Cyberbullying - CTF calls for a national education campaign

Canadian Teachers' Federation
June 27, 2012

What follows is the presentation made by CTF President Paul Taillefer on May 14, 2012 to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights. The committee is examining ways to prevent cyberbullying and bullying, and to protect and assist young Canadians who are targetted.

“Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to present our position today.

CTF defines cyberbullying as “the use of information and communication technologies to bully, embarrass, threaten or harass another person. It also includes the use of these technologies to engage in conduct or behaviour that is derogatory, defamatory, degrading, or illegal.”

The Canadian Teachers’ Federation began addressing the issue of cyberbullying in 2007. At the CTF Annual General Meeting in July 2008, a comprehensive policy aimed at addressing cyberbullying was adopted by teacher leaders from across Canada.

The guiding principles are based on the premise that safe and caring schools that promote healthy workplaces for teachers and healthy learning environments for children and youth should be a national priority. Individual rights to freedom of information and the right to free thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication, must be balanced with the rights and responsibilities of children and youth and those who are placed in positions of trust to protect them.

CTF policy speaks heavily to the need for education as a key element in addressing, preventing and protecting students and teachers from cyber-related harm. It also speaks to the roles and responsibilities of parents and guardians, schools, school boards and school districts, teachers, students, teacher organizations, ministries of education and government.

However, since the adoption of this policy, there’s been no sign of a reduction in cyberbullying incidents. In fact, the number is probably on the rise, given media reports and surveys.   

Our own 2008 National Issues in Education Survey revealed that over three-quarters of Canadians surveyed were familiar with the term "cyberbullying”, including 35% who said they were “very familiar” and 43% who indicated they were “somewhat familiar”. That number is probably higher today.

We also asked Canadians if they knew of a student in their community who had been cyberbullied in the previous year. One-third of Canadians surveyed said yes and 16% said they knew of a teacher in their community who had been the target of cyberbullying. In addition, about 1 in 10 respondents nationally indicated that they knew close friends (12%), family members (11%) or co-workers (10%) who had been cyberbullied, while 5% said they had been targets themselves.

Canadian teachers ranked this issue as their highest concern among the 6 issues surveyed, with 86% of those surveyed in 2010 indicating bullying and violence as a serious problem in the public schools in their community, including 41% who consider the problem to be “very serious”.

The question is a complex one: one person’s joker is another person’s cyberbully. But one thing is clear: the media attention given to bullying and cyberbullying has not declined since 2007.

Last year, the Nova Scotia government became so concerned with cyberbullying that it mandated a task force led by Wayne MacKay, law professor at Dalhousie University. Released in March, the task force’s report titled Respectful and Responsible Relationships: There's No App for That, stated:

The young people in any society are frequently the group most responsible for pushing the envelope, experimenting, innovating – evolving. These young people must be engaged in the process of combating bullying in Nova Scotia. Although many in the older generations are unfamiliar with the tools or language of social communication used by young people today, the outcomes of those interactions are of grave importance to all of us. What the youth of today do with technological innovations is poised on the edge of the horizon. Nevertheless, the basic values of respect, responsibility, and the valuing of high quality, positive human relationships are for both parents and schools to inculcate, to teach, and to transmit. Our collective success depends on it.

The Canadian Teachers’ Federation believes this statement is not only limited to Nova Scotia but can also be a reflection at the national level.

Whatever we have done by way of research, legislation and task forces to date is not enough. Too often we have witnessed tragic outcomes of bullying in terms of mental illness and teen suicides.

In a survey conducted in February of this year, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation asked teachers for their perspective on student mental health issues in their schools. The survey drew the responses of nearly 4,000 teachers from across the country, in both languages.

We asked them which of the following issues were a pressing concern in their school:

Among the most pressing concerns identified by teacher respondents were attention deficit disorders, learning disabilities, stress, and anxiety disorders

We also asked them about the potential barriers to providing mental health services for students in their school. Not surprisingly, most teachers said there was an insufficient number of school-based mental health professionals.

