The purpose of this study is to determine if the problem of bullying in our schools in Saskatchewan is a serious problem and what steps are being taken to control this problem and is it working. The second part of this study is to assess the new Youth Criminal Justice Act to determine if it is an effective tool for the justice system to control youth violence. To better understand the problem of bullying, the author of this study interviewed teachers, parents, police, victims, crown prosecutors, school employees and school board members, past and present. In addition to these interviews, the author read and reviewed the many studies that have been completed in the past in regards to bullying and takes into account their determinations and recommendations for action in this study.
WHAT IS BULLYING?
The Honorable Marvin A. ZUKER, Ontario Court of Justice defines bullying in his paper regarding Bullying, School Violence and Youth Crime as “the tendency for some children to frequently oppress, harass or intimidate other children, verbally, physically or both, in and out of school” with repeated and systematic harassment and attacks on others. Bullying can be perpetrated by individuals or groups. He goes on to state in his paper, that bullies are aggressive and they may be quite self-confident, but they lack empathy for their victims. They feel a sense of entitlement and have little tolerance towards what is new or different. A more pervasive form of bullying is cyber-bullying. Threatening text messages, breaking into e-mail accounts to spread malicious messages, spamming victims, creating mean-spirited web sites have all become ways for bullies to harass or exclude their victims.
WHAT CAUSES BULLIES?
Jane ST. CLAIR in her paper “By Parents, For Parents”, states that “bullying is a learned behaviour, not a character trait.” She goes on to state that researchers have not been able to find a link between bullies and any particular religion, race, income level, divorce, or any other socio-economic factor. However, there are studies that suggest that bullies will most often come from single parent homes or low income earners. According to Dr. Peter SHERAS, 40% of bullies are themselves bullied at home or at school. Research has shown that a victim at home is more likely to be a bully at school. The reason may be that when a bully watches another child appear weak and cowering, it disturbs him because it reminds him of his own vulnerability and behaviour at home. The report goes on to say that “poor parenting is the hallmark of their children becoming bullies”. These parents may be permissive and unable to set limits on their child’s behaviour, often discipline inconsistently, are self-centered and neglectful and they often have prejudices based on race, sex, wealth and achievements. A child growing up in these conditions fails to learn empathy and compassion towards others.
PREVALENCE AND INCIDENCE OF BULLYING
An international study done for Health Canada (1999) found that 56% of boys and 40% of girls in grades 6 and 8 admitted that they had bullied someone that year; 43% of boys and 35% of girls said they had been targets of bullying.
In Canada, 14% of boys aged 4 to 11 years bully others and 5% are targeted for bullying by others sometimes or very often. Approximately 9% of girls between 4 and 11 years bully others while 7% are victimized. (Craig, Peters, and Konarski, 1998)
Victimization increase with age (Craig, Peters, and Konarski, 1998)
A study of 500 Vancouver students by Dr. Shelly Hymel found (Nelson, 2002) – 12% of students reported being bullied once a week.
– 13% of students said they bullied others on a regular basis.
Thirty-eight percent of 5000 Canadians aged 5 to 14 reported being bullied at least “once or twice” during the term; 15% reported being bullied more often; 35% reported bullying others (O’Connel, Pepler, and Craig, 1999).
In 90% of episodes, there was only one bully; in 9% there were two, and fewer that 1% reported more than three bullies (Craig and Pepler 1997)
Most bullying happened in or close to the school building (B.C. Ministry of Education 2000)
Seventy-one percent of teachers said they usually intervene with bullying problems; 25% of students report that teachers intervene (Pepler and Craig 2000)
IS THERE A PROBLEM IN OUR SCHOOLS WITH BULLYING?
To quote one teacher that I interviewed on this subject his response being, “If a school tells you that they don’t have a problem they are lying.” In all the interviews I conducted, there is no doubt that the problem of bullying exists in all schools, however, some schools deal with the problem more effectively that others. Why is this? The common consensus among all the people interviewed is: leadership. The schools that provide good leadership will have a good handle on the problem and those who ignore the problem and do not take a leadership role, will have the problem personified.
WHY IS THERE A PROBLEM WITH BULLYING?
There are a number of reasons why bullying exists in our schools. Interviews and previous studies have identified the most significant reasons as follows: unwillingness of administrators to admit that there is a problem in their school; fear of some educators of being challenged; lack of administrators support; feeling of a lack of power; students are “lawyer savvy”; inadequate teachers in positions they are incapable of handling; inadequate training; knowledge of the law by those setting the limits, for example, police, teachers, parents.
WHAT IS BEING DONE ABOUT BULLYING IN OUR SCHOOLS?
