British Columbia

Cyberbullying report calls for provincial strategy

The B.C. government is being called upon to develop a strategy to prevent cyberbullying and educate children and youth on how to operate as digital citizens.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and Elizabeth Denham have presented their joint findings

The B.C. government is being called upon to develop a province-wide strategy around cyberbullying, and to help children become good digital citizens. (RIPAmandaTodd/Facebook)

The B.C. government is being called upon to develop a strategy to prevent cyberbullying and educate children and youth on how to operate as digital citizens.

The joint report, from the province's children's representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham, also calls for defined learning objectives around cyberbullying and digital citizenship in the new provincial school curriculum.

Turpel-Lafond and Denham presented their findings at a joint press conference Friday morning, arguing the best way to prevent peer-to-peer cyberbullying is through the introduction of initiatives that help children establish good behaviours online.

These include codes of conduct implemented by both school boards and individual schools, and using "teachable moments" to bring, the report states, a greater "understanding of human rights and digital citizenship – including privacy rights and the important role they play in the development of autonomy and responsible decision-making."

Peer-to-peer cases different from adult abuse

The report also recommends the attorney general develop guidelines for prosecution of cyberbullying crimes that keep the best interests of children at the centre, while acknowledging the impact of criminalizing young people.

Denham said she was concerned at the idea of covert surveillance of children as part of criminal cases. Both she and Turpel-Lafond said a clear distinction needed to be made between adults exploiting children and cases involving peers.

The report includes first-hand input from B.C. youth and a look at what is being done to tackle cyberbullying elsewhere.

"The answer is not to take technology away, or to introduce invasive surveillance tools to monitor our children," Denham said in a statement.

"Instead, we need to teach them how to behave online in a way that is respectful of others, and empower them to express themselves responsibly."

A statement from the Education Ministry said it has "taken a number of actions on cyberbullying" and would build on an existing anti-bullying strategy to address concerns raised in the report.

"Bullying is bullying, whether it happens behind a computer screen or face to face," said Education Minister Mike Bernier, whose ministry will take the lead on addressing concerns in the report.

High-profile cases

"The high-profile suicides of recent years of Canadian teenagers — including B.C.'s Amanda Todd — appeared to be a response to particularly vicious cyberbullying," the report says.

"These tragic cases, and many other instances of exploitation of young people, have brought the issue of cyberbullying to the forefront of public consciousness."

Todd, 15, took her life at her home in Port Coquitlam in 2012, after an explicit photo of her was shared among her peers on Facebook.

The report highlights her tragic case, as well as that of 17-year-old Nova Scotia resident Rehtaeh Parsons, who killed herself in 2013 after a picture circulated of her alleged sexual assault.

Read the full report

With files from The Canadian Press


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