Chen and his two accused were found not guilty of the charges of forcible confinement and assault on October 29, 2010. The person who stole pled guilty in August of 2009 to stealing from that store and he was given 30 days.

At the front end, where people live, things worked out, but, quite frankly, only because there was such a hue and cry across the land and the fact that the member for Trinity—Spadina took up this cause and said that it was not good enough that we allowed Mr. Chen to find justice in this case, that we needed to fix the law so no future Canadians would find themselves in a similar situation. When we discover a piece of law is “a ass”, we fix it so it is not. That is pretty much what we are doing here. It is actually a relatively good day for the Criminal Code of Canada, given the kind of abuse that it has taken from the government on the other side.

Mr. Chen got his justice. It would seem that the perpetrator of the crime got his justice, and hopefully he has turned his life around. Now we are in the process of finalizing the changes to the Criminal Code so no other Canadian has to go through what Mr. Chen did. It does not mean the law is perfect and it does not mean there will not be people who still find themselves in a bit of a jackpot, but at least the House, the standing committee, experts who were brought in, everybody focused as best they could on how to amend this law.

That was not necessarily easy. First, it is never good policy to be making laws around one issue. One has to be very careful when thinking of doing that. Second, there is a concern that if the law is reshaped too much in one direction, we could encourage, perhaps even make legal, activities that we do not want in our country, meaning that people will seek their own revenge. They will seek their own justice. There will be a vigilante kind of atmosphere around the changes. Therefore, one has to be very careful.

Again, not being a lawyer, I could not say exactly which words or clauses would do that. That is why we brought in experts. Most of the members in this place are not lawyers and that is why we take advantage of slowing down the work at committee, going through legislation clause-by-clause and asking experts, not just somebody who has an opinion but somebody who has an expert opinion, such as law professors, the law society, the whole list.

We brought those folks in and asked them questions such as: Did this do the job? If it did not, what would they recommend and why? We would ask the person sitting beside them, “You have heard something that's a little different, so what do you think about that?” With that give and take and working things through, it seems to us in the official opposition that we have a bill that actually meets that need. It is going to save the Mr. Chens of the future from having to go through what he went through, but we have not gone so far as to give a sense that any kind of vigilante activity, in the purest sense of vigilante, is not on. For all the problems that we have and all the fun and jokes about government and everything else, it really is nice to see.

In the end, we had an incident that was resolved with fairness and justice, and that is good. Now we have a bill that would amend the Criminal Code so hopefully it would not happen again, but we have been very careful about adjusting it so we do not go too far to suggest that vigilantism is okay in the country. All in all, finally, on the Criminal Code file, it was a good day at work.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Hamilton Centre will have five minutes remaining in the time allotted the next time the House resumes debate on this question and the usual 10 minutes for questions and comments.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

moved that Bill C-273, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cyberbullying), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure again to stand in the House to speak to this bill.

Bill C-273 is an act to amend the Criminal Code under the heading of cyberbullying. There are three sections of the Criminal Code that are applicable here and that are currently applicable.

The first is “Criminal Harassment”, which states:

No person shall, without lawful authority and knowing that another person is harassed or recklessly as to whether the other person is harassed, engage in conduct referred to in subsection (2) that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them.

That includes repeatedly communicating this criminal harassment, directly or indirectly, to the other person or anyone known to them and engaging in threatening conduct. It is an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

The second component of the Criminal Code that I need to talk about is section 298, which is about defamatory libel.

Defamatory libel is anything that is:

published, without lawful justification or excuse, that is likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him [or her] to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or that is designed to insult the person of or concerning whom it is published.

A defamatory libel may be published directly, by insinuation or irony, in words legibly marked upon any substance.

The third piece that I attempt to change is the one that speaks to the issue of false messaging, which states:

[Anyone] who, with intent to injure or alarm any person, conveys or causes or procures to be conveyed by letter, telegram, telephone, cable, radio or otherwise information that he [or she] knows is false is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

What I am attempting to do with these three areas is amend the Criminal Code by adding “using electronic messaging” and “using a computer” to be able to continue to do these three prohibited components in the Criminal Code.

Today, if we look at any of those issues, whether it be defamatory libel, et cetera, one cannot use a telephone to do it, one cannot print it on paper, one cannot say it to someone else or say it on the radio. However, we now have a new modern mode of communication called the computer or electronic media. People have been using that communications mode in order to commit these three prohibited criminal offences. What I intend to do is add the new communications mode, which is the computer or electronic messaging, to the Criminal Code.

I want to add that it is very important to understand that cyberbullying is not an age-related thing. Bullying may be age related, such as when somebody pushes somebody in the school, calls them a name, talks to people in the school and makes fun of them. That is the kind of bullying we are very familiar with in the playground and in the school. The thing about the new method of communications, via computer, electronic messaging and social messaging, is that the person can be of any age. It goes on in offices. A neighbour who may not like us or someone who knows us in political life or another life may try to spread information about a person at any age. The insidiousness of using this mode of communication is that it is there forever. We can be 90 years old and it is still there in social media, in a computer, set there for life, whatever it is these people did that fall under the subsections of the Criminal Code I am speaking about.

