Verbal Abuse Prevention Week Act

An Act to establish Verbal Abuse Prevention Week

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.


Shawn Murphy  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Not active, as of Nov. 21, 2001
(This bill did not become law.)


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Verbal Abuse Prevention Week ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2002 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

Northumberland Ontario


Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

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.

Verbal Abuse Prevention Week ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2002 / 6:35 p.m.
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Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, as this motion will not be votable because unanimous consent was denied, we can debate this bill, but that it will lead nowhere. It is deplorable to have, in this House, debates and speeches on issues that come to nothing.

Another example, debates on parliamentary procedure and enhancement of the MPs' work will have to be closely examined, because they are starting to look more like a popular television talk show than parliamentary debates where serious work is done and worthwhile bills are introduced for the members to vote on. Whether we are in favour of or against a bill, our constituents, the people who voted for us and appointed us as their representatives, must be made aware of our position on every single bill.

Today, we are debating Bill C-414. I am pleased to take part in this debate because we will never say enough about the whole issue of abuse, whatever form it may take. This bill deals with verbal abuse. It is aimed at establishing the first week of October as Verbal Abuse Prevention Week. I think that nobody in this House can be against such a bill. It would mean being against a principle supported by everyone, namely that there is too much verbal abuse and that it should not exist.

We live in a strange society if we have to establish a Verbal Abuse Prevention Week when we should all agree that there is too much verbal abuse and that it should not exist. I am sure we all recognize that verbal abuse is the first step toward physical abuse. In a way, through our work in this place, through legislation and other means, we are trying to reach the objective of zero tolerance with regard to physical abuse. However, we must start somewhere. Anyway, it is unrealistic to think that we can reach this objective of zero tolerance with regard to physical abuse.

But as I was saying, we must start somewhere. I sincerely think that working to prevent verbal abuse is a good start. I know that certain provinces, including Quebec, have already launched ad campaigns and put in place verbal abuse prevention programs, particularly in the schools. We see some of these ads in movie theaters sometimes. I think this is a very positive initiative.

Having a Verbal Abuse Prevention Week to educate people and encourage discussion on this issue would be very positive. We could talk about it more with young people. Verbal abuse often starts at a very young age; it starts in the schools and the playgrounds.

I said earlier that we are a strange society, we tolerate a lot. Indeed, there is a lot of verbal abuse in games, hockey, amateur sports. We only need to go to an arena to see that parents are encouraging a certain kind of violence in their children taking part in sports. Parents use a lot of verbal abuse. I know there is such a thing as competitive spirit and it is healthy. One must be competitive. We are in politics here and we are all competitive. However, there is a line that must not be crossed. Frankly, I believe some parents do not know where to stop with regard to verbal abuse in arenas.

With a verbal abuse prevention week, maybe we could increase the awareness of parents involved in amateur sports and hockey, even professional hockey. One has to go watch a game at the Forum to realize there is verbal abuse. If one is close to the ice, from time to time one will realize that there is verbal abuse on the ice also.

This is a major societal problem, since this kind of abuse may one day lead to physical abuse, as mentioned by my colleagues who spoke before me.

When we look at violence in all its manifestations, be it verbal, which is the subject matter of the bill before us, or otherwise, the issue of violence tolerated on television comes up. There is also a certain level of verbal abuse tolerated in films. One day, we will have to look at this issue and the fact that it is encouraged. A verbal abuse prevention week might help these people realize that they may going down the wrong road. There is a point when lines have to be drawn and not crossed.

Earlier, the member seemed to compare verbal abuse and taxing in schools. We must really make a clear distinction between the two, because taxing is physical abuse; it is not verbal abuse. Those who practise taxing go beyond verbal abuse, since they commit an act. They say “Give me 10 bucks or I will break both your legs”. This is taxing and it is physical abuse; it cannot be considered as verbal abuse.

Anyway, to get back to Bill C-414, I believe we could have such a week, not only for young people, but also for the elderly. There is some verbal abuse among children and the elderly. Even in hospitals, there may be verbal abuse toward the elderly. I do not believe it is done maliciously, but at some point, because of fatigue, stress or for any other reason, one does something and it goes to the next level, that of verbal abuse. With time, it can lead to physical abuse.

We could have a special week to promote awareness of all this and get information on this issue. I believe it would be desirable. It would be productive for MPOs, for groups dealing with young people and people who are not so young, for those who look after the elderly.

I will conclude by saying that it is all very fine to consider a verbal abuse prevention week, but I believe it must be supported by public money. If we want it to yield results, if we are serious about it, if we want to be preventive--I believe a dollar of prevention ends up saving a lot of money in terms of health care, psychologists, penalties and physical crimes--to start with, maybe we should go for a verbal abuse prevention week. Eventually, maybe not today but some time in the future, we should also consider using public money to reach certain segments of society. We could reach the groups where verbal abuse is the worst and take preventive action to reduce its impact on society as a whole.

