Bullying in Ontario – What Rights Do You have?

This brief article is a continuation on my series of articles focusing on the issue of bullying in schools.

From a civil perspective, victims of bullying have recourse against bullies on a basis of commencing legal action claiming recognized torts. A tort is a wrongful act committed by one person towards another and includes claims on the basis of assault (threatening a person), battery (touching someone without their consent), intentional infliction of mental suffering and harassment to name a few. Any person in Ontario who is a victim of a tort has the right to commence legal action against the bully (the wrongdoer) in court seeking damages and compensation.

Effective September 1, 2012, the province of Ontario followed other provinces by passing an anti-bullying statute. The Accepting Schools Act, 2012 was passed on June 5, 2012 and received Royal Assent on June 19, 2012. This statute amends and adds to the Ontario Education Act. The amendments guide school officials such as principals, teachers and supervisory officers on how to identify, prevent, investigate and respond to various bullying types of behaviours in Ontario schools.

It should come as no surprise that the victims of bullying suffer immensely. The list of consequences of bullying is endless and includes physical pain, mental suffering, emotional suffering and social suffering. The amendments to the Education Act intends to protect students and provide valuable resources from which school officials can use to assist victims of bullying while also appropriately dealing with acts of bullying and the perpetrators of bullying, the bullies.

An important aspect of the changes to the Education Act is the broad definition of bullying. Subsection 1(1) Education Act now defines “bullying” as follows:

“bullying” means aggressive and typically repeated behaviour by a pupil where,

(a) the behaviour is intended by the pupil to have the effect of, or the pupil ought to know that the behaviour would be likely to have the effect of,

(i) causing harm, fear or distress to another individual, including physical, psychological, social or academic harm, harm to the individual’s reputation or harm to the individual’s property, or

(ii) creating a negative environment at a school for another individual, and

(b) the behaviour occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance between the pupil and the individual based on factors such as size, strength, age, intelligence, peer group power, economic status, social status, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, family circumstances, gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, disability or the receipt of special education.

The definition of bullying in the Accepting Schools Act, 2012, recognizes the complexity of the issues arising out of bullying and in particular addresses specific concerns of bullying behavior in schools. In Ontario, Bullying behaviour included psychological, social or academic harm and harm to an individual’s reputation. The definition recognizes the various forms of bullying and lists context in which bullying occurs.

An important feature of the changes to the Education Act is the empowerment of education authorities to act on allegations of bullying and to implement policies addressing bullying in schools.

With the increase of bullying through electronic means, the act also addresses bullying when it occurs within the school context but through electronic means and social media. Bullying through electronic means and social media such as the use of the internet, texting, social media, etc… is caught by the changes to the Education Act which now includes a specific reference to electronic and cyber-bullying concepts. The Education Act includes in its definition of bullying “the use of any physical, verbal, electronic, written or other means”. The concept of “cyber-bullying” is expressly included in the new definition of bullying as follows:

… bullying by electronic means (commonly known as cyber-bullying), including,

(a) creating a web page or a blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person;

(b) impersonating another person as the author of content or messages posted on the internet; and

(c) communicating material electronically to more than one individual or posting material on a website that may be accessed by one or more individuals.

The act also imposes a significant increase in responsibility of schools and school officials to implement anti-bullying programs and policies. For instance, the Minister of Education can under section 8 of the Education Act require boards to develop and implement “equity and inclusive education” policies.

Effective September 1, 2012, school boards are required to address specific “equity and inclusiveness” goals as set out in the Act. School boards now have a duty under section 170 of the Education Act to provide programs, interventions or other supports for students affected by bullying, whether having been bullied, engaged in bullying, or witnessing bullying behaviour.

The Act also sets out duties of school officials to report and investigate bullying (see Part XII of the Education Act).

The various significant amendments to the Education Act arising from the Accepting Schools Act, 2012, will profoundly change the ways in which school officials address the issues of bullying.

Like any statute, changes are meaningless unless the changes are in fact implemented.

Now that school officials have positive duties and obligations to protect students from bullies while at the same time they have the protection to take steps without fear of reprisal, it is hoped that the changes to the Education Act will significantly reduce the incidences of bullying in Ontario schools.

If you or someone you care about has been the victim of bullying please contact one of our personal injury and anti-bullying lawyers who can provide you with a free assessment of your case. Consultations with our lawyers are free and most personal injury cases accepted are on the basis of a contingency fee arrangement, meaning our lawyers charge no fees unless your case settles and is successful.

Contact us at 613-315-4878.
Quinn Thiele Mineault Grodzki LLP
Ottawa Injury and Accident Lawyers dedicated to representing injury victims