Students say to us that they are bullied in the schoolyard but when they go home they know they are safe, they are with their family and friends and they can escape the harassment and the statements people are making about them. Today, it is on people's BlackBerrys, iPhones or computers. It is inescapable. They can travel from Penticton to Bonn, Germany, and it follows them everywhere. Therefore, whatever happens with respect to cyberbullying is there forever and follows people wherever they go, to whatever corner of the earth and whatever age. That makes it an insidious, dangerous and permanent form of bullying.

It is a new phenomenon that is linked to advancements in technology. One can be bullied by mobile, wireless and the Internet. Bullying can happen by posting harmful, cruel text messages or images, by posting sensitive private information about another person, by pretending to be someone else to make a person look bad or by intentionally smearing someone from an online group. Bullying, no matter where it occurs, is about power, control and human relationships. The intent is to harass, degrade and inflict harm and fear. This is different from traditional bullying as it is done with anonymity. That is another piece of cyberbullying. It is anonymous. For example, it could be from somebody named joe@google.ca. One would have no idea who the person is. Therefore, anonymity is a problem.

As I said, the reach of the Internet is international, reaches around the world and endures over the course of one's life. There are many campaigns out there to combat bullying and many are in schools. Although this type of bullying is not age restricted, recent examples of the impact of bullying that we know about are mostly in schools. Quite often adults do not like to complain. It is shameful for them to know that somebody is bullying them and they do not know who is doing it. They try to hide it and keep it secret. Therefore, the data that has been collected so far has been from a lot of information collected in schools, but I will give one example outside of a school.

As with Jamie Hubley and the high-profile case of Tyler Clementi in the United States, cyberbullying can affect one's mental health, well-being, academic performance and ability to get a job. For people who were cyberbullied when they were 25 years old, if that was pulled up when they were trying get a promotion at age 50, it might be conceived as true and the answer to the promotion might be no. It affects every aspect of one's life.

A recent study by Jennifer Shapka at UBC found that children especially do not equate cyberbullying with traditional forms of bullying and that currently all of the anti-bullying techniques we have set up to deal with bullying do not work. They work for the traditional in-your-face bullying such as name-calling, shoving and pushing, but they do not actually work to prevent cyberbullying. We need to look at this as a real problem.

In the study of 17,000 Vancouver students, 30% reported taking part in cyberbullying compared to 12% who took part in real bullying. Only 12% take part in real bullying because they are identifiable and so most do not do it. However, they feel anonymous and safe when they cyberbully and so a larger percentage have been cyberbullying.

A startling revelation was that 95% said that what happens online is only intended as a joke. However, this joking does serious and permanent harm. Again, one of the problems with cyberbullying is that people have no way of knowing if it is a joke or not. They do not see facial expressions with cyberbullying nor do they see mannerisms. It is just a clear cut statement.

Another difference is the anonymity, as I said, and I want to reflect on that end of it. It means that anyone today can be a bully because they can hide behind that anonymity. It could be someone who everyone respects and thinks is a really neat person who is doing the bullying. The perception that a bully has to be more powerful, bigger or more popular applies only in one-on-one bullying in a school yard or face to face. It does not apply with online bullying.

Much of the content posted online can follow people for the rest of their lives. It never goes away, even after their death. Therefore, there are serious implications with cyberbullying, and one is that it can lead to suicide. I mentioned Tyler Clementi. He was a young gay student who took his life after his roommate at university video-recorded his personal relationship with another young male over the Internet. Shortly afterwards, Tyler jumped off a bridge. A court recently found Tyler's roommate guilty of a number of offences, including breach of privacy and hate crime.

Those types of bullying happen every day. I believe as legislators we have a responsibility to lead by example. That is why I have introduced this legislation that I hope all members will support. It does not create any new Criminal Code legislation. It uses the existing Criminal Code legislation, the sections that deal with defamatory libel, false messages and criminal harassment.

Adding electronic forms of communication to those sections would clarify cyberbullying in the same manner as traditional print, telecommunications, television and radio are also identified under these headings. Other jurisdictions are beginning to look at how to combat cyberbullying, and this is happening in the European Union now. Actually Nova Scotia is leading in Canada in looking at this issue.

No legislation can end bullying or cyberbullying, but this change would offer a protection to the victim and decrease the risk of cyberbullying because people would understand that there is a penalty attached to it and it would take away the powerlessness that the victim feels. There is nothing more effective than public awareness campaigns, programming in schools, et cetera, but this bill would raise awareness, encourage a debate and it would lead to a Criminal Code that is keeping pace with new advancements in technology.

