As Ontario and Quebec schools prepare to bring in anti-bullying legislation, a new poll says a large proportion of Canadians believe it is time for bullying to be regarded as a criminal activity.
Most Canadians agree bullying is a serious problem, with 94 per cent believing it happens in middle school and high school and 88 per cent in elementary school, an of 1,006 Canadian adults found. (This compared to university, where only 43 per cent of respondents believed bullying was a serious problem.)
The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Bullying is not an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada, but often behaviours like harassment, mischief and uttering threats, which could fall under the large umbrella of bullying behaviour, can lead to criminal charges.
Dalton McGuinty's government in Ontario has proposed the Accepting Schools Act, which calls for consequences up to expulsion, new policies on bullying prevention and intervention, and school progress reports. If passed, the legislation would go further than current rules, requiring staff to report serious student incidents, contact parents and consider suspending offenders.
In Quebec, legislation tabled by Jean Charest's government would have schools appoint a person on staff to oversee the implementation of an anti bullying plan and table an annual report. School principals will have the authority to expel repeat offenders, and those boards that fail to comply would be fined.
In the United States, a proposed federal law would make it illegal to use electronic means to "coerce, intimidate, harass or cause other substantial emotional distress." Nine in 10 Canadians would like to see a similar cyber bullying laws enacted in their own province.
Women were more likely than men to support bringing in cyber bulling laws, with 93 per cent agreeing compared to 87 per cent of men.
The Angus Reid poll also found that two-thirds of respondents think bullying should be considered a crime even if no physical violence is involved.
The results came out on Wednesday as students across the country will don pink shirts in an annual ritual to show they don't tolerate bullying.
In Toronto, Etobicoke School of Arts student Jacques St. Pierre was one of the lucky few picked to join pop star Lady Gaga at Harvard University for the launch of her anti-bullying foundation Wednesday.
Mr. St. Pierre was bullied for being gay and he reached out to Gaga. She replied with a video, which went viral, and was played at a anti-bullying school rally in November.
"Bullying happens in so many schools ... it's an epidemic that really needs to be dealt with," the 17-year-old student said in a phone call from Boston. "More and more people are starting to get that, and it makes it easier for people to stand up against bullying."
The Toronto student says that he would support a law that made cyber bullying a crime.
"In so many cases, I've friends who've been bullied online and it's really hard to fight that because you can't put a face to that person," Mr. St. Pierre said. "It's that much more dangerous, because of that reason."