Verbal Abuse Prevention Week ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2002 / 6:25 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to support Bill C-414, an act to establish verbal abuse prevention week. This bill is sponsored by the hon. member for Hillsborough and I commend him for his efforts.

If this bill were to pass, the first week of October would be designated as national verbal abuse prevention week. This would go a long way toward raising the profile of this issue among Canadians, many of whom seem to know little about the devastating effects of verbal abuse.

Throughout the 1990s, we all became increasingly aware of the power of words through the political correctness movement. While we can agree or disagree with its politics, its basic message is that the words we use have power. Verbal abuse is more than an issue of political correctness.

Richard Krugman defined verbal abuse as “the rejection, ignoring, criticizing, isolation, or terrorizing of children, all of which have the effect of eroding their self-esteem”.

It is an issue that cuts to the very heart of our society. It is not only indecent but hurts the abused. Slurs or racial discrimination or even making undue fun of others hurts. A one finger salute during road rage or swearing, humiliating, threatening, scaring children all hurt. No one has right of way on abusing; a mother in law on her daughter in law or the rich on the poor as in some societies or cultures. All these things hurt.

Verbal abuse is a precursor of family, domestic or other violence. Stronger families make stronger communities and stronger communities make a stronger nation. To strengthen families, we have to exert our moral responsibility to prevent family violence. To prevent family violence, we have to address the root cause of violence in families, which is verbal abuse.

Soft and courteous words pacify individuals. They calm and sooth relationships. The main superiority human beings have over animals is the evolution of language. So why not use words which please others and sooth relationships rather than words which hurt others? We should utter words soft enough because one day we may have to swallow them.

At the workplace words like “thank you” and “excuse me” go a long way. We all know that to get respect one has to give respect. Saying something like “good morning” or wishing someone a good day in a bus, on an elevator or in any other public place makes a person's day. The character of a nation is demonstrated by how its people speak to each other. The way someone is spoken to on the other side of a counter demonstrates the level of service that is provided.

I visited in Salt Lake City some time ago. I visited a friend who was in the hospital. I was impressed with the way people spoke to visitors at the hospital. I have never seen such a respectful manner and humble way of speaking to each other. I was impressed by that.

Overall verbal abuse is already fairly common and figures show it is on the rise.

According to one study, 3 million American children suffer verbal abuse attacks from some source. If similar proportions hold true for Canada this means approximately 300,000 of our children are targets of verbal abuse. These figures most likely underestimate the prevalence of verbal abuse because adults also suffer verbal abuse.

The effects of verbal abuse on children are serious. Indeed, all forms of abuse are a social disease. As my hon. colleague mentioned, sexual abuse or abuse of any kind is a social disease that affects many parts of Canadian society. Schoolyards, workplaces, homes and streets can all be places where taunting, insults and even name calling can occur. Wherever it happens its effects are always devastating for those that suffer under its weight.

Many of us watched in horror the murderous attacks in Columbine, Colorado and Tabor, Alberta. While it in no way excuses what these teenagers did, each incident had its roots in school bullying and name calling.

Verbal abuse and other kinds of cruelty can set a spiral of escalating violence into motion which in these two cases led to the tragic loss of life. These extreme cases receive most of the media's attention.

Issues that receive less attention involve children who are afraid to go to school, workers who book sick leave and wives and husbands who suffer from family violence, stress and health complaints brought on by verbal intimidation and put downs.

The constituency of Surrey Central has been affected by its share of tragedies, the corrosive effects of school bullying and verbal abuse.

Fourteen year old Hamed Nastoh committed suicide rather than face the relentless taunts of his classmates in school. His mother, in fact the whole family, was understandably devastated when I visited their home in March 2000 to express my sympathy and to understand the situation when Nastoh committed suicide.

More recently, his mother told a local newspaper that awareness was the best weapon against bullies and violence. With this in mind she joined forces with two other local mothers whose children died of preventable causes.

Together they formed Angels in Heaven, an organization that brings grieving parents together for mutual support. This is the sort of organization that could use national verbal abuse prevention week as a way of educating the public about the harmful effects of verbal abuse.

Another example of local initiative comes from Prince Edward Island where Tami Martell undertook a walk for talk in 1998 because one of her six children was victimized by verbal abuse. This was after she wrote a report in 1997 entitled “An information report in recognition of verbal abuse in Canada”.

A product of 18 months' work it contained several recommendations for provincial governments and school boards: a code of behaviour for schools to state that physical, sexual, verbal or psychological abuse was unacceptable; a code of behaviour to be prominently displayed in the school; health and family living teachers to incorporate a verbal abuse unit into their curriculum; and school boards to set up a standard system for schools to record and file incidents of abuse. If Ms. Martell's recommendations were applied in schools they would make a huge difference.

