In Soviet Hanna, victim bullies you

Colby Cosh on an anti-bullying law that was definitely not a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the suicide of Amanda Todd

by Colby Cosh

The town of Hanna, Alberta—best known as the hometown of Lanny McDonald and of Alberta’s ambassadors to terrible music, Nickelback—is in the news for an anti-bullying bylaw passed last month that is definitely not at all “a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to the tragic suicide of teenager Amanda Todd”. Glad we got that out of the way. Coverage of the town’s new law has focused on its conventional libertarian aspects: i.e., can we really quasi-criminalize calling somebody a bad name? Examination of the actual text, however, reveals that the law itself is so garbled that it might collapse irrespective of its own intentions.

This is a pretty bad piece of legislation even by the standards of a province whose Justice Minister can’t figure out that tricky Charter of Rights. It sets out to define bullying as an action, throwing about a dozen different kinds of conduct into one bulging conceptual basket:

“Bullied” means the harassment of others by the real or threatened infliction of physical violence and attacks, racially or ethnically-based verbal abuse and gender-based put­downs, verbal taunts, name calling and put­downs, written or electronically transmitted, or emotional abuse, extortion or stealing of money and possessions and social out-casting.

One is surprised to discover that Hanna felt it needed to outlaw theft and assault, and also amused to contemplate the idea of a court trying to define “social out-casting”. But it turns out, anyway, that the law does not actually outlaw bullying! It instead does a bizarre half-gainer and prohibits the making-of-someone-feel-as-though-they-are-being-bullied.

1. No person shall, in any public place:

a. Communicate either directly or indirectly, with any person in a way that causes the person, reasonably in all the circumstances, to feel bullied.

To prove an offence under this scheme, one apparently only needs to show that one felt taunted, put down, or outcast. (Felt “reasonably”, that is. I would have thought the salient characteristic of feelings is that they are not reason, but there you go.) The Hanna Herald has said the bylaw is “based on similar laws passed around Alberta.” One hopes that this is not the case, but readers are invited to submit local intelligence. If we can call it that. (See also the National Post‘s Q&A with Hanna mayor Mark Nikota.)




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In Soviet Hanna, victim bullies you

  1. Stop bullying Nickelback! Enough is enough!

  2. I worked in Hanna last summer, retrofitted a half dozen homes that were hail damaged…as an outsider in a small town…never felt bullied once.

  3. The use of “reasonably” is pretty typical in common law legislation. In context, it basically means “a reasonable (or, ordinary) person would have felt bullied”; basically, the term is there to eliminate weird cases where someone says they felt bullied because of an entirely innocuous act/statement.

  4. The town council is ran by idiots.

    And no, you can’t fine me. I have a darn right to freedom of speech for starters, and two, I don’t live in your stinking jurisdiction.

    We already have federal laws in place to deal with bullying, theft, etc. It’s called HARASSMENT. If the town council had gotten of thar arses to do a google, they would have noticed. Also, theft is already a crime. And same with everything else.

    As Bugs Bunny would say, “What a maroon”

  5. Hanna has a very long history of bigotry and bullying. As far back as WWII an editorial in the local paper made it clear that Jewish refugees were not welcome in Hanna. The targets of bullying have been everyone from a Macleans reporter who alluded to drug abuse and the high suicide rate in the town in an article on Nickelback, to a local minister who was bullied by parishoners and left the town this past summer. Intimidation and bad behavior has historically been swept under the carpet in Hanna. This bylaw and the publicity it is getting is merely “outing” a chronic behaviour pattern that has been enabled by Hanna residents. Having a bylaw is one thing, enforcing it in a town that is deep in denial is another thing entirely.

    • Could you please reference you comment regarding an editorial in the local paper. A date and time of the article referring to Jewish refugees not being welcome would be appreciated.

  6. Ironically, when the residents of this bully infested town start bullying the reporter who wrote this article, he can charge them with bullying! Make my day!

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