Bullying (and legal consequences!)

Do you have a lot of great memories from high school?

High school can be fun. But, because of bullies, high school can also be a never-ending stream of embarrassing and frustrating ‘experiences’. And for some people, it’s much worse…

I am sure that by now, we’ve all heard of Amanda Todd, the young and tragic victim of bullying: Amanda Todd’s heart-wrenching story.

Her story isn’t even uncommon…

The 3rd leading cause of death among youths is suicide and at least half of all youth suicides are related to bullying. Suicide from bullying is so common among youths that it has been termed, “bullycide”. What a complete disgrace that it has got to this point…

Amanda Todd’s story has sparked A LOT of interest in how to use the law to stop bullying. And some of the proposed strategies are better than others.

After the tragedy, Premier Christy Clark discussed creating laws to criminalize cyber-bullying and to more severely punish the ‘bully’: Christy Clark says new laws are needed to combat bullying. Christy Clark wasn’t the only one with this idea. Here is an online petition, attempting to criminalize cyber-bullying: Petition to stop bullying.

I appreciate the good intentions in trying to create new, tough laws to stop cyber-bullying. But, quite frankly, creating new, tough laws is a very poor solution to bullying. Criminal law is a blunt tool and not the best way to deal with this social problem.

Maybe I am alone, but I have a very tough time believing that the Criminal Code or other punishing laws will be used against bullies in grade school. I can’t see Crown Prosecutors approving charges against school-yard bullies and I can’t see police officers spending much time investigating into such cases, either.

Also, for your information, the Criminal Code already deals with bully-type behaviour. For instance, it is a crime to threaten another person or another person’s property (section 264.1 of Criminal Code). It is also a crime to harass, follow, or repeatedly communicate with a person, causing that person to fear for their safety (section 264 of Criminal Code). For your information, this section is often used in cases where an ex-boyfriend continues to follow around his ex-girlfriend (i.e. in ‘stalking’ cases).

So, what is a better legal strategy to combat bullying? Well, in a previous column, I suggested suing the school authorities if the children are not protected: Bullies, schools, and lawsuits.

The argument was as follows: there is a legal obligation that children receive schooling and, if children attend a public school, school authorities owe a duty to keep those children safe and protected against preventable and foreseeable harm, including harm from other children. If school authorities fail in keeping children safe from preventable harm, then the school authorities should be held accountable. And, if schools are held (financially) accountable, then school authorities are fiscally motivated and will do whatever they can to prevent and detect bullying.

School authorities have been sued in these types of cases all over Canada: Taking schools to court. This is great. It is also great that, in September 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a youth could hide her identity when she launches legal action against cyber-bullies: Top court protects anonymity.

The downside to civil litigation (i.e. suing schools) is that litigation is expensive and slow. While it may (eventually) get justice for the victim, it is hardly the best way to deal with a school-yard bully.

So, can the ‘law’ really be used to help stop bullying? Answer: yes, BUT there also needs to be A LOT of work done in other areas, like parenting and in the education system (to stop bullying before it starts or stop it immediately after it starts).

There is no way that I can fully address this topic in this column. But, before I conclude, I will say that I was excited to hear about a new online tool for students to report bullying. Using this online tool, students could anonymously report instances of bullying. The reports would then be sent to school coordinators who would decide whether or not school authorities should investigate or whether or not police should be involved.

In closing, I am happy that there are some great efforts being made. But, with that said, it is infuriating that another person had to die before this issue got the attention that it deserves.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought. 

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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