A national verbal abuse prevention week would give Canadians an opportunity to educate themselves and others. They would pause to think about how their actions affect others. It would also provide a source of help for abusers as well as the abused and make it more public.

I urge all members of the House to support the bill. In fact I seek unanimous consent of the House to make this item votable.

Verbal Abuse Prevention Week ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2002 / 6:10 p.m.
See context


Shawn Murphy Liberal Hillsborough, PE

moved that Bill C-414, an act to establish Verbal Abuse Prevention Week, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am standing before you today to present my private member's bill, Bill C-414.As the record indicates, Bill C-414 is an act that would designate the first week in the month of October each year as verbal abuse prevention week in Canada.

Verbal abuse is often a large component of emotional abuse and includes, but is not limited to, blaming, ridiculing, insulting, swearing, yelling, humiliating and labelling.

My reason for putting forward the bill is to raise awareness of the impact that words have in our society.

What we must recognize is that verbal abuse has emotional, educational and health costs and is often a precursor to other forms of abuse.

With the recent suicides and school shootings of young people in Canada and abroad being directly connected to verbal abuse and bullying, we as parliamentarians are compelled to raise awareness and develop prevention and educational efforts on this issue with the communities of the country.

The creation of a national verbal abuse prevention week would address the first part of this necessary sequence of events, that is raising awareness about the fierce power of words.

Much of the national interest in this issue began as a result of initiatives in Prince Edward Island, my home province. In 1998, Tami Martell from Milltown Cross, Prince Edward Island, and founder of Walk for Talk, received provincial and national attention through her decision to walk across the province to raise awareness about the seriousness of verbal abuse. By the fall of 1999, P.E.I. had its first verbal abuse prevention week in schools across the province and since then it has become an annual event.

When I initially undertook this issue as a private member's bill I received many letters of support from organizations, legislators and citizens.

If I could summarize the whole intent of the bill, it goes go back to a nursery rhyme that we all heard in the playground, “sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you”. Since then there has been a lot of research, knowledge and wisdom on the whole issue, and sticks and stones will still break our bones but names can also hurt us.

Verbal aggression often has no outside witnesses. There are no black eyes and no broken bones. Private behaviour can be very different from public behaviour which makes verbal abuse easy to deny and very difficult to prosecute.

Verbal abuse leaves invisible scars and is often used as a form of control to make the victim dependent on the aggressor, such as in parental or other social relationships.

Some researchers argue that physical abuse is not as prevalent as other types of abuse in abusive teenage relationships and that abusers usually begin with demeaning verbal abuse that then may proceed to unwanted physical advances, date rape and other physical violence.

While there may be no bruises, broken bones or black eyes, verbal abuse still has an impact on physical health.

Terry Kinney, a professor at the University of Minnesota, has researched the effects of verbal aggression on people and found that the stress caused by verbal aggression can make a person physically ill as stress can weaken a person's immune system.

A recent study reported in Psychology Today showed that emotionally abused women were more likely to report poor physical health than other women and that these medical problems were remarkably similar to those affecting women who were physically abused.

One research scientist at the Institute for Work and Health has argued that health care workers call in sick more often and stay away longer than people in other jobs partly because of the high levels of verbal abuse that health care workers experience on the job.

The result of verbal abuse of children is especially devastating. Children depend on those closest to them for their own self-image. If they are told at an early age that they are worthless they will believe it to be true. These negative feelings can be very difficult to discard later in life. Children who experience verbal abuse may develop an impaired ability to perceive, feel, understand and express emotion.

Research indicates that abused children are more likely to become victims of abuse later in life, become abusive themselves, and/or become depressed and self-destructive. A 1991 study on the effects of verbal abuse on children indicated that more frequent rates of verbal aggression by a parent result in a greater probability of physical, aggressive or delinquent behaviour by the child. That study also revealed that these problems affect all age groups, both sexes, and all families regardless of socioeconomic status.

One Maine research project reported that children at age eight who were identified as frequently bullying others are six times more likely to be convicted of crimes by the age of 24. Furthermore, these same children are five times more likely than non-bullies to end up with serious criminal records by the age of 30.

Last night on CTV there was an excellent program on bullying. It gave an excellent perspective on the whole problem, which is being experienced right across the country. This private member's bill relates very much to that issue. Exposure to bullying by peers has also been linked to increased dropout rates, lower self-esteem, fewer friends, declining grades and increased illnesses, and these were some of the issues that were being discussed last night.

This issue also affects the workplace and may cause increased stress and anxiety, loss of self-esteem and of belief in one's professional competence, avoidance behaviour, which may negatively effect performance of duties, including increased absences from work, a negative effect on interpersonal relationships and loss of job satisfaction.

