POLITICS
04/18/2012 02:59 EDT | Updated 06/18/2012 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia education minister backs need for anti-bullying co-ordinator

HALIFAX - A month after questioning the need for another level of bureaucracy, Nova Scotia's education minister said Wednesday that she would appoint a co-ordinator to help combat bullying in schools.

Ramona Jennex said the provincial government plans to appoint an anti-bullying co-ordinator, which was a key recommendation from a task force report last month on cyberbullying.

During a news conference, Jennex denied the announcement marked a change in her position, saying there would be no separate office created for the job.

"I haven't changed my mind, I've never changed my mind," said Jennex.

"We are just not adding another office ... this will be done within the department and we will have a dedicated person for that."

She said the co-ordinator would be hired from within the government or an existing school board and would cost $150,000 a year. The successful candidate would begin work by September.

Jennex's announcement came as she tabled anti-bullying legislation that would require schools to collect and monitor data on "severely disruptive behaviour."

The data would be collected through the province's computerized student information system, iNSchool.

Jennex said more study is needed before the government comes out with specific measures to deal with bullying.

"We are going through this very mindfully and very carefully. We are not putting out a big piece of legislation and then find out that it wasn't effective."

However, the minister couldn't say when the plan will be completed.

Wayne MacKay, the Halifax-based law professor who chaired a provincial task force on bullying, said he was happy to see the co-ordinator position accepted. However, he said the legislation lacked concrete steps after nearly a year of study by his group.

"I would be less than honest if I didn't say I was a bit disappointed that it didn't go further," he said. "There's a lot in the report and I certainly don't think that we need a long time collecting data to determine that there's a significant problem."

MacKay said he would like to see some measures taken quickly, including a requirement for school personnel to report bullying and cyberbullying, more parental responsibility and a clarification on school board jurisdiction to give them powers beyond school grounds.

Rob Frenette, executive director of the anti-bullying advocacy group BullyingCanada, said he isn't impressed with the government's approach.

The anti-bullying co-ordinator should be hired from outside the government, he said, adding there also needs to be a timeline on further action.

"It's going to now allow them to say it's coming and to continuously say it's coming," Frenette said.

He said Ontario and Quebec have brought in stronger anti-bullying legislation.

The Ontario legislation would allow schools to permanently expel students for bullying instead of being limited to suspensions. Schools would also be required to take action to prevent bullying and to intervene when appropriate and punish offenders.

In addition to its legislation, Quebec also announced a $1 million annual ad campaign aimed at cracking down on bullying in schools.

Jennex said Nova Scotia would mount its own public awareness campaign after soliciting video and musical contributions from students over the next month, with more details to be released in May.