The good news is, in 2004 the Saskatchewan Minister of Learning directed all School Boards, after the death of a young student, to implement an anti-bullying program in their schools and this was to be completed by the end of the school year. This year the Minister has followed up with this directive to ensure that all School Boards have complied with this directive and required an update as to where they were with their programs. The Minister has shown the “leadership” required from the top and this has to be carried through to entire school systems, including the students themselves, as it will not succeed if they do not buy into the program. From my interviews in the school communities, some schools are ahead in their programs while others are simply playing lip service to the program and not providing the leadership in training personnel involved in the program.
This second part of the Minister’s directive is to develop and enhanced anti-bullying and suicide prevention and intervention services for students by working with Mental Health Service Providers. The Provincial Government will provide $250,000 in funding over three years for this initiative. The third part of his plan is to seek changes to the Criminal Code of Canada and the Youth Criminal Justice Act to specifically deal with systemic bullying. The RCMP in Saskatchewan have made the problem of bullying one of their Division priorities and have directed that all detachments become actively involved with the schools in their areas to combat this growing problem. It appears that some RCMP Detachments have wholeheartedly endorsed this directive while others are still in the infant stage. According to statistics, bullies will eventually come in contact with the law as they grow older and become involved in more serious crime, therefore this early intervention should assist in steering many young people away from a life of crime.
DO WE NEED BETTER LAWS OR MORE LAWS?
A number of studies have shown that over 60% of the victims of violent youth crime are committed against other young persons. Unfortunately these offenders are most often released on bail conditions and returned to the very same schools where the offence was committed. This victimizes the victim once again and is unacceptable. The Youth Criminal Justice system mandate is not only to rehabilitate the offended, it is also mandated to include the protection of the public from the youth offender. How do we effectively do this with the present youth justice system?
The Juvenile Delinquents Act, which was repealed in 1986 and replaced by the Young Offenders Act had the minimum age of criminal responsibility set at seven years of age, however, it was raised to twelve years of age under this new Act. Many critics of this new Act preferred that the minimum age remain at seven years. Their reasoning being, that many of these children, under the age of twelve, have the mental capacity of knowing right from wrong and are well aware of the consequences of their actions, however, go ahead and commit offences without fear of being accountable for their actions. Studies have shown that bullying in schools is at his highest rate at age seven and decreases steadily until the age of fifteen when, at its lowest rate, is more of a violent nature. This decrease in bullying over these years is attributed to the maturing of many of the students; however, there are those who continue their ways as they have never been held accountable for their actions and simply progress to more serious forms of bullying.
At present the Youth Criminal Justice Act cannot be used to deal with the children under twelve to get them into programs that will steer them away from a path that will lead to a life of crime. As stated in one study, the Youth Criminal Justice Act should be used to select and defined circumstances for children under the age of twelve and should be considered to be a legitimate and appropriate tool to prevent the continuing risk to society and to positively intervene in the youth’s life to interrupt a downward criminal spiral as they get older. Statistics show that 40% of those students involved in bullying will eventually get involved in more serious crime and obtain a criminal record.
Some cities and town have passed bylaws to deal with “bullying”; however, they also cannot be used for children under the age of twelve years. Although these bylaws have shown to be an effective tool in combating bullying in schools, it still cannot address those under twelve years who know full well that they cannot be held accountable for their actions. This leaves the discipline up to the school officials and it has been shown in this report that many school officials abdicate their responsibilities in dealing with this problem. Therefore it is imperative that the youth courts become involved in this area well before the age of twelve.
The other area of concern is the sixteen and seventeen year olds being treated as young offenders. Although these youths can be raised to adult court if they are repeat or violent offenders, critics still have concerns that, since these youths are given the responsibility of having a driver’s licence, then they must also be subject to the adult laws that govern their driving habits.
One police officer stated that the present Youth Criminal Justice Act is a piece of legislation that, in it’s present form, is very troublesome to most operational police officers. In its present form the Youth Criminal Justice Act does little to serve the victimized public and parents who are looking for help with youths who engage in crime. A solution to this problem has been suggested in a number of studies that the Act be amended to allow Youth Court Judges to impose probationary sentences that include the parents in a Court Order to ensure that they become part of the solution.
SHOULD “BULLYING” BE A SEPARATE OFFENCE IN THE CRIMINAL CODE?
A number of police officer have indicated that a separate offence dealing with “Bullying” be created in the Criminal Code. This offence would be a dual procedure offence and its definition would outline the different levels of “Bullying”. By using this offence it would bring more awareness to the problem of “Bullying” in our schools. By using the Criminal Code offences of Assault, Intimidation, Extortion, Mischief, which are serious offences leads one to believe that authorities are also “bullying” by using these more serious offences to deal with the problem.
OTHER AREAS OF CONCERN WITH THE Youth Criminal Justice Act.
