Mr. Speaker, with the growing popularity of social media comes the growing problem of cyberbullying. Those who have been bullied on the Internet can attest to the anger, shame and powerlessness they feel when personal information or a photo taken without their knowledge is posted online.
In 2002, Ghyslain Raza, a young boy from Trois-Rivières, saw a video of himself posted on YouTube without his consent. That video was viewed by millions of people around the world. The young boy, who was 14 at the time, suffered a deep depression and had to be hospitalized.
Bullying, defamation and harassment should not be tolerated because they can cause serious harm and irreparable damage. Using email or social media to commit these acts does not make them acceptable either.
What is the definition of cyberbullying? Education expert Bill Belsey describes it like this:
Cyberbullying is the use of information and communication technologies, such as email, cellphone, pager text messages, instant messaging, defamatory personal websites and defamatory online personal polling websites, to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.
Cyberbullying therefore includes all of the elements involved in the usual forms of bullying, but transposes them to an online and highly public environment.
On social networking sites like Piczo, Facebook and MySpace, bullies often focus on chat rooms because they are very popular. Messages, photographs and videos can have a devastating impact on victims because they are seen by thousands or even millions of people and because the bullying can go viral.
According to a Statistics Canada survey, approximately 7% of adult Internet users are bullied over the Internet. The risk is higher for some people, including young adults, where the rate is 17%. It is also likely that young people who are already experiencing integration problems or being harassed at school are more likely to be cyberbullying targets. People perceived as different are also targeted: homosexuals, people with a physical or mental disability and immigrants, for example.
In 2009, University of Toronto professors Faye Mishna and Robert MacFadden carried out a study of more than 2,000 students in the greater Toronto area. The results were alarming. Over 21% of students—one in five—said that they had been victims of cyberbullying.
The Montreal police force also conducted a survey of young people, which indicated that 27% of young people aged 9 to 17 say they have been victims of bullying or harassment on the Internet.
Kids Help Phone also conducted a survey of young people in 2007. The responses are heartbreaking. The young people said that the bullying often involves students who already know each other. For example, one young person confided:
I was playing Habbo Hotel [an online game] and the person (since I'm black) made fun of my race. They called me bad words and names.…
Most of the time the people bullying me online were the same people that were bullying me in real life, but used technology to escalate it and make the pictures/rumours spread faster and farther.
So it is important not to underestimate the psychological impact that cyberbullying can have on young people.
Another girl confided:
About six months ago my friend or my so-called friend had a hate page on her website and I was on it there were many names that just weren't necessary to say. I felt like she betrayed me I felt angry I couldn't help it, then people started making fun of me at school and I had no self-confidence so I started to hurt myself and everyone found out then I was just so scared of what they were going to do to me that I almost committed suicide.
As a teacher, I saw students faced with cyberbullying problems a number of times, and I can attest that the effects are devastating and that young people feel completely lost and destitute.
The bill introduced by the member for Vancouver South aims to amend three sections of the Criminal Code in order to include cyberbullying. In fact, it is proposing amendments to sections 264, 298 and 372 of the Criminal Code. They deal with criminal harassment, defamatory libel and false messages, respectively.
Amendments to section 264 of the Criminal Code would mean that repeated communication using a computer or similar device, or a threatening attitude causing a person to be concerned for his safety, would be considered harassment. The amendment to the other two sections serves the same purpose: to broaden the scope of the code to include the use of a computer in the commission of a crime.
The spirit of this bill is worthy. It aims to eliminate any grey areas or ambiguity in the law to ensure that cyberbullying, when a crime is involved, is penalized.
We obviously agree with the spirit of the bill. We do, however, have misgivings about the implementation of this legislation when it comes to young people. We are afraid that the bill will lead to the criminalization of behaviour among young people that could be modified through education and awareness building, in other words, through more prevention.
The many studies conducted by Professor Belsey, the founder of bullying.org, led him to the conclusion that bullying is a behaviour that can be influenced and therefore changed. He observed that the best way of addressing such behaviour is through education and awareness building. When consulted about Bill C–273, Professor Belsey said the following: “Bullying is a behaviour and is therefore very fluid. Should a child be threatened with expulsion every time he behaves in this way? If that were the approach, there would be no children left at school. Since bullying is an acquired behaviour, it also means that with a little bit of help and support, these behaviours can be changed.”
When it comes to education and awareness building, Canada could draw inspiration from a Finnish program called KiVa, considered one of the best in the world. The objective is to influence “witnesses” of acts of bullying and encourage them to intervene. Instead of expelling the culprits, a dialogue takes place between the bully, his victim and other student witnesses. The program has really helped to rekindle young people’s interest in school and to make students more motivated and successful. After just one year, victimization and harassment had dropped markedly, and KiVa won the European award for crime prevention.
Here, too, prevention programs are beginning to appear. The RCMP and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation have joined forces to design presentations that target students from grades 4 to 12. They are teaching youth how to recognize, respond to and prevent this behaviour.
In Quebec, several police services have joined forces to create “Vous NET pas seul”, a program to prevent cyberbullying. The program's objectives include inviting young people and their parents to be vigilant when surfing the Internet. There are two components—one for teenagers, which aims to inform them of the dangers of careless surfing, and one for parents, which demystifies the Internet and gives advice on safety and monitoring.
Sites like WebAware explain the various forms of cyberbullying and its legal consequences and provide young people and parents with tips on how to protect themselves.
The Sûreté du Québec is working with several school boards to increase awareness about the problem among youth. In my riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry, Isabelle Pépin, a school psychologist, is intervening in this area at Edgar-Hébert secondary school. In order to be successful when it comes to this issue, she believes that everyone needs to get involved: governments, parents, teachers, students and the general public—basically society as a whole. We must say no to all forms of bullying and cyberbullying in particular.
Perhaps the computer gives us a degree of anonymity that prevents the development of a feeling of empathy towards the victims because there are no direct links between the bully, the victims and the witnesses. But we must remember that real people are hiding behind the aliases.
I hope that this bill will help to make people aware of the dangers of cyberbullying. But my colleagues and I believe that amendments could be considered when the bill is studied in committee. Young people should not be put in prison. They and their parents should be made aware of the problem. By giving ourselves proper tools, we can change behaviour and prevent cyberbullying.