By Dan Williams, Constable, School Resource Officer Unit, Edmonton Police Service, Canada
As a result of unfortunate deaths related to bullying incidents in Victoria and Halifax, parents demanded new legislation governing bullying. On March 11, 2003, the Edmonton Public Places Bylaw was amended to include bullying behavior as an offence. It was passed by a majority vote by Edmonton City Council and is believed to be the first of its kind in North America. The law is administered by police officers only, carries a fine of $250, and applies to the bullying of persons under 18 years of age. It came into effect May 1, 2003.
The bylaws define bullying as "repeated intimidation of others by the real or threatened infliction of physical, verbal, written, electronically transmitted, or emotional abuse."
Bullying can start at a very young age and can include playground teasing and name-calling. It continues into the teenage years where sexual harassment, dating violence, and gang attacks emerge. It continues then into adulthood where marital violence, child abuse, and workplace harassment are some of the side effects.
Antibullying programs only work at a child's early stage of development. At a later stage, the programs must be supported by legislation, for bullies do not grow out of it; rather, they grow into criminals.
The impact of bullying extends beyond the range of the bully and the victim to the peer group, school, and community. Society cannot depend solely on schools to deal with bullying issues, for it is a community problem.
Edmonton's school resource officers estimate that between 50 percent and 70 percent of the complaints in schools are related to bullying. Some victims of bullying are so afraid that they refuse to return to school. Others have even talked about suicide. Obviously, students have the right to attend school without being harassed or subjected to intimidation.
Bullying is not innocent child's play. Repeated bullying can cause psychological distress and many related difficulties. It can trigger anxiety and depression in children, significantly damage their self-esteem, cause lifelong emotional pain, and lead to suicide. Even when victims of bullying are not driven to these extremes, they often experience significant psychological harm that interferes with their social, academic, and emotional development. Victims become withdrawn, isolated, and depressed. This has adverse consequences on their education and very often their health. When taken to an extreme, those who bully may actually kill their victim. If not addressed, those being bullied may finally react in an extreme fashion. History of school violence has shown that what comes out of someone's mouth can be just as deadly as a weapon. The scars are forever. No one should have to commit suicide or resort to violence to resolve problems brought about by bullying.
An informal evaluation was conducted with all school resource officers in Edmonton senior high schools. Since the implementation of the bullying bylaw, the incidences of bullying have been declining, although to date only four charges have to be made under the new bylaw. With the new law in place, school resource officers are being proactive in issuing warnings to students of the possible consequences should their behavior continue. Students who are being bullied are reassured that they themselves do not need to resort to violence to deal with the problems brought about by bullying. In Edmonton, the school resource officers feel that with the new bylaw they have an effective tool to protect students' rights and combat bullying.