Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Provinces Draw Different Lines between Bullying and Hurt Feelings

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Provinces Draw Different Lines between Bullying and Hurt Feelings

Article excerpt

Provinces take different routes to fight bullies

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WINNIPEG - Provinces introducing laws to crack down on school bullies are taking different approaches as they decide where to draw the line between chronic abuse and a one-time insult or slight.

There are also questions, as in Manitoba, as to whether legislation will have any effect. That province's proposed law does not require principals to hand down specific penalties or even report bullying to parents or authorities.

The rush to rein in bullies across the country is partly in response to the suicide last year of Amanda Todd, a British Columbia girl who was tormented online after being sexually exploited.

But what is the most effective definition?

Ontario's law, passed last year, defines bullying as causing -- or intending to cause -- physical or emotional harm, causing damage to another student's property, placing that pupil in reasonable fear of harm or creating a hostile environment at school.

In Quebec, bullying must be repeated direct or indirect behaviour involving a power imbalance which causes distress and "injures, hurts, oppresses, intimidates or ostracizes."

In Manitoba, the definition under a bill now before the legislature is broad enough to include a single intent to cause hurt feelings. The province's education minister says the wording is deliberate.

"We really wanted to make sure that we captured, in the definition ... negative intent. We're very comfortable with this definition," Nancy Allan said.

But the definition is so general, it could make bullies out of any student, argue the Opposition Progressive Conservatives.

"It's so vague ... that it will either be unenforceable or enforced arbitrarily," said education critic Kelvin Goertzen.

"It's going to make bullies out of a whole lot of people ... including teachers and volunteers."

For example, Goertzen fears teachers could end up getting questioned for disciplining a student or a coach could be criticized for suggesting a player was not doing well.

The public debate over Manitoba's proposed law has focused on a separate clause that requires schools to allow students to set up gay-straight alliances if the students want to. Some religious leaders say it's an infringement on the freedom of religion, because their private schools would be required to accommodate student groups that run contrary to their beliefs.

Goertzen said the issues that have not garnered as much attention, such as the definition of bullying, are also problematic.

The bill defines bullying as behaviour that "is intended to cause, or should be known to cause, fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other forms of harm to another person's body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property."

Creating a negative school environment for someone else would also qualify as bullying and the act could be either repeated or occur once. …

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