I hope members will support this bill. I want to stress that this problem of cyberbullying is pervasive, is not limited to any age, will follow us through the rest of our life and is now happening in every environment, whether in Parliament or among office staff, friends or community advocates. People out there are engaging in cyberbullying constantly. I want to stress that this is not an age-related issue and it can harm people for the rest of their lives and even until after death. I know there are physical and psychological effects of cyberbullying, but the fact is that it is broader reaching than the schoolyard and the office. The damage and harm continues. It is forever there in cyberspace for anyone to see or to read.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 24th, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my Liberal colleague. I read her bill, and I understand why she felt compelled to introduce a new bill to fight cyberbullying, because since coming to power, the Conservative government has done nothing about bullying and cyberbullying.

I also remember that I asked a question in the House, and the parliamentary secretary answered that all the government could do was give money to provincial organizations. I find that utterly deplorable.

Does my Liberal colleague not believe that her bill will not help young people by preventing cyberbullying because by further criminalizing bullying, it will penalize bullies after the fact, not before? Where is the prevention element in this bill?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost this bill is supported by the Canadian Association of Police Boards and by the Canadian Teachers' Federation. I want to reiterate that this is not an age-related thing. We can go online right now on Twitter and see people saying things about people who we know, who we have heard of, who are public figures and not so public figures and who are our neighbours.

It is an important bill, and the member's question is whether it is going to be an after-the-fact thing. If people know that the punishment for doing something that is so extraordinarily damaging throughout people's lifetimes and wherever they go, it may be a preventive measure as well, because people would be afraid they would be found out. There are ways now to find out who is doing so. For instance, people can use a telephone under these three areas of the Criminal Code and the telephone company is forced to reveal who used a telephone to do that, under the Criminal Code. So it would be forced to reveal who the person is, especially when there is a result like suicide or something like that. It would—

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. I am sure there are other members who may wish to pose questions.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the member for Vancouver Centre for having a wonderful idea and bringing it to the floor of the House. Over the last number of years, the use of the Internet and cyberspace has grown rapidly. I wonder if the member could provide a comment on the fact that not only is her bill of great need today but, as we continue to move into the future and we see the potential that is there, there is potential good but also potential harm. She might want to reflect on this being a bill that the government would do well to adopt and ultimately pass.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I hope the government will pass this bill.

There are instances we have seen recently here within the House where people have had their private lives open to the public and have been harassed and bullied.

It would show too that we are moving forward with the times. Every form of communication is included under three sections within the Criminal Code, except this very new form of communication. All we are doing is adding it to the list of current forms of communication that are there already in the Criminal Code.

All I am saying is we just need to move up with the times. This is a new technology. It causes harm. No one can run and hide from it. There is no safe place. Everyone can read it, and it is forever haunting someone. I reiterate, even after death, one's family is harassed and is bullied by what is left there about that person and what was said about him or her.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-273, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cyberbullying).

This bill was introduced by the member for Vancouver Centre in September 2011. However, this is not the first time this issue has been brought to the attention of this House, as the member for Vancouver Centre previously introduced a similar private member's bill on the same topic in previous Parliaments.

I do not think I am alone when I say that I think cyberbullying is an issue which requires serious attention from this country's policy-makers and legislators.

Please allow me to take a moment to describe in a bit of detail what Bill C-273 aims to do. It is not a complicated bill. This bill seeks to amend three existing Criminal Code offences. Those offences are section 264, criminal harassment; section 298, defamatory libel; and section 372, false messages, indecent telephone calls and harassing telephone calls.

First, both the criminal harassment provision and the defamatory libel provision would be amended to add a “for greater certainty” provision to each of these offences. This provision would clarify that when the conduct that forms the basis of these offences is committed through the use of a computer or a group of interconnected computers, or in other words over the Internet, that behaviour would be captured by these offences.

The criminal harassment provision is also known as the stalking offence and, among other things, makes it an offence to engage in harassing conduct, knowing or reckless as to whether another person is harassed and which causes the other person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of someone known to him or her. As I said, Bill C-273 would clarify that harassing behaviour could be done through the use of a computer.

I think it is important to note that the courts have already interpreted section 264 of the Criminal Code as applying to conduct that is carried out through the use of computers or over the Internet. Therefore, section 264 as it is presently worded already applies.

As I mentioned, this bill also proposes to amend the definition of defamatory libel found in section 298 of the Criminal Code. The defamatory libel provision is intended to protect the reputation of an individual from matters which are published that could expose the person to hatred, contempt, ridicule or insult.

Bill C-273 would amend the definition found in section 298 to make it clear that this section would apply if the information was published by means of a computer or group of interconnected computers or related computers, the Internet.

Finally, as I previously mentioned, Bill C-273 would also amend section 372 of the Criminal Code, the false messages, indecent telephone calls and harassing telephone calls offence. Section 372 actually contains three criminal offences. First, false messages conveyed by letter, telegram, telephone, among other means. Second, indecent phone calls. Third, harassing phone calls.

Bill C-273 proposes to amend all three offences to extend the scope of the enumerated offences to include the use of computer systems or electronic communications.

