Where once there was a void, there may soon be a net. The coming weeks will decide exactly what Canada’s anti-suicide and anti-bullying strategy will look like.
The House of Commons is in the final stages of passing the country's first national strategy to combat suicide, and two opposition MPs are looking to give it some company.
Dany Morin, the NDP's associate LGBT critic, has proposed the creation of a national strategy to combat bullying, while Liberal Hedy Fry is looking to beef up oversight by proposing a bill to criminalize cyberbullying outright. If all three are passed, they would arm the country to tackle an issue that has been brought to the forefront by an alarming spate of suicides, especially among queer youth, that have struck Canada in recent years — many caused by bullying.
The first plank was Bill C-300, a private member's bill introduced by Conservative backbencher Harold Albrecht that would empower Health Canada to develop a public awareness strategy, collect and publish information on suicide, work with the provinces to establish best practices and create biennial reports about its efforts. It swept through the House in the spring and is now being considered in the Senate health committee. If all goes according to plan, the bill will receive royal assent before the new year.
Meanwhile, Morin wants to take things a step further with a private member’s motion, M-385. He is looking to establish an all-party (except the Green and Bloc) standing committee in the House of Commons that would study and propose a new national strategy against bullying. That motion comes back to the floor next week for its Waterloo moment.
The third is Fry’s attempt to go after cyberbullies. Her private member's bill, which would add cyberbullying to the Criminal Code, is in a precarious spot. It is currently before the House committee on justice and human rights, having squeaked through the House, with the help of the Speaker, after a rare tie. The New Democrats supported the bill, but they have taken issue with the criminalization aspect — Morin’s bill focuses on prevention. Fry's bill seems destined to fail on third reading unless she can convince more Conservatives to sign on.
Morin is taking to the internet to call on Canadians to push the government to pass his motion. For the Kids is an effort to get Canadians to contact their MPs and call on them to support the motion. He’s also looking to employ social media, House of Commons petitions and local events to put the pressure on the government to pass the motion.
Morin told Xtra that he’s calling on Canadians to “let your member of Parliament hear your story.
“Support the people in your life who are going through this. They need it.”
Morin singles out gay Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley and 15-year-old Marjorie Raymond as two of the justifications for the bill. Both took their own lives after years of bullying.
While the Tories have made clear their support for a national anti-bullying framework, they have proven less receptive to support other “national strategies” – the difference may seem minute, but “framework” usually entails a much more hands-off approach on the part of the federal government.
The Liberals appear to be unanimous in their support for Morin’s bill; Green Leader Elizabeth May supports it as well. She, however, criticized the lack of representation for the Greens and Bloc on the proposed committee (Morin says it was a necessary omission in order to get Conservative support). The four Bloc members, meanwhile, rarely vote in favour of any sort of national strategy that lacks an exemption for Quebec.
So it comes down to the Conservatives, who are keeping their cards close to their chests. Tory MP Candice Bergen tipped those cards a little when she told the House that "our belief is that this problem is best dealt with at the most local level, by the people who are in the core and closest to it." In other words — we'll be voting against it.
While debating the motion in October, Bergen pointed out that the Canadian government already fights bullying at a national level by empowering the Public Health Agency, the RCMP and Public Safety Canada to tackle it at the local level. She also referenced the Senate committee on human rights, which is currently studying the issue of cyberbullying.
Albrecht, architect of the anti-suicide framework, is leaning toward voting against Morin's bill.
"Creating another committee to quickly study an issue, table a report, and then disband is neither the best way to address an issue, nor the best use of an MP's time," Albretcht told Xtra via email. "I understand and share Mr Morin's motivations, but I don't agree with his chosen approach."
But Albrecht isn't too sure how the rest of his caucus will vote. While he voted against Fry's bill, nine of his Conservative colleagues voted with the Liberals, Bloc, NDP and lone Green. If Morin can convince those Tories – or more – to support his motion, the vote will likely come down to how many MPs are missing on each side of the House.
Yet the fact that the NDP's motion calls for a committee, in which the government will have a majority, might entice the Conservatives to get on board. Motions such as these don't seek to change government policy, per se, only to study possible changes.
Whatever that committee produces, if the bill passes, will be non-binding and the government could simply ignore it if they so choose.
Xtra will have full coverage of the debate on Morin's motion from the House of Commons, on Nov 20, and the vote, on Nov 21.