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.