The Current Status of Cyberbullying in Canada

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What is cyberbullying in Canada?

According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), cyberbullying involves the use of communication technologies such as e-mail, social networking sites (Facebook, Google+ and Twitter), the Internet, instant messaging, text messaging and Web sites to repeatedly harass or intimidate others.

The RCMP has stated that cyberbullying includes:

  • Creating a Web site to make fun of other people
  • Posting embarrassing photographs of someone online
  • Posting videos on YouTube which are embarrassing or of a harassing nature
  • Pretending to be someone by using their name , contact information or photo
  • Sending threatening, insulting or cruel e-mails, text messages or real-time messages via instant chat
  • Tricking someone into revealing embarrassing or personal information and then sending it to others via e-mail or posting it online

Is there cyberbullying in Canada?

Yes, there is cyberbullying in Canada and likely in all other countries with an Internet presence. There is also physical and verbal bullying not related to electronic technology. PREVNet (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network), founded in 2006, is a national network of 55 organizations serving Canadian youth and 69 Canadian research scientists. This network is doing research regarding, and assessing the problems related, to all bullying — not just cyberbullying. The goal of the network is to make people across Canada aware of the bullying problems in the country and to improve Canada’s World Health Organization ranking among countries reporting bullying incidents. Currently, of 35 countries in which bullying statistics are being kept, Canada has reported the ninth-largest number of such bullying incidents.

There are numerous lists showing the effects of cyberbullying on the victims. PREVNet has created a list showing the dangers for the aggressors, the children and adolescents who bully others:

  • Academic problems and increased school dropout rate
  • Aggression
  • Being bullied at the hands of others
  • Delinquency and substance use
  • Difficulties in their relationships with others
  • Gang involvement and criminal adulthood
  • Not knowing the difference between right and wrong
  • Sexual harassment and dating aggression

Annual Cyberbullying Survey 2013

Ditch the Label, an anti-bullying charity in the United Kingdom, conducts an annual cyberbullying survey. The organization interviewed 10,008 young people between the ages of 13 and 22 for their Annual Cyberbullying Survey 2013. Of the people interviewed:

  • 67% were from the UK
  • 17% were from the US
  • 12% were from Australia
  • 4% were from other countries

Ditch the Labels’ cyberbullying statistics showed that of the young people surveyed:

  • Males and females are equally at risk of being the targets of cyberbullying
  • Cyberbullying has occurred to 70%
  • Catastrophic effects upon social lives and self-esteem have been experienced by 69%
  • Highly frequent cyberbullying has occurred to 37%
  • Extreme cyberbullying on a daily basis has occurred to 20%
  • Cyberbullying is twice as likely to occur on Facebook as on any other social networking site
  • The social networking sites with the highest occurrences of cyberbullying are Facebook, Twitter and Ask.FM
    • 54% on Facebook
    • 28% on Twitter
    • 26% on Ask.FM

Suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons

Rehtaeh Parsons was a 17-year-old high school student from Halifax, Nova Scotia when she committed suicide in April 2013. Four boys had allegedly sexually assaulted her two years earlier. One of the four took a photo of the incident and posted it on the Internet. The image rapidly spread throughout the high school. Months of cyberbullying by Rehtaeh’s fellow students followed.

The photo of Rehtaeh Parsons having sex with one of the four boys went viral. Rehtaeh’s friends shunned her. People she knew, and some she didn’t know, harassed her. Boys posted messages on Facebook, asking Rehtaeh to have sex with them. According to the Chronicle Herald in Canada, the RCMP spent a year investigating the alleged criminal assault but was unable to press charges due to insufficient evidence.

Supporters of the four boys harassed Rehtaeh Parsons’ family. The harassment and bullying made life unbearable in their current neighborhood. The family was forced to move.

Rehtaeh suffered from long-lasting psychological and emotional effects as a result of the alleged assault. She attempted suicide in April 2013, was hospitalized and placed on life support. Her family made the decision to take her off life support three days later.

Suicide of Amanda Michelle Todd

Four hours after she uploaded the video, Amanda hanged herself.

Amanda’s parents were divorced. During the 2009 to 2010 school year, Amanda went to live with her father. She began using video chat to meet people online. One person complimented Amanda on her looks and convinced her to bare her breasts on camera. This person later blackmailed Amanda. He told her that unless she gave him a “show,” he would post the photo online.

In March 2012, Amanda returned to live with her mother. Later that year, the police informed her family that the photo was being circulated online. Amanda began experiencing panic disorder, anxiety and depression, and she started using alcohol and drugs. Amanda changed schools in an attempt to confuse the blackmailer regarding her location.

