Try as they might, governments can’t really legislate good behaviour. Sure, there are laws and punishments surrounding every form of criminal activity — from robbing a convenience store and shooting a deer out of season, to embezzlement and murder. But no matter how many laws are in the books, and no matter how stiff the punishments, there are people in society who still knowingly break them. It’s human nature.
Unfortunately, when it comes to issues of bullying in schools, the situation becomes even more complex, and thus, more difficult to address.
Across the country in the last few years there have been several high profile teen suicides that have directly stemmed from issues of bullying. And as a result, provincial governments have rushed to bulk up their anti-bullying laws.
As CTV noted in a report this past weekend, several teen suicides in Nova Scotia, including the death of 15-year-old Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, prompted that province to launch a cyberbullying task force. The creation of Quebec’s new anti-bullying law was due in part to the suicide of the 15-year old Marjorie Raymond. And the death of 15-year-old openly gay student Jamie Hubley inspired the Ontario government’s bullying legislation.
And just last week, Manitoba’s education minister referenced the death of Grade 10 student Amanda Todd when she introduced a new comprehensive anti-bullying action plan under Bill 18, dubbed The Public Schools Amendment Act (Safe and Inclusive Schools).
Todd committed suicide last October in her British Columbia home weeks after she posted a video on YouTube that explained her experience of being bullied in person and online, assaulted and blackmailed.
As part of the Manitoba government’s new plan, kids teachers and parents will be given more resources to deal with bullying issues. The legislation calls for expanded training supports, workshops and other professional opportunities, and ongoing support for the Respect in School initiative.
The minister says the plan will also provide parents with new online information on how to recognize, deal with and report bullying, and give further help for students through what it called “strengthened anti-bullying legislation.”
The amendment expands the definition of bullying, and calls for the establishment of new written policy concerning the appropriate use of the Internet and social media, and the establishment and implementation of a policy outlining respect for human diversity in each school across the province.
The legislation also expands the duty of school board and school division employees and those who have care and charge of students during school-approved activities to report cases of bullying, cyber or otherwise, to the principal “as soon as reasonably possible.”
We understand that governments need to be seen to be doing something to stop student bullying. But we’re not convinced that legislating the situation alone is effective public policy. And if they were honest, government officials would acknowledge the same.
Across the country millions of dollars are spent on these kinds of initiatives, but governments of all stripes are not sufficiently tracking the impact of such legislation to see if it has had any effect.
There is no easy fix to bullying, and so often it happens outside of the school setting, and beyond the reach of governments and school boards. If there was an easy policy fix to kids bullying other kids, it would have been implemented by now. But as we said at the start, you can’t legislate good behaviour and good morals. In reality its up to parents, educators and students to step up and get involved.