Mr. Speaker, I must start by thanking my NDP colleagues for allowing me to speak on Bill C-13 today, because as a result of the application of time allocation for what I think was the 58th time, many of my colleagues will not have an opportunity to speak on this bill. Despite all of my colleagues obviously being New Democrats, we are a very diverse caucus with different experiences, and we represent different kinds of ridings here in the House of Commons.
I have risen to speak in favour of Bill C-13, but I do so with some reservations.
Unfortunately, the bill is, in effect, yet another omnibus bill that mixes together many other issues with the one that should have been central—that is, bullying and cyberbullying. Instead we have a rather mixed bag of provisions instead of a focused response to the urgent challenges of bullying and cyberbullying.
Rather than trying to address all the issues in the bill, I want to focus my remarks today on two aspects: first, the need for effective action to combat bullying; second, the proposed amendment to the hate crime section of the Criminal Code which, surprisingly, also appears in the bill in clause 12.
Since 2011, we in this House have had several opportunities to act on the issues of bullying and cyberbullying, but unfortunately we have made little progress. Nearly 18 months ago my colleague, the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, put forward a motion, Motion No. 385, which called upon the federal government to develop a national strategy with concrete steps to combat bullying. Unfortunately, the Conservatives voted down the motion, dismissing it as a call for further study, when in fact it was a call for leadership from the federal government in the fight against bullying and cyberbullying.
Last summer, on June 17, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-540, which would amend the Criminal Code in order to make the non-consensual making or distribution of intimate images a criminal offence. At that time, we asked the government to expedite passage of the bill in order to try to prevent further tragedies like the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, which took place as a result of cyberbullying. Unfortunately, the government preferred to wait for its own bill, which has delayed action on this critical issue for nearly a year.
What we have before us now in Bill C-13 is much narrower than a strategy to combat cyberbullying, though it does have some provisions similar to those the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour proposed many months ago.
We are, of course, supporting the bill going to committee, precisely because some legislative action against cyberbullying is necessary, but again I want to emphasize that focusing on bullying after the fact can only be part of the solution.
Today I want to reiterate two points I made when speaking 18 months ago in support of our motion for a national anti-bullying strategy. They relate to the pervasiveness of bullying in our society and to its amplification by the existence of new technologies.
The prevalence and pervasiveness of bullying in Canada is truly shocking. In fact, bullying is happening around us all the time. In one analysis of Toronto-area schools, it was found that a student is bullied every seven seconds.
Egale Canada conducted a survey of homophobia and transphobia in schools across Canada. It found that 74% of transidentified students, 55% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, and 26% of non-LGBTQ students reported being verbally harassed. More than half of those reported that this bullying occurred on a daily or weekly basis.
One UBC study of students in grades 8 to 10 found that 64% of students reported they had been bullied. Even more saddening for me is their acceptance of that inevitability, because 64% of these same students said they found bullying to be a normal part of school life.
People are bullied for an almost infinite number of reasons, but almost all of those reasons are connected to hostility toward deviation from the perceived norm: for being too short, too tall, too fat, too thin; for where they were born, the colour of their skin, the language they speak at home; for having an accent, for the clothes they wear, for sexual orientation, for their gender, for their gender presentation, for what they are able to afford. The list goes on and on, but the result is always the same: creating a sense of exclusion for the victims of bullying.
As technology has advanced, so has the means of bullying, with social networking, smart phones, and the Internet becoming second nature to people in Canada, especially young people. So has utilizing these resources for bullying. As a result, bullying has become intensified and its impacts more widely distributed.
Bullying is no longer a problem that only happens at school, on the school bus, or on the playground. It is no longer just a workplace problem. It can now follow victims home and invade their lives 24 hours a day each and every day of the year.
The consequences of bullying and the effects of bullying need to be taken seriously. We all know that the impacts of bullying on youth can be drastic and long-lasting. Young people who are bullied are more likely to face depression. It is estimated that male victims of bullying are five times more likely, and females victims three times more likely, to be depressed than their non-bullied classmates.
People who are victims of bullying are more susceptible to low self-esteem and are more likely to suffer from anxiety and illnesses. Young people who are bullied are more likely to engage in substance abuse and self-harm, and in recent years we have seen the tragic rise in the trend toward youth bullycide. The list of those young people who have taken their own lives as a result of bullying is already too long, and unfortunately continues to grow.