The individual who had been blackmailing Amanda returned to haunt her after a year of silence. He opened a new Facebook account, used the topless photo of Amanda as his profile image, and contacted students at Amanda’s new school. The bullying continued, so Amanda changed schools a second time.

Following an incident in which she was physically attacked by a group of students from her school, Amanda attempted to commit suicide by drinking bleach. Miraculously, Amanda survived this attempt to take her own life.

One of the students at Amanda’s school learned of her failed suicide attempt. When she returned home from the hospital, Amanda accessed Facebook and saw many abusive messages.

Amanda’s family moved to a new city, but the cyberbullying in Canada didn’t stop. The individual who had blackmailed Amanda would find out whenever Amanda changed schools. He would open a new Facebook account, contact students at Amanda’s school, saying that he was new to the area and was going to start attending classes at the school the following week. He asked the individuals to “friend” him on Facebook. When he had amassed enough friends, he would send the video of Amanda’s “show” to teachers and students at the new school, as well as to parents of the students.

Nova Scotia’s Cyber Safety Act

In May 2013, in response to the suicides of both Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Michelle Todd, lawmakers in Nova Scotia passed Bill No. 61, An Act to Address and Prevent Cyberbullying.This legislation, the first of its kind in Canada, makes those individuals responsible for cyberbullying accountable under the law, and it protects the victims.

Victims and their families no longer have to rely solely on police pursuing criminal action. The people on the receiving end of the cyberbullying can now pursue civil actions. They can sue the cyberbullies for damages, and they can seek orders of protection against the individuals. The role of school principals is clarified in the law. Parents are held responsible for the actions of their children under the age of 18.

The Cyber Safety Act created CyberSCAN, Canada’s first cyberbullying investigative unit. CyberSCAN is a five-person team, run by veteran policeman Roger Merrick, which is dedicated to assisting cyberbullying victims. The team investigates cyberbullying complaints and resolves the situations using both informal and formal legal methods.

Online Crime Act: Protecting Canadians

Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, addresses a gap in Canada’s Criminal Code. According to the Government of Canada, Department of Justice, the bill makes it illegal to distribute an intimate image of a person without the individual’s consent. Intimate image is defined in Bill C-13 as

“a visual recording of a person made by any means including a photographic, film or video recording in which the person is nude, is exposing his or her genital organs or anal region or her breasts or is engaged in explicit sexual activity.”

The Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act was introduced on November 20, 2013 by Federal Justice Minister Peter McKay. The bill would make it a crime to transmit intimate images (still or video) of a person without their knowledge or consent. If this federal (rather than provincial) cyberbullying bill becomes law, distributing “intimate images” without consent would be punishable by up to five years in jail. In addition to making it illegal to distribute the images, the law would require that the images be removed from the Internet

How can parents help prevent cyberbullying?

Psych Central, the Internet’s oldest and largest independent mental health social network, has been run by mental health professionals since 1995. According to the network, the following list contains ways parents can help prevent cyberbullying.

  • Attend school or community functions at which cyberbullying is being discussed. Speak with other parents and your child’s teacher and school counselor if you suspect your child is involved in cyberbullying, either as a perpetrator or a victim.
  • Be aware what your child writes on his or her electronic device(s). Monitor the family computers and tablets as well.
  • Carefully monitor your own reaction if your child reports being cyberbullied. Try to stay calm as you work on a plan for what to do next.
  • Demonstrate to your child that you can be trusted with any cyberbullying information he or she shares with you. Explain that you will keep his or her confidence as long as no one’s safety or health is at risk.
  • Explain that you don’t intend to punish your child for being truthful about his or her involvement in cyberbullying. Keep the lines of communication as open as possible with careful, non-threatening conversation.
  • In an age-appropriate manner, explain what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons in Nova Scotia and Amanda Michelle Todd in British Columbia. Express your concern that such terrible things must never happen in your family or any other family.
  • Know your child’s user IDs, passwords and screen names for all electronic devices.
  • Learn the current terminology used by young people today when corresponding with each other. Learn what the words and abbreviations mean. There is a reason why most children don’t want the adults in their lives to visit their Facebook or Twitter pages. They want their privacy.
  • Remind your child to treat others the way he or she would like to be treated. That means never saying or writing anything about another person that they would not say be willing or comfortable saying to that person’s face. It also means never saying or writing anything about another person that they would not to be said about themselves.
  • Watch for any ongoing or sudden signs that your child seems anxious, fearful, withdrawn, uninterested in school or that they don’t want to be around current or former friends.

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