The sponsor's stated goal of these proposed amendments is to target the growing use of cyberbullying, the act of bullying another individual through the use of a computer, computer system or the Internet. She indicates that this is a problem which affects over half of Canada's youth, whether they witness the bullying, are victims of bullying or are the bullies themselves.

The member for Vancouver Centre is not alone in recognizing the seriousness of the issue. There have been many attempts to ascertain to what extent bullying and cyberbullying is occurring in Canadian schools and playgrounds. For example, a survey of 2,186 students in the greater Toronto area, conducted by the University of Toronto School of Social Work in 2008, confirms the view that cyberbullying is a growing problem. The results of the survey indicated that in the month prior to the survey, 27% of the students polled, or 1 in 4, had been bullied online, and 35% of the students, or 1 out of every 3, reported that they had bullied someone else.

Another recent survey conducted in 2011 by the Nova Scotia cyberbullying task force found that 60% of Nova Scotian students indicated they had been bullied. As I mentioned previously, there is no doubt that cyberbullying and indeed bullying in its traditional forms should be carefully considered by policy-makers and lawmakers.

The goal of Bill C-273 is laudable and targets a very important issue which is having an increasing impact on Canada's youth.

I would however like to pause for a moment to consider whether the bill's focus on these three criminal offences is the best approach. There are other offences which could also apply in a situation of bullying that are not included in the bill, such as intimidation, section 423, or uttering death threats, section 264, or personation, also known as identity fraud, section 403. Any of these offences, if the facts permitted, could be used in a situation of bullying. Yet Bill C-273 does not propose similar amendments to these offences to clarify that they could be committed over the Internet or via telecommunications.

This leads me to wonder whether the amendments to the Criminal Code proposed by Bill C-273 are a complete response to this issue or if the issue requires further exploration. For example, if the clarification is added to only some of the applicable offences but not all, will there be any negative consequences? Would it lead courts to interpret these other offences as no longer applying when the conduct occurs through the use of a computer or a group of computers?

I also think we should consider whether the bill's focus on cyberbullying is the right focus. It might be useful at this time to explore in more detail the type of behaviour which can be described as bullying itself.

Bullying is defined in many different ways by many different people, but I think it is safe to say that bullying includes a wide range of behaviour that can include conduct such as insults, threats and physical aggression that are intended to reduce the targeted person's perceived power and that can have a physical and/or emotional impact on the targeted person.

Cyberbullying is used to refer to such conduct that is carried out through the use of new technologies, including the Internet. Bullying has been around for as long as human beings have socialized with each other. But the recent explosion of new technologies has created a new way to commit an old offence with increased speed, reach, prevalence, duration and impact on young people.

Cyberbullying provides the perpetrators with a sense of anonymity and follows the victims wherever they go. Victims of cyberbullying often report that when the bullying takes place online, the impact of the bullying is felt more profoundly.

As I am sure all members are aware, bullying and cyberbullying have been receiving much media attention over the past few years as high profile cases of teen suicide have been linked regrettably to this issue. These tragic cases highlight the importance of addressing the issue of bullying which is becoming of increasing importance to Canadians.

Once again I would like to thank the member for Vancouver Centre for bringing this important issue before us today. I hope that as we continue to consider Bill C-273 we can also consider some of the questions that I have posed.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the Liberals' Bill C-273, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cyberbullying). As I mentioned in the questions I asked my Liberal colleague, it is commendable to introduce a bill to move Canada forward and protect adult and youth victims of online cyberbullying. Still, many people believe that harsher punishment for cyberbullies may not be the best way to prevent cyberbullying. I will leave it up to each individual to consider that issue.

What I want to talk about today is the Conservative government's lack of leadership on the cyberbullying issue. Since coming to power, the Conservatives have done nothing to protect young people who are victims of bullying or cyberbullying. That is why my Liberal colleague felt the need to introduce a bill.

There are all kinds of things the Government of Canada could do. Even if the Conservative government does not agree with me, it has a role to play in fighting bullying and cyberbullying.

There is no magical solution to combat youth bullying. Nevertheless, every stakeholder has a role to play, whether it be the federal government, the provinces, the school boards, parents, the young people being bullied, or those that witness it. Everyone has a role to play in addressing this problem.

I am going to give the Conservative government some advice and offer good examples of what has been done by other countries that have decided to take a leadership role in the area of cyberbullying. I would advise my Conservative colleagues to take notes.

Finland has developed the KiVa program, generally considered one of the best national anti-bullying programs in the world. Education is at the heart of this program, and the objective is to encourage witnesses to take action and to put an end to bullying when they see it.

When bullying occurs, instead of removing the culprits from their environment, discussions are organized between the bully, his victim and other young witnesses. The focus is very much on including the community, broadly speaking, in efforts to combat bullying. Schools, for example, are subject to fines if they fail to deal with bullying. Bullies are also subject to fines, regardless of their age. I admit that in Canada, this is an area of provincial jurisdiction.

