Mr. Speaker, Bill C-414 is designed to raise awareness of the negative consequences of verbal abuse in our communities, schools and workplaces. The bill would designate the first week of October in every year as verbal abuse prevention week throughout Canada.
I commend the hon. member for his dedication and insight in bringing this important issue before the House. I know I share the view of many in the House in thanking him for his role and contribution and for bringing an issue to the forefront today which is all too often ignored.
Canadians should be able to live in an environment free from degrading, demeaning and harmful behaviour, an environment where respect and dignity within families, between neighbours and friends, and within society generally is nurtured.
The Government of Canada is supportive of the intent of the bill. I have no doubt that all members support the worthy goal of enhancing awareness of this preventable harm.
Verbal abuse has a profound emotional effect. It can undermine confidence and make individuals reticent to participate fully in our society. It affects families but it also affects our communities throughout Canada. The detrimental effects of verbal abuse are recognized as serious and far reaching.
Verbal abuse is about power. It is usually directed at those who are more vulnerable in our society such as the young, the elderly, persons with mental or physical disabilities, and new immigrants. In short, it is directed at those who are unable to walk away.
Verbal abuse is often an important aspect of an abusive relationship. Not all abusive relationships result in visible scarring. Sometimes the scarring or damage caused by the abuse is internalized by the victims and affects, as we have just heard, their self esteem in significant and long lasting ways. Indeed, statistics show that those who hold the least power and resources in society are most often emotionally abused.
Sometimes verbal abuse is manifested through bigoted statements aimed at members of visible minorities. This kind of verbal abuse has significant effects not just on individuals but on the fabric of Canadian society.
What can the Government of Canada do to address this serious concern? There are legislative measures in place designed to deter the most serious forms of verbal abuse in communities and workplaces. Provisions of the criminal code are aimed at imposing sanctions against those who verbally threaten people with serious harm.
The Canadian Human Rights Act has provisions prohibiting harassment in the workplace on any enumerated ground of discrimination. Part of the mandate of the Canadian Human Rights Commission is to promote public education in this area to prevent harassment.
Anger management programs have been developed for both adult and youth offenders. The recently enacted Youth Criminal Justice Act provides front end measures to help young offenders recognize the harm they have done and develop alternate means of handling anger.
However legislation alone is not sufficient. Verbal abuse can take many forms that do not necessarily involve threats of violence or criminal behaviour. Degrading comments such as insults, ridicule and name calling are all behaviour which, although not necessarily criminal, diminish the identity, dignity and self worth of the person to whom they are directed.
It is vital that children be protected as much as possible from all forms of verbal abuse. Children spend much of their daily lives in school settings. An increasing body of research reinforces the contention that bullying manifested through verbal abuse has a profound effect on the social and emotional development of young people.
It often causes fear, distress or harm resulting in victimized children feeling alone at school and unaccepted. They are also more likely to be unhappy and have low self-esteem. Ironically, they are more likely to be bullies themselves.
However, addressing bullying and issues of school safety is primarily the responsibility of the provinces and territories. In many cases they have established their own specific rules programs relating to verbal abuse at school.
In many cases of verbal abuse, the abused remain silent while the abuser continues to repeat and sustain the pattern. If left unchecked, abuse does not get better over time, it only gets worse.
Enhancing awareness of verbal abuse and helping to put an end to it is a goal this government believes is important and must be addressed. Indeed this government and our provincial and territorial partners have a number of strategies in place to reduce the incidence of verbal abuse and to provide some measure of increased protection for those faced with verbal abuse and its effects.
Included in these strategies are initiatives to combat the underlying social conditions that often find expression through verbal abuse. These initiatives range from community and school education campaigns to raise awareness about the nature and harmful consequences of emotional abuse, to programs to promote safety and non-violent ways of behaving in schools, workplaces and communities, to treatment programs and other assistance for those living in an emotionally abusive environment.
Verbal abuse is increasingly being recognized as a form of violence that has potentially devastating consequences for its victims. More can and must be done to reduce the incidence of emotional abuse and to protect the most vulnerable in our society from the long-lasting damage such abuse may cause. Indeed as a responsible government, we want to find the most appropriate way of dealing with the harmful effects that verbal abuse may cause. Enhancing awareness, promoting education and building respect for human dignity will help.
While the government supports the intention of the bill, we believe that the legislative route is perhaps not the most effective method to respond to this problem in our society. Instead, we will continue to work with our provincial and territorial partners and others in finding the best tools and responses to address the harmful effects of verbal abuse.