In the wake of 15-year-old Amanda Todd's suicide, an anti-bullying motion debate in the House of Commons will have special resonance on Monday.
New Democrat Dany Morin introduced the motion calling for creation of an all-party committee to develop a national bullying-prevention strategy, CBC News reported.
It stops short of calling for federal legislation, though Ontario and Quebec have passed anti-bullying laws aimed at protecting school-age children such as Todd. The B.C. teen killed herself last Wednesday, about a month after uploading to YouTube a desperate plea to stop a cyber-bullying campaign against her.
RAW Cry for helpAmanda, a B.C. teen, posted this video to YouTube a month before committing suicide
It's clear something more needs to be done to protect young people whose identities are still forming and who are vulnerable to the corrosive combination of age-old children's cruelty and modern cyber tools.
But a debate needs to take place about whether we can legislate people to be nice to each other and criminalize their behaviour if they aren't. And if we do, at what level do those laws kick in? Do a few schoolyard taunts earn a kid a trip before a judge?
Clearly, though, cases like Todd's tragic spiral into depression and suicide need more than another round of sensitivity and awareness education.
Police wouldn't comment on reports that Todd, whose agony began after an image of her briefly lifting up her top on a webcam at aged 12 circulated online, was lured and then stalked and taunted by an American pedophile. But for the teen, a moment's indiscretion led to three years of torment that ended in death, said her mother.
Carol Todd told the Vancouver Sun that her daughter was a victim of unrelenting blackmail by the unidentified stalker, aided by students who circulated the photo on their smart phones at her school and later abused her verbally and physically.
Changing schools didn't help. The stalker threatened to recirculate the photo if the teen didn't do a show for him, her mother said.
"The police investigated and investigated, it got traced to somebody in the United States," Carol Todd told the Sun. "But they never found him. Those people are very good at hiding their tracks."
Amanda's death prompted an outpouring of sympathy but also cruel messages posted on memorial pages dedicated to the Port Coquitlam, B.C., teen, according to CBC News.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who earlier this year announced an action plan on bullying, issued her own message of sympathy and suggested new laws might be needed to fight cyber-bullying, the Sun reported.
"I think we should have a national conversation about whether or not we should criminalize cyber-bullying," Clark said in an interview with the Sun.
"That could be the right thing to do, because what it will do is it will make a very strong statement about where we stand as a society."
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The Monday debate on the Commons motion might give some indication of how willing federal MPs are to criminalize bullying.
So far the Conservative government has expressed support for provincial efforts to combat the problem and funded community crime-prevention groups that can reach out to at-risk kids, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, told CBC's The House.
Findlay noted her own daughter was a victim of cyber-bullying, including death threats from other girls in her school.
The Criminal Code of Canada already contains sections covering harassment and watching or besetting that could conceivably be amended to include types of bullying, especially the cyber variety.
Ontario's Accepting Schools Act, which came into force Sept. 1, makes it a legal obligation for schools to provide an environment free of bullying. But the Globe and Mail reported recently the law could face a constitutional challenge from the province's Roman Catholic school system, which opposes the requirement that all schools allow creation of gay-straight alliance clubs.
Wikipedia lists 49 U.S. states with school anti-bullying laws in the last decade. The U.S. Cyberbullying Research Center is also tracking states that have passed or are considering cyber-bullying legislation.
But debate continues whether such laws have any meaningful impact or are simply "feel-good legislation."
A report by researchers for the Kinder & Braver World Project that surveys U.S. anti-bullying legislation concludes the legal landscape on bullying is still evolving. Existing laws put all the responsibility for preventing bullying and responding to incidents on the school system, it states.
Anti-bullying and other laws and regulations play an important part in addressing the problem, it says, but: "Legal responses and mandates can at their best only facilitate the harder non-legal work that schools must undertake to create a kinder, braver world."
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