TRURO – Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says the federal government has a strong role to play in combating bullying and cyber-bullying.
Toews participated at a round table on public safety, bullying and cyberspace bullying in Truro on Tuesday. The roundtable, that included police parents, school administrators, legislators and mental health administrators, was organized by Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MP Scott Armstrong.
“There are a number of steps we can take as a government. Certainly legislation is the primary responsibility of the federal government, but also my department, through the national crime prevention programs, has significant amounts of money that we have been contributing across the country in various provinces to develop programs and approaches to dealing with this problem.”
Toews said committees in both the House of Commons and Senate are engaged on the bullying issue and the effort is one that crosses party lines with MPs and senators working on coming up with additional steps to combat bullying.
While bullying has been around as long as man has been on the planet, Toews said the growth of the Internet has made it worse in that it’s no longer a problem young people face on the playground or at school.
“I learned today how pervasive bullying is. The Internet has created a problem that wasn’t there 10 or 20 years ago. It’s a problem that’s not just in the schoolyard, but right into the homes of children. It’s something that can follow them 24 hours a day,” the minister said.
The minister said cyber-bullying raises the question on what the responsibility of Internet service providers is.
He said school administrators said they need clear direction from school board officials and other authorities on what will be tolerated and what consequences will follow.
“There’s a real role for schools to play in the situation and it’s one in which schools cannot be ambivalent to the problem,” Toews said. “Given the discussion I heard today there’s a willingness among educators and administrators to find ways to hold individuals accountable and make it very clear they will be held accountable.”
The minister also suggested parents need to take a more active role in monitoring their children’s online use.
“They need to know what’s going on with the computer that’s in their child’s bedroom that may be the source of some of these problems,” he said. “I’m a very big supporter of the use of computers, but because computers have provided so much benefit does not negate a parent’s responsibility to take active steps to supervise children’s activity on the Internet and to engage their children in a meaningful way about some of the issues that are going on in the Internet.”
Armstrong said cyberbullying has seen a huge cost in his riding with several teen suicides.
“This cannot become a partisan issue. We have to focus and find solutions. After 18 years as an educator I can speak with a lot of expertise that the only thing that truly stops bullying is supervision and the Internet provides challenges to that,” Armstrong said. “We have to find ways to provide supervision and work with parents so they understand what their children are sending and receiving on the Internet. New technology is wonderful in that it provides access to information around the world, but with access comes danger in various forms. We have to find a way to provide freedom and privacy, but we also have to find a way to provide supervision.”
Both Toews and Armstrong are being applauded by Bullying Canada for holding the roundtable.
“Bullying is a serious trauma that many of us have had to face in our lives. Working together to promote a safe environment for youth is the exact remedy we need,” said Katie Neu, co-executive director of Bullying Canada.
Co-executive director Rob Frenette said the federal government, through Public Safety’s National Crime Prevention Centre, has developed resources on evidence-based programs to address bullying.
In addition, the RCMP actively reaches out to communities to provide information on bullying-related issues, such as through the Walk Away, Ignore, Talk It Out, Seek Help pilot program.
The RCMP also operates DEAL.org, a by youth, for youth web-based program that offers resouces on issues such as bullying and cyberbullying.