The Senate standing committee on human rights released its anti-cyberbullying strategy Dec 12, fulfilling the government’s promise to tackle the issue that has been on the minds of many Canadians this year.
The issue has been dragged to the forefront because of a succession of high-profile teen suicides here in Canada. Many of those who took their own lives faced intense bullying — both in person and online.
The committee has spent more than a year dissecting the issue, crafting an approach that would tie together disparities in provincial anti-bullying regulations, establish a federal commission to protect and encourage the rights of the child, and deal with those guilty of cyberbullying.
If those ideas sound familiar, it’s because a spate of opposition motions that came before the House sought to do exactly what this study is recommending. NDP MP Dany Morin introduced a motion recommending a House committee draft a national strategy to combat all forms of bullying, Liberal MP Hedy Fry introduced a bill to add cyberbullying to the Criminal Code, while MP and Liberal leadership contender Marc Garneau has repeatedly introduced his bill calling for a national children’s commissioner.
While they might not be getting much credit, it appears as though this legislation is a fusion of opposition and government ideas.
The similarities are not lost on the opposition.
“It’s no surprise that the Senate report recommendations were so similar to mine,” Morin tells Xtra. “We met with the same experts, read the same studies, and they all said the same thing -- Canada needs a national bullying-prevention strategy.”
The experts, it seems, will get their wish.
While the Tories voted to kill all three of the opposition bills targeted at bullying, committee chair Mobina Jaffer told journalists in a press conference Dec 12 that she expects the Harper government to implement the recommendations. The Conservatives had voted against Morin’s motion because, they said, it would take too long. They opposed Fry’s bill because they argued it criminalized children. Most recently, they voted against Garneau’s proposed children commissioner because they called it redundant.
But this time, Jaffer says, it’s different.
“We are very optimistic that our report will be looked on favourably by the government,” she said.
Jaffer expects no roadblocks and says she’s already met with the justice minister on this file. She was joined at the press conference by Conservative senator Salma Ataullahjan, who also underlined the need for the bill.
The committee was made up of five Conservatives and four Liberals and, somewhat ironically, was co-chaired by controversial Senator Patrick Brazeau — who has been in hot water for comments he’s made on Twitter; Brazeau had to apologize after calling Canadian Press journalist Jennifer Ditchburn a bitch.
“Children have the right to receive the information and care needed to help them understand the full consequences of bullying behaviour and the negative impacts it can have on them and their community,” Brazeau said in the committee’s press release about the report.
In the end, though, all parties seem satisfied with the Senate report. Yet the NDP is calling the Conservative position on an anti-bullying strategy “hypocritical,” according to a press release that will be distributed Dec 13.
"They don't want anyone from the opposition telling them what to do," Morin told Xtra after his bill was defeated.
Yet the Senate report — which the Conservatives have repeatedly highlighted as the best way to combat bullying, rather than accepting Morin’s motion and forming another committee — is, in many ways, more all-encompassing than any one of the opposition bills.
Jaffer says the report encourages the government to repair “piecemeal solutions” that currently exist in many communities.