HALIFAX – Nova Scotia used its position as host of this summer’s meeting of education ministers to explore strategies to deal with bullying, but the provinces and territories found that if they tried to reach a consensus on the problem it might be elusive.
Ministers who left the meeting at a downtown Halifax hotel on Friday agreed that the discussion gave them new insight into tackling bullying and at least two provinces say a national strategy probably wouldn’t be the best approach.
British Columbia is one of three provinces that have brought in anti-bullying legislation.
B.C. Education Minister George Abbott said there is consensus that bullying is unacceptable but just how far preventative measures should go varies among the provinces and territories.
“We all agree … people should be allowed to have respect and dignity regardless of what other elements there may be in their lives,” Abbott said after the meetings.
“I do think when jurisdictions get to the debate about how explicit a protection should be in reference to perhaps race or sexual orientation or other issues there may be legitimate debate.”
Abbott said a lot of attention is being paid to what everyone else is doing across Canada.
Nova Scotia Education Minister Ramona Jennex said the province will continue to take a methodical approach to make sure they’re dealing with the problem properly.
She said all provinces and territories have or are working on some form of anti-bullying legislation, but the meeting wasn’t really about legislation so much as it was a sharing of ideas.
“What we’re mostly talking about is what we can do to affect the change that we need to see,” Jennex said.
She said the discussion focused on “making sure that the programs that are in place are appropriate.”
Bullying Canada says one in 10 children have bullied others, while as many as a quarter of all students in Grade 4 to Grade 6 have been bullied. The anti-bullying group also cites a 2004 study in the Journal of Pediatrics that found about one in seven Canadian children between the ages of 11 and 16 were victims of bullying.
With recent high-profile suicides as a result of bullying, it’s an issue that all provinces are trying to get a handle on and although it wasn’t the sole topic of the two days of meetings among the education ministers, it was highlighted by Nova Scotia as one of the main ones.
Last month, some of Canada’s leading experts on bullying called for a national strategy on a problem they described as an “epidemic” that affects children’s psychological well being and academic performance.
According to a recent study by an international alliance of researchers in collaboration with the World Health Organization, 17 per cent of 11-year-old girls in Canada report being bullied at least twice in the past few months. That puts Canada at sixth place out of 38 countries for highest rate of bullying among girls of that age.
Nova Scotia’s has joined B.C. and Ontario with its own anti-bullying legislation.
Ontario’s law allows students to form gay-straight alliances and seeks to protect kids from being harassed by their peers at school.
B.C. brought in a new program last month that will soon let students who feel they are being bullied report the behaviour anonymously on a new smartphone application. It also asks teachers to dedicate one professional development day per year to deal with bullying.
Premier Christy Clark has said the $2-million strategy goes beyond a 2007 law in the province that targets bullying. The plan also includes dedicated safe-school co-ordinators in every school district.
In Nova Scotia, the legislation requires schools to collect and monitor data before the government implements specific anti-bullying measures. It also establishes a government anti-bullying co-ordinator.
The Nova Scotia legislation has drawn criticism for being weak. Critics say that while the idea is good, it fails to implement tools to address the issue.