The anti-bullying provisions in Alberta's new Education Act have been described as the toughest in Canada. But critics complain that too much responsibility for enforcing anti-bullying acts has been placed on children.
Bill 3, the Education Act [PDF], came into force on Nov. 19, and the legislation deals with bullying extensively.
Section 31 of the Education Act sets out the responsibilities of students who are referred to as "partners in education." Subsection (e) of that section requires all students to "refrain from, report, and not tolerate bullying or bullying behaviours directed towards others in the school, whether or not it occurs within the school building, during the school day or by electronic means."
What some find offensive is that students are required to report acts of bullying even outside of school hours and even if the bullying does not take place within the school. Section 36 of the Act states that a teacher or principal may suspend a student from school or from any school activities for having breached any part section 31, including the failure to report bullying.
The wording of the legislation requires every student in the province to police other students who bully regardless of when and where that bullying takes place.
Brenda Morrison, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University, believes requiring students to report bullying rather than making it easier for them to do so, will make the problem of bullying worse. Morrison is quoted in the Vancouver Sun as saying, "These heavy sanctions actually create more of a culture of fear in schools. We want kids to voluntarily step up for all the right reasons, because they're good citizens." Morrison says schools, kids, parents, and organizations must all work together to combat bullying.
The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC), a socially conservative organization, also criticized the requirement for passive students to have to report bullying. The IMFC believes that by putting enforcement duties on students, parents are seen as having no role to play. In a report, the IMFC writes, "Threatening students to 'out' bullies might seem reasonable, but when children are ordered to police the internet, adults are effectively admitting they have no presence on the social media playground. Unfortunately, bullies know it."
The organization also writes, "The bottom line is that bullying requires less emphasis on refereeing and more focus on relationships between kids and adults."
As the bill became law just last week, it is too early to see if the reporting requirement will actually lead to more students being bullied.