WINNIPEG – Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay is promising the Tories will introduce new “holistic” legislation in the fall to fight cyberbullying following the recent death of a teen apparently driven to suicide by vile texts and social media messages.
MacKay said Canadians have been touched by the death of 15-year-old Todd Loik, a Saskatchewan high school student whose mother said committed suicide earlier this month after relentless online taunts and tormenting.
“The loss of their 15-year-old son has touched the nation as previous losses have — Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd and others,” MacKay said Thursday at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection in Winnipeg, where the federal government made a $100,000 donation to mark the birth of Prince George.
“The pain, the suffering reminds us that the bullying must stop.”
Provinces have brought in a patchwork of legislation against bullying recently. But Kim Loik, the boy’s mother, said she wants Ottawa to bring in national anti-bullying legislation.
She said there should be one law across the country that would spare other kids the pain her son experienced.
Loik won’t have long to wait, MacKay said.
“It’s coming,” he said. “There will be legislation introduced this fall in the Parliament of Canada that will be aimed specifically at the issue of cyberbullying.”
The death of Todd Loik follows the deaths of two teenage girls in Nova Scotia and British Columbia.
Amanda Todd, a B.C. girl who was tormented online after being sexually exploited, committed suicide last year after posting a heartbreaking video about her treatment at the hands of relentless bullies.
Earlier this year, Halifax teen Rehtaeh Parsons hanged herself and died when she was taken off life support. Her family alleges she was bullied relentlessly after a digital photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted was passed around her school.
The federal government has committed to look at new criminal laws that could include a ban on distributing intimate images without consent.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also promised in the spring to fast-track efforts to create an anti-cyberbullying law.
The legislation is still in the draft stage, but MacKay said it will combine education with changes to the Criminal Code.
“It is not going to be a single act of Parliament or a provincial amendment to legislation,” he said.
“It is going to require a holistic response, very much so through our education system, through talk, through a national dialogue. This is what I think is necessary.”
At the moment, provinces are acting on their own to tackle cyberbullying.
Nova Scotia has passed a Cyber-Safety Act allowing victims of bullying to apply for a protection order against their suspected bully, without notifying the bully. The court can cut off the suspected bully’s Internet or seize their equipment for up to one year.
In British Columbia, the government set up a website that allows students to anonymously report bullying. The website, in turn, passes on details to emergency responders, if necessary, and school authorities.
Manitoba recently passed a controversial anti-bullying bill which requires teachers and staff to report incidents of bullying to their principal. The province is now looking at more measures that could include protection orders, mandatory penalties and an anonymous tip line.
Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said a national strategy would be welcome.
It’s great that people are now talking about cyberbullying more than ever and there is a growing awareness that modern technology has added a new dimension to bullying and taunts, she said.
But any national plan should also address mental health issues, social problems and include increased education about healthy relationships in the schools, she said.
“No family should have to go through that pain of losing a child,” she said. “We strongly support the notion of a comprehensive national plan.”