November 13, 2015 - 10:40 AM
VANCOUVER - British Columbia's privacy and children's watchdogs are urging the province to make cyberbullying education a mandatory part of the school curriculum and teacher development.
Privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham and children's representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond submitted a joint report to the B.C. legislature on Friday, calling for a co-ordinated, cross-ministry strategy to prevent online harassment.
"The high-profile suicides of recent years of Canadian teenagers — including B.C.'s Amanda Todd — appeared to be a response to particularly vicious cyberbullying," the report said.
"These tragic cases, and many other instances of exploitation of young people, have brought the issue of cyberbullying to the forefront of public consciousness."
Todd, 15, took her life at her home in Port Coquitlam in 2012 after an explicit photo of her was shared among her peers on Facebook. The report highlights her tragic case, as well as that of 17-year-old Nova Scotia resident Rehtaeh Parsons, who killed herself in 2013 after a picture circulated of her alleged sexual assault.
The report called for action from B.C.'s education and justice ministries, social media companies, Internet providers and from parents.
A statement from the Education Ministry said it has "taken a number of actions on cyberbullying" and would build on an existing anti-bullying strategy to address concerns raised in the report.
"Bullying is bullying, whether it happens behind a computer screen or face to face," said Education Minister Mike Bernier, whose ministry will take the lead on addressing concerns in the report.
Denham and Turpel-Lafond want the Education Ministry to ensure that cyberbullying is included in the curriculum as soon as possible and to make the subject a mandatory part of professional development for teachers across the province.
They also ask the attorney general to consider developing prosecution guidelines on how to apply criminal law to cyberbullying cases while recognizing that online harassment means young people can be both perpetrator and victim.
"Government must carefully balance the effect that criminal charges may have to denounce the harms of bullying with the damage that criminalizing young people can inflict on their futures," the report said.
The Education Ministry said in a statement that the Criminal Justice Branch, which is part of the Justice Ministry, determines independently whether a prosecution policy is required in the public interest.
The report added that social media companies and Internet providers bear some responsibility for the actions of their users. It recommends companies develop processes and policies that facilitate the removal of private content posted without a young person's consent.
Denham and Turpel-Lafond also want kids, teachers, parents and lawmakers educated on digital citizenship, meaning the responsible use of communication technologies online.
The report included first-hand input from B.C. youth and a look at what is being done to tackle cyberbullying elsewhere.
"The answer is not to take technology away, or to introduce invasive surveillance tools to monitor our children," Denham said in a statement. "Instead, we need to teach them how to behave online in a way that is respectful of others, and empower them to express themselves responsibly."
— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015