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

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.)

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.