POLITICS

Manitoba Tory bill would strip cyberbullies of electronics, force parents to act

07/10/2013 01:52 EDT | Updated 09/09/2013 05:12 EDT
WINNIPEG - Manitoba's Conservatives are countering the provincial government's contentious anti-bullying legislation with a bill of their own that would crack down specifically on cyberbullies.

Education critic Kelvin Goertzen tabled a private member's bill Wednesday that would strip bullies of their computers or cellphones and allow victims to get protection orders. The bill would also put greater responsibility on parents to act if they knew their children were involved in cyberbullying, by threatening them with fines.

The legislation would give victims a sense of power, provide real consequences for cyberbullying and involve parents, Goertzen said.

"We've seen legislation like this, in the Maritimes for example," Goertzen said. "There are other states in the U.S. that have elements of this kind of legislation and I think it's something that can have an impact."

The private member's bill, which has a slim chance of becoming law, comes months after the NDP government introduced anti-bullying legislation — something the Tories and Goertzen, in particular, have vigorously opposed.

The government's legislation would force schools to allow gay-straight alliances and would require bullying to be reported to a principal. The proposed legislation wouldn't require principals to mete out specific penalties or report bullies to parents or authorities.

That isn't good enough, Goertzen said.

"Cyberbullying is a significant problem and it requires a significant response," Goertzen said in the legislature. "The NDP have failed to provide that response, so we have done so on behalf of all Manitobans and youth who need to be protected."

Education Minister Nancy Allan said if the Tories were serious about protecting children from bullies, they would move the anti-bullying bill forward. Instead, she said, the Tories have stalled it and have refused to send it to committee and start public hearings on the proposals.

Almost 300 people have signed up to have their say on the bill and the majority are from Goertzen's riding, Allan said.

"If you really care about keeping young people safe, it's time to move this bill to committee," she said. "It's time to let people come and have a conversation about it and have a dialogue. We need to hear people."

While the government is open to discussing the bill, Allan said the legislation already does a lot to protect kids from bullies. School divisions have the mandate to respond to any bullying incident, whether in cyberspace or in the school hallway, she said.

Principals will be able to contact parents and police if an incident is serious enough, Allan said. Premier Greg Selinger, along with other western premiers, were instrumental in getting bullying on the agenda at the premiers' summit later this month, she added.

"We have 300 deaths in Canada from people being cyberbullied and bullied," Allan said. "This is serious and I don't believe (the Tories) are taking this seriously."