Education Minister Jody Carr is promising the New Brunswick government will introduce new legislation this spring to crack down on bullying in the province.
There have been several stories in recent weeks of bullying around New Brunswick. One teenaged boy is facing charges after lighting a girl’s hair on fire in Saint John.
Another teenager was pulled from school after he was subjected to months of degrading harassment by another student.
And a Fredericton mother has come forward to describe how, three years ago, she hired a bodyguard to protect her daughter, who was being bullied at Fredericton High School.
Carr said in an interview on Thursday that stories of students being bullied "break my heart." He said that dealing with the issue of bullying is a key priority for his department.
"There will enhanced legislation this spring to help address bullying in our schools and help address and provide a positive and healthy learning environment," Carr said.
"In addition to that, legislation alone will not solve this problem alone, no one entity, no one government agency will solve this problem alone. We need to have coordinated programs. We have to have leadership. We have to have training."
Education department officials are still drafting the legislation. But Carr said the changes are coming out of reforms recommended by a ministerial advisory committee on bullying.
While the legislation is still being written, Carr said his department is reviewing a bill that was introduced in Quebec this week designed to combat bullying.
The proposed legislation would require districts to put in place plans to deal with bullying and to record incidents of bullying. It would also give administrators the authority to expel repeat bullies.
Carr said those options are part of the overall legislative package that are being considered by his department.
Similar to the Quebec law, Carr said there will be consequences for bullies in the new legislation.
"But consequences alone will not solve the issue, it is much broader than that. But part of our ministerial advisory committee has been to investigate better practices in other provinces and the Quebec legislation is one that we are taking under consideration for our overall package," he said.
Activists have lobbied for reforms
Anti-bullying advocates have been calling for tough new measures for more than a year.
Rob Frenette, who has lobbied for years for stronger measures and better resources to deal with school bullies, said last week that he’s been told the pending changes will include "disciplinary action related to bullying."
Carr said the issue of bullying is very personal for him. The father of two young daughters had to deal with the issue of bullying early in his political career.
Carr said two parents came to his office and told him how their 13-year-old daughter committed suicide and they thought it was because of bullying.
The education minister said that story had a profound impact on him.
"When you hear the public stories ... I can't help but have a broken heart and it drives me with passion to keep working hard to make sure that we provide healthy and safe learning environments," Carr said.