The Quebec government’s proposed legislation requiring all Quebec schools to adopt an anti-bullying and anti-violence plan is being lauded by UNICEF as an important step in curbing bullying in the province, which has the highest rate of bullying in the country.
“I think we all agree that this is a step in the right direction for addressing the problems of bullying and violence among young people,” says David Morley, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada.
“What makes this initiative even more welcome is that it supports several actions that UNICEF has been advocating for a number of years … based on violence prevention and a culture of respect for others.”
The government also announced a major TV and Internet media campaign to raise awareness about different types of bullying and urge people to stand up against it.
Quebecers will be asked to sign a Declaration of Support against intimidation and violence, posted on the media campaign website irightthewrong.com.
The measures aim to strengthen ongoing efforts to combat bullying in the province.
According to Statistics Canada, Quebec has a higher incidence of bullying than the national average—10 percent of all Quebec students are victims of acts of bullying at least once per week, compared with the national average of 8 percent.
The high-profile suicide of 15-year-old Quebec student Marjorie Raymond, who took her own life in November after being physically and psychologically bullied by students at her school for years, has added to pressure to find a solution.
However, Morely is disappointed the Charest government’s anti-bullying plan lacks an explicit mention of children’s rights, which is an important component of any anti-bullying campaign.
“It is unfortunate that children’s rights are not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the materials or communications issued by the government. UNICEF firmly believes that a children’s rights framework is essential in any anti-bullying and violence prevention initiative targeted towards children,” he says.
High Rate of Bullying Among Youth
Quebec’s tabling of Bill 56 coincides with two reports released recently outlining the strong prevalence of bullying in Canada.
One national study, completed for the Public Health Agency of Canada, surveyed 26,078 youth aged 11 to 15 from 436 participating schools.
The survey found a staggering 63 percent of respondents said they have been victims of bullying.
It also found significant differences in the mental health of girls and boys, with girls reporting substantially higher levels of emotional problems than boys.
Girls were reported more likely to internalize their problems, which led to feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and helplessness.
Meanwhile, boys were more likely than girls to show behavioural problems such as skipping school, disrespecting authority figures, and getting into fights when under emotional distress.
In a survey conducted for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada targeted at adults, 50 percent said they were bullied as children or teenagers and nearly a third said they believe the abuse they suffered had a lasting harmful effect.
Ninety-five percent of those polled believed people have a responsibility to take action to stop bullies, and 89 percent thought bullying poses a serious threat to the long-term well-being of children and teenagers.
Bullying has become a subject of increasing research around the world, as events such as the 1999 Columbine high school massacre and a growing list of bullying victim suicides have shown a direct link between being bullied and enacting violence on oneself or others.
Bullying has also been linked to long-term physical and psychological consequences such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and susceptibility to illness.