Legislation has been introduced via Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, that will criminalize the non-consensual distribution of intimate images online. This bill is delivered to the Canadian public after an onslaught of tragic tales of cyberbullying and violence, particularly amongst the youth population.
While this effort may act as somewhat of a deterrent, as well as provide legal ramifications for cyber bullies, it is certainly not a fix for Canada’s cyber violence problem. The bill ignores the many root causes of the issue, particularly gender-based violence and sexual harassment.
Cyber ‘bullying’ is very often sexual harassment conducted in an online setting. However, employing the term ‘bully’ instead of ‘sexual perpetrator,’ for example, ignores any gender connotations present in the issue.
Using the term ‘bully’ is also guilty of infantilizing the matter. The word traditionally conjures the image of kids behaving badly. Unfortunately, the experiences of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons, both of which resulted in their self-inflicted deaths, prove that cyberbullying is much more serious and is a real threat to Canadian girls and women. For instance, a 2011 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that boys who are “bullies” are nearly four times as likely to be physically or sexually abusive as adults.
Eyes are on the Government of Canada and how they can improve the online safety of girls and women. The Status of Women Canada (SWC) recently issued a call for proposals for programs and initiatives that will eliminate or reduce cyber bullying and sexual violence. While this is a positive step, the SWC only provides short-term funding and not every community will be supported.
The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) and other related organizations on the other handhave been advocating for a National Action Plan on Violence against Women and Girls. This development would seek to comprehensively address all forms of gender-based violence, including the issue of online gender violence by having the federal, provincial, and municipal governments and stakeholders collaborate to establish long-term, multi-sector, initiatives aimed at preventing cyber harassment of girls and women.
At CFUW’s 2013 Annual General Meeting, members echoed the need for all levels of government to cooperate in finding resolutions to this problem. Other suggestions to the Canadian government from CFUW members were that they raise public awareness on the topic of cyberbullying and violence and conform to the legal sanctions in place; integrate programs on bullying and cyber violence into training and core curriculum for educators and counsellors so that they are able to identify and take steps to resolve it in their institution; and encourage such institutions to offer workshops to parents and caregivers on recognizing cyberbullying and teaching anti-bullying strategies.
CFUW membership also suggested the Canadian government consider and utilize the six recommendations of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights reports on “Cyberbullying Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age,” published in 2012.
The six recommendations include the levels of government cooperating with each other and related stakeholders to develop strategies; establishing consistent definitions of cyberbullying and messaging on the issue; conducting long-term research on cyberbullying that will give new insights into its contributing factors as well as new initiatives in combatting it. Unfortunately, Bill C-13 will only address Recommendation #4, which calls on the federal government to work with industry stakeholders in creating strategies to protect children online through removing or blocking inappropriate content.
Current efforts, such as those of the SWC mentioned above, are useful and important to the cause of cyberbullying and violence. To end cyber violence against all girls and women, however, requires an honest and in-depth look at the underlying perceptions, attitudes, and social trends that are creating cyber bullies and developing strategies to confront them.
In a letter to the Minister of Justice and Minister of Status of Women Canada dated December 2, 2013, CFUW raised these concerns and recommendations with the government.