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Online bullying targeted – Teachers seek Criminal Code offence July 11, 2008

Posted by cyberpatrol in cyberbullying, cybercrime.
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Winnipeg Free Press, 11 July 2008

Cyberbullying is becoming so prevalent in Canadian schools and society it should be made a separate Criminal Code offence, according to a new policy that will be adopted Saturday by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

The CTF, which represents 220,000 teachers, is holding a special session on cyberbullying at its annual meeting in Moncton, N.B., where the plan will officially be ratified.

In a draft version of the policy obtained by Canwest News Service, the teachers’ group says it should be a punishable offence to use “information and communication technology to convey a message which threatens death or bodily harm or perpetuates fear and intimidation.”

The proposal indicates a serious recognition of how common it is now for bullying to be carried out by text messaging, in online chat rooms, on blogs or social networking websites such as Facebook.

The idea goes far beyond the expulsions and suspensions that some students have been punished with for bullying fellow students or targeting teachers.

The president of the CTF, Emily Noble, said in an interview the Criminal Code doesn’t delve far enough into the use of electronic media and the legislation needs to be toughened.

“Cyberbullying is very pervasive and it is, from my perspective, devastating on employees and on students and we need to do something about it,” said Noble, who acknowledged that asking for cyberbullying to be made a crime is a strong statement.

“It’s pushing government to put some legislation that has some teeth.”

An aide to Manitoba Education Minister Peter Bjornson said the minister is not taking a position on the teachers’ proposal, but added, “We welcome any efforts that would strengthen protection for students.”

Bjornson recently introduced amendments to the Public Schools Act that defined cyberbullying and directed school divisions to include it in their codes of conduct. However, the province has not called for cyberbullying to be a separate criminal offence.

Winnipeg School Division board chairwoman Kristine Barr said Thursday the division has been in the forefront of toughening up its code of conduct to target cyberbullying specifically.

“We take cyberbullying very seriously. Cyberbullying is a growing problem. We will discipline students under our progressive discipline policy,” which allows principals to suspend students for up to five days, superintendents to suspend students for up to five weeks, and for trustees to suspend beyond five weeks or expel a student altogether.

Barr, who is a lawyer, said she would want to read specifically what the teachers are advocating, but said,”there may already be mechanisms in place” within the Criminal Code dealing with threats, which would cover cyberbullying.

A spokesman for Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said it’s too early to comment on the teachers’ Criminal Code proposal, but Noble said the CTF has started to talk to members of Parliament and have so far found a receptive audience.

“It is an issue that will resonate, we believe, with the policy-makers and the legislative-makers,” she said.

According to a poll conducted for the CTF that is being released today, a majority of Canadians agree with the CTF.

Results show 34 per cent of Canadians say they knew of students in their community who had been the target of a cyberbully in the previous year, while one in five knew a teacher who had been cyberbullied.

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