Here is another example that will perhaps better reflect the way things work in Canada. In United States, the U.S. government created the website www.stopbullying.gov, which provides information for the public on combatting bullying. Additionally, the government organized a White House conference on bullying prevention. I congratulate the American president, Barack Obama. In 2011, with a view to bringing together experts in the field, the government also organized an annual summit for federal partners who work in bullying prevention. The aim was to bring together key stakeholders in the fight against bullying. The stakeholders come from all levels of government and civil society, and they include parents and young advocates. The aim is to encourage co-operation and share best practices.

As a Canadian citizen and an NDP member, I would very much like my own Prime Minister to show as much leadership as the U.S. President. I live in hope, but I am still waiting.

Sweden is also a good example. This country really is a frontrunner in various social areas and has made a number of progressive breakthroughs. Since 1994, the federal government has required that every school develop a plan to fight bullying. It is the responsibility of school principals to ensure the plan is followed. This is something that concerns schools, but there are other things that the government can do. Unfortunately, over the last few years, cyberbullying has spread in society, particularly through social media. More and more young people are victims of cyberbullying.

There have been good initiatives at the provincial level, and I hope the federal government is doing everything it can to support them.

In Ontario, for instance, the Accepting Schools Act sets out potential consequences for bullying, which include expulsion. It also includes increased financial support for training on bullying prevention and encourages schools to create gay-straight alliances.

British Columbia is another leader in the fight against cyberbullying. In 2007, the provincial government gave school boards a mandate to establish policies to fight bullying.

That is a great pity, at the end of the day. It is now 2012, and the Conservative government has not yet put anything on the table. Besides, as far as I know, and I have discussed it with some Conservative MPs, nothing is expected to be put forward that will allow the Canadian government to finally take an active part against cyberbullying.

Coming back to British Columbia, not all of the school boards in the province took part in the initiative. The proposed codes of behaviour for students require that schools work closely with students and parents to fight bullying.

I could talk about many other things. Alberta’s Bill 206 contains some good initiatives. Nova Scotia, unfortunately because of the suicide of a student, Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, has also put forward a measure to respond to cyberbullying. Manitoba has been active on this issue since 2004. Quebec has also passed legislation that requires school boards to develop a plan to fight bullying.

There are many things that different levels of government and society are doing to take action and help young people who are victims of cyberbullying, because the ones who are victims of cyberbullying are primarily—we must admit—young people.

Several economic, government and social players have a role in this. Currently, the Government of Canada is still absent from the equation. We have no national plan to combat cyberbullying, or bullying in general, and no concrete government plan. It is quite deplorable.

I am going to tell my Conservative government what I want. What I want is for the federal government to clearly adopt a leadership role and work alongside the provinces, anti-bullying groups and other key stakeholders in order to address the issue of bullying, particularly, as I mentioned, among youth.

This means more than simply making changes to the Criminal Code; it also means developing a national strategy to fight bullying. Our communities need resources and programs to help them deal with the root causes of bullying.

This is why I will vote in favour of my Liberal colleague's bill. It is a step in the right direction, because currently, the federal government is doing nothing. I thank my colleague for her bill.

The notion of cyberbullying may be abstract to some people. I will try and define it by using the definition of Bill Belsey, who a decade ago created www.cyberbullying.org, an information-packed resource that for years has been providing support and assistance to the young victims of bullying. I would invite my colleagues to visit this website to see the good work that he does.

Cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm others. I agree entirely with this definition of cyberbullying because, at the end of the day, it involves aggressive behaviour that has very serious ramifications for our youth.

To establish a link with Bill C-213, I should point out that the public also agrees with criminalizing cyberbullying and including it in the Criminal Code. Indeed, an Angus Reid poll has revealed that 65% of Canadians believe that bullying should be considered a crime, even when it does not involve physical violence, while only 19% of Canadians think that bullying should be considered a crime only when it involves violence. Just 6% of Canadians believe that bullying should not be considered a crime. It is quite evident that the vast majority of Canadians support this type of initiative, because people realize that not enough is being done.

Clearly, it is not easy to know why our children are victims of bullying. There may be a number of clues: the child may lose interest in going to school, might be irritable, or may have trouble concentrating.

I will conclude with a sobering observation. People do not realize the extent to which young people are affected by bullying. An analysis of schools in the Toronto area showed that a child is a victim of bullying every seven seconds. It truly is an epidemic. We must at all costs mobilize and fight cyberbullying.

I conclude by saying that the NDP will be pleased to vote in favour of this bill. However, the federal government must do more.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-273, an act to amend the Criminal Code in relation to cyberbullying.

As my colleagues have noted in the debate thus far, Bill C-273 would amend the Criminal Code to broaden the scope of crimes constituting criminal harassment, defamatory libel and false messaging. My colleague, the member for Vancouver Centre, has explained the definitions with respect to each of these crimes. The current law provides, for example, that an individual is libel for false messaging if he or she deliberately spreads false information through the mediums of letter, telegram, telephone, cable, radio and the like. However, there is no provision that prohibits false messaging through the newest and most widely used medium, the Internet.

