This is an opinion piece by JFCY volunteer Bianca Thomas.  It does not reflect the opinion or position of JFCY as a whole.

Currently, Canadian criminal law, as enshrined in the Criminal Code of Canada, does not include an offence for bullying. While certain types of bullying behaviour, such as harassment and uttering threats, can result in criminal charges, perhaps this is not enough of an effective control on bullying. Given the prevalence of bullying nowadays, some people suggest that it is time for Canada to create an offence for bullying specifically.

This past week, the Globe and Mail released an article saying that the majority of Canadians believe that bullying should be criminalized. According to an Angus Reid online survey, 65% of Canadians believe that bullying should be made a criminal offence, even if no physical violence is involved. Meanwhile, a majority of Canadians think that bullying is a pressing problem in middle school and high school (94%) and elementary school (88%). 

The Ontario government seems to be picking up on public sentiment regarding the issue as it has proposed the Accepting Schools Act. The Act provides for consequences for bullying including suspension pending expulsion, policies on bullying prevention and intervention, and school progress reports. 

One Opinion

While the Act might surely be a step in the right direction, perhaps it is not enough. There remains the problem of cyber-bullying, which according to one bullied student, is “really hard to fight…because you can’t put a face to that person.” Some believe that the best solution would be to criminalize bullying, as it could help discourage people from taking part in bullying behaviour, for fear of criminal penalty.

A Different Opinion

On the other hand, though, criminalizing bullying may be an overly drastic step.  If imprisonment is a potential punishment for bullying, this could lead to a rise in youth imprisonment rates. In any case, it would increase the number of youth involved in the criminal justice system.  This could increase chances of re-offending, instead of allowing youth to fix their behaviour and rehabilitate themselves. Many people would argue that there are better ways to address bullying than punishing it as a crime.  Causing children and youths to enter the criminal justice system at such a young age may already prejudice them early on in life. Such a thing is to be avoided at all costs.

What are your thoughts? Do you think bullying should be made a criminal offence? What are some other ways to address and prevent bullying?

Bianca Thomas, PLE Team member and JFCY volunteer, wrote this blog post. She is a law student at the University of Toronto.