Verbal abuse does not only affect its direct victims; it also causes pain to those who silently see their loved ones suffer in pain. We have to realize that belittling and criticizing is part of verbal abuse. Children and adults alike need to learn to communicate without degradation and domination.

I want to emphasize that verbal abuse is unique in that it is the only form of abuse that has not been the subject of an intense public education or awareness program. Other forms of abuse and violence, such as date rape, family violence, senior violence and abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse and spousal abuse are already well recognized in our society as unacceptable behaviours and have various mechanisms to change the behaviour of perpetrators and also to assist victims. It is crucial that verbal abuse be brought to the forefront of people's minds, that we are all made aware of its devastating and long term effects and educated as to how quickly and regularly it transforms into physical violence.

Sadly, the seriousness of this issue is slowly coming to the public's attention. There have been a number of dramatic cases involving verbal abuse covered by the national and international media. In January of this year Thomas Junta was convicted for the beating death of Michael Costin at their children's hockey practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which began, as everyone in this House is aware, after a hostile exchange between the two fathers.

Another sports related incident that captured the attention of Canadians was an altercation at a girls' softball game in Albany, Georgia in 1979, when Ray Knight, a former Cincinnati Reds third baseman and manager, engaged in an agitated and profane dispute with the father of another girl. It led to Mr. Knight hitting the other parent and being charged, but it started with verbal abuse.

This is a very serious issue in our minor hockey system right across Canada. We see situations where parents of both genders, people who outside the rink do not engage in that type of behaviour, verbally abuse 12 year old and 13 year old referees.

Verbal abuse has also become an increasing problem in our schools, resulting in fear among teachers and students alike. Recent suicides and school shootings of young people in Canada and abroad are connected directly to verbal abuse and bullying. The horrifying incident that occurred at Columbine High School, where 12 students and one teacher died as a result of teenage shooters who subsequently turned their guns on themselves, was attributed largely to verbal abuse that the two boys had suffered at the hands of their peers.

What we now consider to be almost commonplace in school, violence, suicides and shootings, can, I submit, be prevented. With increased education we can better understand how to better prevent verbal abuse and, consequently, its negative long term effects.

The timing of this verbal abuse prevention week, to be held in the first week of the month of October, would allow administrators, teachers and personnel in the education system to develop curriculum based programs and encourage the participation of students in verbal abuse prevention activities that would help educate our youth to treat others as we would want to be treated, that is, with kindness and respect.

Recent developments in the campaign to raise awareness of verbal abuse are exemplified through an American organization called Words Can Heal, a national effort that began in September 2001, shortly after a national poll showed that 90% of Americans agreed that verbal violence and gossip are a problem in schools, in homes and in the workplace. Words Can Heal is a media and educational campaign to eliminate verbal violence, curb gossip and promote the healing power of words to enhance relationships at every level. There is a board comprised of top politicians, leading diplomats, Wall Street's most influential CEOs, clergy, Hollywood celebrities and community leaders.

This American campaign is one good example of the necessity for public action and education. While there are some good examples in Canada of programs aimed at preventing verbal aggression, a national week of awareness would go that much further in co-ordinating awareness raising programs across Canada and publicizing this very important issue.

There is a great deal of support for the bill from constituents and from organizations in my province and across Canada. This private member's bill can help raise awareness of the effects of verbal abuse by increasing the amount of education people have access to about the impact of words, which may then cause people to reflect on what they say and do to others.

The bill can also help promote better conflict resolution skills. I submit there is no time when better and greater conflict resolution skills are needed than right now in the troubled world in which we live.

Finally, the bill may result in improved access to information for victims and perpetrators of verbal abuse and better education as to where Canadians can seek professional help.

Clearly this issue is a growing concern among Canadians and in the entire world. I have sponsored the bill in the hope that it will succeed in capturing the attention and concern of my fellow parliamentarians about the seriousness of verbal abuse in our communities, in our homes and in our schools and about the importance of raising people's awareness of this very important topic.

While this bill has been deemed non-votable, I urge my colleagues here today to reflect on the magnitude of this issue and ensure that in the future perpetrators and victims of verbal abuse will be taken seriously by our society.

Verbal Abuse Prevention Week ActRoutine Proceedings

November 21st, 2001 / 3:20 p.m.
See context


Shawn Murphy Liberal Hillsborough, PE

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-414, an act to establish verbal abuse prevention week.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce my private member's bill which will establish the first week of every October as verbal abuse prevention week.

Verbal abuse is a national problem and is present within all our communities. It exists in our schools, in our workplaces and even in our homes.

My hope is that the bill will serve to raise awareness and promote education about the negative consequences of verbal abuse.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)