Before I proceed any further, I want to commend the hard work of my colleague, the member for Vancouver Centre, and her remarkable foresight in bringing this matter to public attention years ago and for her ongoing dedication to rectifying what is certainly a vital issue in our increasingly technologically-oriented Internet society.

With the proliferation of potential uses and abuses of the Internet, the crime of Internet harassment presents challenges for law enforcement personnel, legislators, educators, parents and the like. Indeed, given its immediacy, anonymity and accessibility, the Internet offers a forum, through social networking sites and the like, for harassment and other social ills committed against minors.

Accordingly, Bill C-273 is an important step in the right direction as the current legislation does not adequately protect Canadians and, in particular, young persons from such online abuse.

In 2009, Professors Faye Mishna and Robert MacFadden from the University of Toronto undertook a survey of roughly 2,200 students from 33 schools in the greater Toronto area in order to gauge the effects of cyberbullying. The results were alarming. They determined that over 50% of the students had been bullied online and that the bulk of cyberbullying occurred between students who attended the same school and knew each other in person. More important, the results revealed that individuals who would tend not to bully others face to face would be far more likely to engage in bullying over the Internet.

Professor Qing Li from the University of Calgary found that, as a result of the impersonal nature of the Internet, whereby we do not experience the same feelings of regret or shame that come hand-in-hand with personal interaction, not only are more people likely to engage in cyberbullying, but those who do so feel that they can say whatever they want without any fear of repercussion or sanction. Simply put, the ability to cloak oneself in the shadows of cyberspace removes barriers, decreases the likelihood of punishment and, thus, results in more bullying and more victims.

In a word, the veil of separation, distance and anonymity that the Internet provides has amplified the problem of bullying simply by expanding the arena of threat far wider than the public sphere to which it was once confined. Indeed, children who are victims of cyberbullying can no longer even seek refuge in the comfort of their own homes.

Addressing cyberbullying is an issue of the utmost importance, as has been set forth in the comments this evening. Protecting our youth is one of the most vital responsibilities that not only we as parliamentarians but society as a whole share: protecting, in effect, the most vulnerable among us. When I was minister of justice, the first piece of legislation that I tabled before the House at the time was a bill to protect children and other vulnerable persons. The bill then sought, as we do now, to provide protection for those who are the victims of such hateful and harmful crime.

Unfortunately, it is not always the case that legislation, criminal law in particular, is able to keep pace with the technological developments in our society. As I have said elsewhere, while science races, the law lags and very often the scientists beat the lawyers. The lack of comprehensive legislation in this regard, coupled with the lack of consequences for online bullies, only further enables cyberbullying by incentivizing online abuse as an alternative to physical bullying.

In 2009, Statistics Canada reported that eight out of ten Canadian households owned a computer and had access to the Internet and that the number of Canadian Internet users was increasing.

A recent study by comScore found that Canada continues to lead the world in online engagement, with visitors spending an average of 45 hours per month online.

The statistics about cyberbullying are particularly troubling and I do not wish to repeat many of the numbers we have heard this evening. I want to focus on two high-profile cases that arose from the U.S. and illustrate quite vividly the problem that this legislation seeks to address.

The first is the tragic case of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old Missouri girl who committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying. What is so shocking about Megan's case is that the bullying was not at the hands of one of her peers but was committed by an adult. In that case, the mother of a former friend of Megans set up a fake Myspace page pretending to be a boy, Josh, who had just moved to the area and was home-schooled. Within a few weeks of Megan becoming friends with this Josh and communicating extensively online with him, the tone of his messages dramatically changed, Eventually, Megan hung herself in the closet. While the mother who orchestrated the fake account was acquitted of murder, the case sparked numerous U.S. states and Congress to consider changing their statutes. The bill before us, Bill C-273, does not limit its application to young offenders.

Another high-profile case, mentioned earlier in discussion by the member for Vancouver Centre, was that of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who committed suicide in 2010 by jumping from the George Washington Bridge. Members may recall it at the time. It was later revealed that Clementi's roommate secretly filmed Clementi's sexual encounter with another man and broadcast it on the Internet without anyone's knowledge. Clementi, who had not yet made his sexual orientation public, took his own life in consequence.

We see, through troubling incidents such as these and others that have been described in debate this evening, that cyberbullying is real and can have devastating consequences. Parliament needs to act to adopt this legislation but parents and legislators must also intervene to denounce cyberbullying and discuss appropriate technology use with our children. While this legislation cannot, in and of itself, prevent cyberbullying, it can deter and dissuade people from it, as well as sanction those engaged in it, something that the current law does not provide.

In the time remaining, I will briefly discuss a few particular concerns that might form the basis for some discussion in committee and potential amendment. Some reference has already been made to this regard.

The first is that there is a lack of uniformity in the terms surrounding the problem, be it cyberbullying, cyberharassment or cyberstalking and the like, or any such variation thereupon. The proposal before us uses none of these but it may be useful to define such terms for greater clarity.

