12/12/2012 07:06 EST | Updated 02/11/2013 05:12 EST

Youth need help from sites in battling online bullies, Senate report says

OTTAWA - Social media sites like Facebook must make it easier for young people targeted by cyberbullying to report that they're being victimized and to have the offending material taken down, says a parliamentary committee exploring the issue.

The Senate human rights committee's report on cyberbullying — the culmination of a year-long study based on testimony from researchers, mental health professionals, and middle school students — urges a "whole community approach" to deal with the problem.

That means ensuring victims, parents, perpetrators, teachers and schools all become part of the solution, said Sen. Mobina Jaffer, chairwoman of the committee.

"I don't remember one young person talking about wanting the person bullying them punished," Jaffer told a news conference.

"This was all relationships. What needs to happen is there needs to be education to explain to that person, 'Before you post something, think about it.'"

Shaheen Shariff, an education professor at Montreal's McGill University, testified before the committee in April that bullying is less of a problem at schools where the parents and kids are engaged in developing programs, working out the consequences and working together.

University of British Columbia professor Shelley Hymel also told the committee that whole community programs had helped schools decrease their rates of bullying by up to 40 per cent.

The committee's report found that, when dealing with children, "criminal law enforcement is only appropriate in the most extreme cases."

The report comes just two months after B.C. teen Amanda Todd's highly publicized suicide. Before her death, Todd posted a heart-wrenching video on YouTube in which she described, using handwritten messages, the details of her online torment.

The report said that due to the complicated nature of cyberbullying relationships, it was important to look at alternatives to simple disciplinary or "no-tolerance" strategies.

The report recommended "restorative justice" strategies to combat the problem — looking at bullying not as a crime, but as a violation of a relationship.

"[Restorative justice] seeks to involve all those affected by a crime and to allow them to have a role in the justice process, whether through reconciliation or restoration," the report said.

"It seeks to involve all those affected by a crime and to allow them to have a role in the justice process, whether through reconciliation or restoration."

The committee heard from an RCMP officer who said the Criminal Code was already well set up to handle cyberbullying, Jaffer said.

"The reason we suggested restorative justice… we are saying there needs to be a whole community approach," Jaffer said.

"These are all children, they are young people, so we believe that there should be education, then there should be prevention, and in extreme cases, [we should] turn to the justice system."

In addition to the Senate report, the committee has created two separate guides for parents and youth.

"We felt that it was important to acknowledge what they had done for the Senate committee… through a guide that is accessible to young people," Jaffer said.