Manitoba considers anonymous tip line for cyberbullying

WINNIPEG – Now that Manitoba has passed its anti-bullying law, the NDP government is looking at more measures that could include protection orders, mandatory penalties and an anonymous tip line.

Bill 18, which was criticized by the Opposition Progressive Conservatives as lacking teeth, was a stepping stone of sorts, Education Minister Nancy Allan said Thursday.

“We believe that Bill 18 is a framework to create safer schools,” she said.

“We’re going to continue to move forward with our education partners in regards to keeping young people safe.”

The legislation, which received final approval Sept. 13 after months of opposition delay, expanded the definition of bullying that schools must address to include online activity.

It also expanded the duties of teachers and staff to report incidents to their principal.

The law requires schools to have human diversity policies and, most controversially, accommodate students who want to set up groups that promote equality, including gay-straight alliances.

While much of the public debate focused on concerns from Tories and religious groups about whether gay-straight alliances violate the religious freedom of faith-based schools, the Tories also criticized the proposed law for lacking enforcement mechanisms.

The bill did not set specify penalties for bullying, leaving the decision to principals and school divisions.

It also did not contain an anonymous way for students to report bullying, and did not require that parents be informed if their child is bullied or bullies others. Current law only requires parents to be notified if their child suffers harm.

Allan plans to fill some of those gaps in the coming months.

The government has been examining an anonymous tip service recently set up in British Columbia, where victims can report bullies without being named.

“We’re actually having a look at what’s happening with that tip line, trying to understand from them exactly how it works,” she said.

“We have also had meetings with a local partner in regards to something that we are probably going to announce shortly — close to anonymous reporting.”

Allan has also looked at a controversial new law in Nova Scotia, where victims of bullying can apply to the courts for a protection order against their suspected bully, without notifying the bully.

The court can order the suspected bully’s Internet to be cut off or their equipment to be seized for up to one year.

“We have had some conversations with some people about it that are concerned that that goes too far, so we want to continue to have a look at it and determine whether that’s something that we want to do here.”

Bill 18 will likely take effect in the fall, following discussions with school boards and others, Allan said.

Then, within about six months, the province plans to develop a code of conduct that would set down specific penalties for various kinds of bullying, depending partly on the age of the bully.

The Tories had put forward amendments to Bill 18 that covered some of the areas Allan is now eyeing, but they were rejected. The party said the government should have had the ideas in Bill 18 from the start.

“I’m not sure why the ground work wasn’t done ahead of time,” said Tory member Wayne Ewasko, a former teacher and guidance counsellor.

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