Second is something that is difficult to address. There is the question of the jurisdictional limits and the anonymity of the Internet. As we have observed, even with our own House investigation into threats made by the group Anonymous, it can be difficult for law enforcement personnel to identify, locate, arrest and prosecute alleged offenders.

Third is the issue of harm, as some argue that cyberbullying has only emotional consequences, unlike the physical scars that may result from traditional bullying. Certainly both are problematic and must be addressed and redressed but it may be that online activity requires different wording than what is presently in the Criminal Code. I look forward to submissions in that regard as well.

This bill is a necessary addition to our criminal law to address the ever-growing problem of harassment over the Internet by text message and the like. I look forward to its deliberation in committee and its subsequent passage through the House.

This is but the start of a larger dialogue that we need to engage in as a nation with respect to trying to determine the ethical limits of the conduct and misconduct and the related and appropriate use of technology, as we as parents are now forced to tackle issues that were inconceivable when we were children. I am sure I speak for many of my colleagues when I express the hope that the society which we build should seek to be one in which our children are not targets of harassment and abuse either in person or online.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Delta—Richmond East
B.C.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to discuss this legislation introduced by the member for Vancouver Centre that proposes to strengthen our ability to deal with cyberbullying.

Bill C-273 seeks to amend three Criminal Code offences: section 264, criminal harassment; section 298, defamatory libel; and section 372, false messages, indecent telephone calls and harassing telephone calls, to ensure that all three of these offences are interpreted to capture behaviour that occurs using a computer or over the Internet. The sponsor's stated goal with these proposed amendments is to target the growing issue of cyberbullying, a term that has received a lot of media and academic attention and scrutiny.

I am sure we can all acknowledge that the issue of bullying is not new. However, technology has forever changed the nature and scope of bullying, as it has changed so many other aspects of our society. The immediacy and broad reach of new technologies has made bullying easier, faster, anonymous, more prevalent, permanent and more cruel than ever before.

The member for Vancouver Centre is in good company in recognizing the increasing challenge posed by computer technology to the issue of bullying. In fact, many leading Canadian scholars and academics have been involved in work to ascertain to what extent bullying and cyberbullying is occurring in Canadian schools and on playgrounds. It is challenging to get an accurate sense of the level of bullying in Canada but many people are trying, and I think it is fair to say that the incidents of bullying are not insignificant.

For example, in her remarks upon the introduction of the bill, the member for Vancouver Centre referred to a University of Toronto survey on cyberbullying. She stated:

In a recent study by the University of Toronto, 50% of surveyed students reported that they had been bullied online....

Other reports make the same point. For example, a 2010 research report published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, which studied 33 junior high schools in Toronto, reported that almost 50% of students surveyed had been bullied online.

It is not just students who are affected by this issue. Many educators, non-governmental organizations and parents have reported that cyberbullying is one of their biggest concerns relating to schools and education today. A Statistics Canada survey conducted in 2007 of 2,162 Canadian parents with children age 5 to 24 years found that bullying was a concern to 80% of parents.

Another survey conducted in 2010 on behalf of the Canadian Teachers Federation found that 85% of Canadians felt that bullying and violence were very serious problems.

Finally, an Angus Reid poll from this year found that 88% of Canadians surveyed felt that bullying was a serious problem in elementary school and 94% felt that it was a problem in high school and middle school.

We all recognize that these are very serious issues and the government has been active in addressing the issue of bullying through several federal departments. For example, bullying is being addressed by the national crime prevention strategy, which is administered by Public Safety Canada's National Crime Prevention Centre. The National Crime Prevention Centre provides funding to organizations, including schools, to implement crime prevention. The interventions target the risk factors that are associated with future involvement in crime, including aggressive and anti-social behaviour, which are also linked to involvement in bullying.

The federal government also offers programming and project funding to help address and prevent bullying through the RCMP, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Justice Canada.

Provincial governments are also dealing with the issue through various measures. For example, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta have all recently introduced new anti-bullying legislation that requires schools to implement anti-bullying policies and procedures. Ontario's keeping our kids safe in school act, which came into force in February 2010, requires, among other things, all school staff to report to principals serious student incidents, including bullying.

Quebec's bill 56, as another example, will require schools to implement an anti-bullying plan and allow principals to expel repeat offenders when it is passed by the provincial legislature.

Earlier this month, Nova Scotia announced that it would be introducing legislation in the near future to address the issue of bullying. It will likely take into account the 85 recommendations contained in the recently released task force report on bullying and cyberbullying. The task force, which was struck by the Government of Nova Scotia in 2011, released its report on March 22 of this year.

In addition to federal and provincial efforts to address bullying and cyberbullying, some municipalities have enacted bylaws against bullying. Edmonton, Alberta was the first municipality to do so in 2003. It currently has a bylaw in force that would impose a fine of up to $250 on anyone who bullies a person under the age of 18.

