Edmonton passes anti-bullying bylaw
Measure will be useful tool, police explain
Toronto Star, Canadian Press, various newspapers across Canada, by ISABEL TEOTONIO, Mar. 11, 2003
EDMONTON (CP) - Edmonton became the first Canadian city today to make bullying illegal and fine tormentors a minimum of $250.
Supporters say they hope the new bylaw will make young people think twice before threatening and intimidating anyone.
"It won't deter everybody, but hopefully it will have an effect on some students," said Coun. Jane Batty, chair of the community services board that put forth the issue.
"Bullying just can't be accepted in this day and age and we need to put a stop to it in any way that we can," Batty said.
Several Canadian teens have either died or committed suicide due to bullying by their peers.
Emmet Fralick, 14, of Halifax, shot himself at home in April 2002. He left a suicide note saying he was distraught after being tormented by students.
Reena Virk, 14, of Victoria, died after being beaten by teenagers in November 1997.
Edmonton police, backed by both separate and public school boards, approached civic politicians to add harassment to the list of offences already covered by the city's public places bylaw.
"Up to 70 per cent of the complaints in our schools are bullying-related," said Const. Dan Williams, a school resource officer at St. Joseph Catholic High School, who proposed the idea.
Police are unable to deal with assaults, gang violence and harassment until it escalates into a criminal matter. Williams said he hopes the new bylaw will enable them to quash bullying before it goes too far.
"We've had lots of interest from all across the country, from other municipalities, from other police agencies and school boards asking for information about our proposal to city council," Batty said.
The bylaw is geared towards students and affects anyone under the age of 18 who is threatened. Bullying is defined as a person who communicates with someone in a way that makes the person feel harassed; the comment, threat or action is made in a public place and the threats are repeated.
However, Coun. Ed Gibbons, who voted against the bylaw in a 10-3 vote Tuesday afternoon, said the Criminal Code can sufficiently quell bullying.
"I'm against bullying, I grew up with a black eye protecting people . . . but this is a federal issue, so let's leave it in the realm that it belongs in."
Quinn McElveen, a Grade 12 student recovering at home after she was beaten last week outside her school and is too afraid to return, thinks the new bylaw will keep bullies at bay.
"I was being punched in the head and kicked in the ribs by two girls," McElveen said as she gingerly stroked her neck that still bears red scratches across it.
"If there's going to be a stricter punishment, I definitely think they'll think twice."
Anti-bullying programs are effective at a young age, but in high school, they should be supported by some legislation, said Const. Williams.
"We can tell kids that bullying isn't only unacceptable, but that it's also illegal . . . It's another tool that the police can use in dealing with bullies if they don't listen," he said, adding that discretion will be used in issuing fines to only serious charges.
"Kids aren't stupid, they know what they can get away with, they know what the limit is."
"A lot of the kids know that if they haven't punched someone, committed an assault or uttered any threats - if it's just harassment - that the police won't do anything."
Williams is asking parents not to pay the fines, explaining that teenagers should pay it themselves or work it off by doing community service.
But what's even Read More ..portant than slapping kids with a fine is listening to them, says Jessica Weiser, regional director for Leave out Violence, a Toronto-based organization that runs programs across Canada aimed at reducing violence among youth.
"I don't know if slapping a fine on them is the best way of dealing with it," said Weiser, who works with perpetrators, victims and witnesses of violence.
"I think kids act out in aggressive ways because they need to be heard. Figure out why they're bullying before you just slap on a fine. Statistics tell you that almost all the bullies have been bullied. They don't just do it arbitrarily."
However, Williams also points to a statistic that shows bullying can lead to criminal activity.
"Kids don't grow out of it, they grow into criminals," he said, adding that the current method of dealing with bullies is ineffective. Suspensions merely give kids a few days off school, while expulsions move the problem to another school.
February 5, 2005
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