The costs of bullying are found not just on its impact on individuals. Bullying has wider social costs. One study has found that of elementary school bullies, one in four will have a criminal record by the time they are 30 years old.
We can and must move beyond our platitudes and expressions of concern about bullying and not limit our responses only to actions taken after the damage has already been done.
We all know that these bullying behaviours are learned. People are not born with hearts full of hate. At the root of our response to bullying must be efforts to build a more open and accepting society. If there was a real intolerance for discrimination and hate, then bullying clearly would not be so pervasive.
We could make a good start by calling bullying what it really is. We need to recognize that most bullying is rooted in sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and classism. These are serious prejudices that most Canadians find unacceptable in theory, but for some reason they are deemed acceptable when they are expressed in the form of bullying.
The need for a broad strategy as well as for anti-bullying legislation is so obvious. Unfortunately, what we find in the rest of the bill is a mixed bag of only tangentially related provisions, some with no clear connection to the problem at all.
Some things in the bill have been brought forward from the previously failed Bill C-30, but fortunately in this version it looks as if the important principle of judicial oversight of police access to Internet communications may be preserved. I look forward to hearing from Canadians about this aspect again when the bill reaches committee.
One surprise in Bill C-13 was the inclusion of clause 12. This section proposes the addition of some important provisions to the hate crime section of the Criminal Code. I am at a loss to explain why this proposal has suddenly appeared in the bill, but I think it is a positive thing.
Bill C-13 suggests adding national origins, age, sex, and mental or physical disability to the existing provisions of the hate crime section of the Criminal Code. While the connection to the other aspect of the bill is not immediately obvious, as I said, I do believe this is a good thing, but what is missing from this section is gender identity. This House has twice voted in favour of adding gender identity to the hate crime section of the Criminal Code, yet it is not included in clause 12 of the bill.
My own private member's bill, Bill C-279, is still stuck in the Senate more than a year after being passed in this House, and while I remain hopeful it will be adopted soon, there is an obvious potential problem in the conflict between Bill C-13 and my own private member's bill. Unfortunately, if the Senate does pass Bill C-279, clause 12 of Bill C-13 would inadvertently undo half that progress. Bill C-13 in its present form would actually remove gender identity from the hate crime section of the Criminal Code if my private member's bill has already passed, so when we get to committee, we will be having a serious discussion about an amendment to add gender identity to fix this omission.
It was more than three years ago that this House, in a minority Parliament, voted to add gender identity to the hate crime section of the Criminal Code, and, as I said, more than a year ago we voted to do that in my own private member's bill, so I am hoping that this proposed amendment to the hate crime section was inadvertent in its omission of gender identity and that this omission can be fixed in committee.
Let me return to what I believe is the important question that should be at the centre of Bill C-13, which is that there is an urgent need for Parliament to provide national leadership in the fight against bullying.
Despite our concerns about the bill being an omnibus bill and despite many of the other things stuffed into Bill C-13, we are supporting sending the bill to committee so that we can continue the dialogue on the important issue of bullying and cyberbullying.
What is of concern to me, as I mentioned at the outset, is the attitude that has become prevalent on the other side of the House that when three or four members have spoken, it is time to end debate. The very root of the word “Parliament” means a place where we can talk about the important national issues.
I feel it is a great privilege to stand here and speak to Bill C-13 as a man who comes from the LGBTQ community, which suffers inordinately from bullying. I think I bring a perspective somewhat different from that of some other members of the House. As someone from Vancouver Island, where we have a lot of early adapters of new technology, I know we see huge problems of bullying and cyberbullying in local schools. Frankly, teachers are at their wits' end in trying to find ways to deal effectively with it.
One thing that has been common in the responses I have received is a warning that we not look simply to criminal sanctions for youth to combat cyberbullying and that criminalizing bullying for young people could in fact be a serious problem.
I come back to the idea that we cannot just focus on what happens after the bullying. We have to provide national leadership in coming up with ways to attack this problem before the damage actually takes place. Some may say that is not a federal responsibility, but it is in the sense that when bullying and cyberbullying reach their most vicious levels, they often result in criminal acts. Since the Criminal Code is the responsibility of this federal Parliament, then we do have a responsibility for crime prevention. I would argue very strongly that a national strategy to prevent bullying and cyberbullying is a matter of crime prevention.