Majority of Teachers Consider Surveyed Factors Potential Barriers to Providing Mental Health Services

Teachers were also asked how frequently they have seen a student being treated unfairly, bullied or teased as a result of having a mental health problem. Twenty-one percent of teachers surveyed (1 in 5) said they had “very frequently” or “frequently” seen a student being treated unfairly, bullied, or teased as a result of having a mental health problem, including 6% who indicated “very” frequently.  Only 17% of teachers could say that they had “never” witnessed unfair treatment because of a mental health problem.

A few weeks ago, Dr. Patrick Baillie of the Mental Health Commission of Canada spoke at the Canadian Association for the Practical Study of Law and Education (CAPSLE) Annual Meeting in Ottawa, making the link between bullying and mental health. He explained how the history of victimisation and poor social relationships predicts the onset of emotional problems in adolescents, and how previous recurrent emotional problems are significantly related to future victimisation. He described the typical victim and bully who themselves are likely to suffer from a mental health disability:

The typical bully is one who exhibits significant externalizing behavior, has internalizing symptoms, has both social competence and academic challenges, possesses negative attitudes and beliefs about others, has negative self-related cognitions, … comes from a family environment characterized by conflict and poor parental monitoring, is more likely to perceive his or her school as having a negative atmosphere, is influenced by negative community factors, and tends to be negatively influenced by his or her peers.

The relative probability of having a psychiatric disorder was 9.5X for male bullies, 7.9X for male bully-victims, and 4.3X for female victims (compared to non-involved same-sex children). The most common diagnoses were ADD, oppositional / conduct disorder, and depression.

Study after study shows a direct correlation between bullying, mental health issues and academic achievement.

Teachers want to intervene at the earliest possible time but need the support at the federal, provincial, territorial and school board levels.

However there is also a need for engagement with the private sector providers. The Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association defines information and communication technology (ICT) in the following way:

Equipment that includes, but is not limited to, any current and emerging stationary or wireless technologies or systems that can be used by individuals or groups for the purpose of communication, entertainment, data management, word processing, internet access, image capture/recording, sound recording and information transmitting/receiving/storing.

It is time that a formal national conversation took place between educational stakeholders and private ICT providers. The industry needs to hear first-hand the issues that schools, families and communities face in trying to address the issue. Stakeholders need to hear what ICT providers are doing to address the concern, and what they are prepared to commit to as part of their responsibilities.

The Canadian Teachers’ Federation has presented briefs on a number of occasions to Parliamentary Committees and met with Justice Canada officials urging for amendments to the Criminal Code to address online harassment, cyberstalking and cyberbullying. The Federation has requested changes to sections of the code dealing with defamatory libel, false messages and hate propaganda. We can provide you with samples of our brief if you would like more technical details on that front.

Canadian teachers are seeking the support of the Government of Canada (Justice, Health, Public Safety, Industry Canada, etc.) in recognizing the extreme impact of the misuse of technology, manifested in cybermisconduct and cyberbullying by:

  • supporting public awareness and education campaigns that focus on appropriate cyberconduct and the prevention of cyberbullying;
  • supporting amendments to the regulatory framework for the rating of films and video games to reduce the possibility of excessively violent products being sold to children and youth.
  • supporting amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada that make it clear that the use of information and communication technology to convey a message that threatens death or bodily harm, or perpetuates fear and intimidation in another, constitutes a punishable offence under the Criminal Code;
  • helping to enact new information and communication technology / cybermisconduct and cyberbullying legislation that protects teachers, students and others from harm;
  • Facilitating, through regulation, legislation and incentive, a national dialogue with corporate ICT providers aimed at developing a common cause between the private and the public sector in efforts at addressing cyberbullying.

Along with the recent release of the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s national mental health strategy, there is a need to support the development of a national strategy in addressing bullying, including cyberbullying. A first step would be to orchestrate a national symposium of educational stakeholders and community leaders, where the beginning steps would be taken to ensure that there was consistency in approach across the nation. As part of Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, every youth, regardless of where they live in Canada, deserves the right to live in a community and attend a school that is a safe place.

Thank you so much for this opportunity and we are open to any questions you may have. “

Watch the Senate video webcast (at 26 minutes in):

Visit the CTF section of the Web site on cyberbullying:

CTF’s brochure for teachers “Cybertips for Teachers”:


Canadian Teachers’ Federation

Canadian Teachers’ Federation
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Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 238,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

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