It is also interesting to note that other jurisdictions, including the United States, have also been addressing the issue of bullying and cyberbullying through legislative reforms. To date, 50 U.S. states have enacted legislation that address bullying or cyberbullying in some way and a few of them flow through the imposition of criminal sanctions.

As members can see, there is much work under way to address the issue of bullying. It is an issue that I take very seriously as it has affected my own family.

I would just like to raise for our consideration a few points regarding the approach this bill is proposing. I would ask members to think about the scope of the bill and the fact that it only addresses the issue of cyberbullying and not the broader issue of bullying. In my opinion, these two types of bullying are so closely intertwined that it may well make more sense to deal with both together. As well, it limits the focus to three Criminal Code offences and not to other offences that could also apply in a situation of bullying, such as intimidation, personation and uttering threats. We should consider whether the narrower approach is the right approach.

I do not want these comments to detract from the importance of this issue so, in closing, I express my thanks to the member for Vancouver Centre for bringing this very important issue before us today.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. member for Drummond, I must say that I will have to interrupt him at 6:30 p.m., at the end of the time provided for private members' business.

The hon. member for Drummond.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say first of all that I am speaking today on Bill C-273, an act to amend the Criminal Code on cyberbullying.

I am greatly concerned about cyberbullying and bullying. I really want to make people aware of this terrible scourge. As a former teacher, and as a father, this is an issue that is of immediate concern to me. We know it is a very serious social problem with tragic consequences and implications.

In my community, in the Drummond riding, people are very involved and are aware of the issue. They are taking action to inform and enlighten people about this serious problem. The parents' committee of the Des Chênes school board, which I am proud to recognize and commend, is a very active committee. Recently, these parents sent out an invitation to Jasmin Roy, who established the Fondation Jasmin Roy that fights against bullying and cyberbullying.

Mr. Roy gave a speech in Drummondville, and the room was full to overflowing. Everyone listened closely. Parents and young people, people who had never been bullied and others who had been bullied or were still being bullied, everyone was very concerned about the issue. At the end of the speech, I had planned to ask a question because I found the subject extremely interesting and worrying. When I raised my hand, I saw that all those in attendance had raised their hand at the same time. I was really astounded to see that the issue was of such great concern and that it touched so many people. It touched them personally, in the deepest part of themselves, and it touched their dignity.

This is really important, because when you bully someone, you attack their dignity, their self-esteem and their idea of themselves as individuals. It is very important to be treated with respect, and bullying and cyberbullying damage people's self-esteem. As we know, unfortunately, sometimes this has very serious consequences. It can lead to suicide. There is a great deal of depression. Mr. Roy himself explained that he had experienced periods of very serious depression because of the bullying he had suffered. We have to take action on this problem, and it is important that all levels of government be involved.

People in my municipality are very involved, including the parents' committee and the municipality itself. As an MP and a citizen myself, I decided to get involved too. In fact, I have offered my website to people to post messages of hope—youth and adults alike, anyone who has been bullied in the past or has witnessed this phenomenon and did not know what to do about it. Once again, I am offering my website to people who want to post messages of hope, to encourage people to condemn bullying and to call on organizations that can help.

It is imperative that we not sit back and do nothing about bullying. People need to get involved and condemn it. They need to go and get help, to tell their parents and teachers. Organizations exist. Tel-jeunes is a great organization that is making a difference in Quebec. It is absolutely crucial that people be able to intervene.

Once again, I would like to thank the entire Drummondville community for its great work.

We live in a time when communication is at a peak. This allows people to share information very quickly and across borders. Today's technology—whether telephones, cell phones or computers—is capable of doing more and more. Accessing the Internet is child's play for most people, and this allows us to stay in touch no matter where we are.

The Internet is creating an entire universe of new forms of interaction.

The use of email, websites, discussion forums, instant messages, text messages and social networks allows many very interesting messages to be shared; however, unfortunately, it also allows for an incredible form of abuse that we call cyberbullying. There are too many examples of people who have made headlines in the newspapers, the media and the national and international news because they got caught in the vicious cycle of cyberbullying and bullying. They committed deplorable acts that one can only be saddened to learn about. As I mentioned earlier, unfortunately, some people go as far as committing suicide. We must put a stop to this scourge. All levels of government must get involved.

Since I have little time remaining, I will get right to the heart of my conclusion. What I think is important is that this bill is a beginning. It is not perfect but it must be supported in some way. We need to ensure that the main focus is prevention, because once such acts have been committed, the damage is done and the results are too sad. We really have to focus on creating greater harmony in schools and with people. We have to work on self-esteem.

When a person has high self-esteem, when he feels good about himself and he is involved in worthwhile activities, such as sports, hobbies and the arts, he has alternatives to bullying others. Such involvement also helps to create social ties and to ensure that victims of bullying have someone to talk to and to provide them with support in order to help them cope with this very real problem. Everyone needs to get involved.

Unfortunately, the Conservative government is not very involved. There are many things that can be done. The hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord named a number of them earlier.