On the other side of the House we hear a lot of discussion about victims. We share the concern for victims in Canadian society, but how can we do our best job in addressing the needs of victims? We can do that by preventing victimization. Once again, there is a responsibility for the House to look at what we can do to make sure that victims are not created through bullying and cyberbullying.
When we get to committee, I would ask members on the other side to keep an open mind about those other things that we can do. We do not need just to find criminal sanctions, although there are some things here that I agree are necessary and that will be useful in the most extreme cases, but there are many more things we can do to make this the Canada that we all love and believe is a great place that includes a space for all Canadians.
Unfortunately, the evidence of bullying and cyberbullying shows that is not always the case. Whether we are talking about immigrant communities and their desire to contribute to Canada fully or whether we are talking about the LGBTQ community and our desire to be accepted in Canadian society and play our role very fully or whether we are talking about those with disabilities who are often sidelined in our society, we have to take all the measures that we can to make our country more inclusive and make it one we can all be even prouder of than we are now.
How do we do that? I come back to this argument again and again. We put forward a motion calling for a national strategy to combat bullying and cyberbullying, and this is where Bill C-13 falls short. It has measures looking at what we can do after the fact to investigate criminal cases of bullying. It has measures to help apprehend those people who ultimately have performed criminal acts when it comes to bullying, but it does not have measures that would help reduce this problem in our society.
I will return to my concern over Bill C-279.
It is a difficult situation for some people to understand. My bill should have already passed through the Senate and should already be law. We now have a situation in which transgendered Canadians are subject to hate crimes and bullying and are the group most subject to violence of all groups in our society. If that private member's bill—which passed the House a year ago, as I said several times today—had already been passed, we would have some of the tools we need to combat the epidemic of violence against transgendered people in Canada.
Canada is not alone. Transgendered people are the most subject to violence everywhere around the world. I remain very sad that the Senate has taken so long to get down to business on passing Bill C-279. It held hearings and heard witnesses a year ago in June at the human rights committee. It essentially finished the process of examining the bill and found it acceptable; then, because of prorogation, the process had to start over.
I am at a loss to see why the bill has to go back to another committee, this time to a legislative and constitutional affairs committee. We have had the promise from the senators that they will take up the bill in committee soon; however, that promise was made in February and we are now in April.
I am emphasizing this in Bill C-13 because this is where the two bills come together: in clause 12 and those amendments to the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code that are in this bill but fail to include gender identity. We have this unfortunate grinding of gears between the two Houses here. If in committee we are able to add gender identity to Bill C-13, that would be a good thing, because as a government bill it would make its way through the Senate expeditiously. I have now begun to fear that Bill C-279 will face the same fate as the previous bill on transgender rights and that it will die in the Senate without action before the next election. If we can get half a loaf here in Bill C-13, I am prepared to work for that. I look for support from the other side in correcting what I hope was an inadvertent omission of gender identity from those amendments that are in clause 12.
When we go back to our ridings when Bill C-13 is in committee, I know that all of us will hear from members of our communities about the urgency of what we are doing, and I know we will hear again from the Conservatives about the urgency. However, I have to emphasize that we have had many opportunities since 2011 to actually take action on what I call “remedial actions”, those things that take place after the fact. Again, I remain disappointed that the Conservatives would not expedite the private member's bill from the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, and we could have already had the non-consensual distribution of sexual images in the Criminal Code by this time. We would not still be waiting for that to happen. Of course, we could have already had a committee that had prepared a national strategy with concrete actions to combat bullying and cyberbullying.
As we near the summer recess, I am hoping Bill C-13 will actually get through, but then it also would face the hurdle of the Senate. Would the Senate deal expeditiously with this bill? Would it actually get these provisions passed in a timely manner? I can only hope that it would, but the irony is that Bill C-13 would go to the Constitution and legal affairs committee of the Senate where my private member's bill is also supposed to be going. The chances of both getting through before we get to summer seems kind of small. We have both the broader group of all those who face bullying and the narrower group of those trans Canadians who are depending on the Senate to take effective action soon. However, that just does not seem to be the way the Senate proceeds.
An hon. member: It is a mystery.