It is interesting to note, that when interviewing police officers in regards to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, they seem to conflict on their opinions whether it is an improvement over the Young Offenders Act; however, they are all in agreement that it is not the Act that solves the problem in society, it is the whole community working in partnership that will solve our youth problem. Unfortunately, our society is not to the point where they feel they have to get involved in these problems and leave it up to the police, teachers or other professionals to do their job.
One police officer sees the Youth Criminal Justice Act as a positive change in that it turns the youth problem back to the community to solve. This certainly does not sit well with other police officers as they must now deal with the youth in their community. On the positive, it forces the police officers to make partnerships within the community to solve the problem as the choice of incarceration is not a viable option under this new Act. Another police officer feels that one of the shortfalls of the Youth Criminal Justice Act is an increase in the number of probationary sentences imposed but there does not seem to be corresponding increases in the level of probation sentence enforcement, nor the number increase of probation officers.
Further, when a young person violates their probation, it is a summary offence, not a dual procedure offence so the police and the courts have a very difficult problem in remanding a young person, even for multiple breaches of probation charges. We need to be able to remand young people who are continually violating conditions of their sentences. To simply release a youth on a document for these breaches and sending him/her back into the community is simply not an effective solution. In some studies there have been recommendations for the Youth Criminal Justice Act to provide minimal gaol sentences of seven days for a first offence of a breach of probation and a thirty day sentence for a second breach of probation. These sentences will in still in the young offender that they have to be accountable for their actions.
WHAT YOUTHS ARE SAYING ABOUT THE YOUTH CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT
The following comments were taken from the website “The Great Youth Criminal Justice Act Debate” where youths were encouraged to take part in this discussion.
– ten and eleven year olds are now more educated with crime that they know that the crime is wrong. It will help in the long run that these kids will learn that they will be prosecuted.
– Young Offenders Act actually treated offenders more harshly that the Youth Criminal Justice Act, however, the new law does take into account the fact that younger and younger children are committing more serious crimes and this allows that issue to be dealt with.
– If a child believes that he/she is old enough and mature enough to commit a crime that if committed by an adult can be punishable under the Criminal Code, that individual should have to pay the consequences no matter what the age. If society does not take quick action punishing the child for the offence then society is condoning it.
– If they are old enough to engage in criminal behaviour then surely they should be responsible for their actions – keep the Young Offenders Act;
– Publish their names, juveniles are well aware of the law and they play around with it. The revolving doors around the justice system have to stop.
– Children are growing up and maturing very fast, faster than before and our laws have to adjust to fit the times. They know the difference between right and wrong. “Do adult crime, do adult time”.
– There should not be a set age of criminal responsibility. Each individual offender should be psychologically assessed and then the right course of action taken. Every young person is different, we can’t lump them all together in a specific age group. They grow mentally and emotionally at various rates just as they do physically.
– Age does not always shroud innocence. A person with the mentality to do wrong should be punished.
– If a child is able to handle committing a crime then they should be able to handle the consequences of their actions.
These are only some of the comments taken from this debate, however, they do indicate from the youths who participated that actions has to be taken now with youth crime.
It is enlightening to know that we have people who are concerned about the youth problem we have in our society today and there has to be changes to existing laws to deal with this problem. As I mentioned in this report, the laws will only become effective when all involved, including the offender, become involved in the solution.
That the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be determined on a case by case assessment not set as a standard of twelve years of age.
That sixteen and seventeen year olds not be included in the Youth Criminal Justice Act but subject to Adult Court.
That the Youth Criminal Justice Act be amended to allow Youth Court Judges to include parents in the probations of young offenders to ensure they become part of the solution.
That the Youth Criminal Justice Act be amended to provide mandatory gaol sentences for breaches of probations and conditional sentences.
That an offence of “Bullying” be included in the Criminal Code of Canada as a dual procedure offence.
Retired S/Sgt. RCMP
January 30, 2006
Bullying, School Violence and Youth Crime, Honorable Marvin A. ZUKER, Ontario Court of Justice;
By Parents, For Parents, Jane ST. CLAIR;
Dr. Peter SHERAS;
Health Canada (1999);
Craig, Peters, and Konarski, 1998;
Dr. Shelly Hymel (Nelson, 2002);
O’Connel, Pepler, and Craig, 1999;
Craig and Pepler 1997;
Pepler and Craig 2000;
Criminal Code of Canada;
Youth Criminal Justice Act;
Juvenile Delinquents Act;
The Great Youth Criminal Justice Act Debate;
Young Offenders Act;
Caveat Vision: Youth Safety Strategies Report 2000
Beyond the hurt, RespectED, Canadian Red Cross.
Anti-bullying Strategy, Saskatchewan Learning Rev. Mar 2005
By Parents, For Parents on line Magazine.
Pampers Parenting Institute – Author Lawrence Kutner Ph.d. Detroit Free Press, Author: Rochelle Riley.
Today’s Parent. Author: Susan Macleod.
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