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Cyberbullying Update

posted 7/13/2008 11:16:20 PM |
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Teachers' federation adopts policy to criminalize cyberbullying
Helen Morris , Canwest News Service
Published: Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cyberbullying should be made a separate Criminal Code offence the Canadian Teachers' Federation said on Saturday as they voted unanimously to ratify their policy on the issue.

"Because it's (cyberbullying) so new . . . we haven't caught up and we're trying to catch up," said Emily Noble president of the federation.

"Kids go on, say Facebook, and make harassing comments about someone . . . If I_had written you a letter I would be up before the courts for harassment," said Noble. "People do it online and it's anonymous."

The CTF, which represents 220,000 teachers, held a special session on cyberbullying at its annual meeting in Moncton, N.B. The new policy aims to reflect the changing environment for today's kids.

"It's (cyberspace) the new playground. We've taught the kids in terms of the face-to-face and the physical bullying but this is in fact the new space."

But Noble said while bullying has always gone on, it is this anonymity that differentiates the cyberbully from the traditional playground thug.

"This use of computers is a new tool . . .We are finding it is much more pervasive because there is an anonymity to it,"_she said. "Kids can go online and they can pretend to be somebody else."

A draft version of the policy said that it should be a punishable offence to use "information and communication technology to convey a message which threatens death or bodily harm or perpetuates fear and intimidation."

The policy indicates a serious recognition of how common it is now for bullying to be carried out by text messaging, in online chat rooms, on blogs or social networking websites such as Facebook. The idea goes far beyond the expulsions and suspensions that some students have been punished with for bullying fellow students or targeting teachers.

"We will be lobbying the federal government to strengthen any gaps in the criminal code regarding misuse of the Internet," said Noble.

A spokesperson for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said it's too early to comment on the CTF's Criminal Code proposal, but Noble said the federation has already started to talk to members of Parliament and have so far found a receptive audience.

"It is an issue that will resonate, we believe, with the policy-makers and the legislative makers," she said.

But she said that it could be a challenge to get across to policy-makers the seriousness of the issue.

"One of the major difficulties in terms of the Criminal Code is that we tend to think these are just people on the Internet and it's fun to play games,'' said Noble. "We need to work with the policy-makers to say '"this is more than just kids playing video games."

Shaheen Shariff, an associate professor in the faculty of education at McGill University and an author on cyberbullying, is pleased the organization has finally developed a policy on the matter, but doesn't think making it a crime will help eliminate it.

"I understand completely their need to come up with a policy," said Shariff. "I would advise them to please emphasize an educational response; make sure their membership understands that criminalizing this issue ought to be the very, very last resort."

With files from Meagan Fitzpatrick

© Canwest News Service 2008

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