Anti-bullying laws in Canada: Should parents be punished for their kids' bad behaviour?
A New York town is cracking down on bullying by penalizing parents for their children’s behaviour.
Under the new anti-bullying law, parents in North Tonawanda, N.Y., could face up to 15 days in jail or be slapped with a $250 fine if their kid is found bullying minors.
The town isn’t the only place that puts the onus on the parents when it comes to bullying.
In 2016, a city in Wisconsin enacted anti-bullying legislation that fines a parent $366 if their child is found bullying others. If there is a second offence within a year, then they will be fined $681.
WATCH: Wisconsin city will fine parents if they cannot stop their kids from bullying
But what about in Canada? Can parents be legally punished for their kids’ behaviour?
“The onus seems to be on the child in Canada,” Toronto-based lawyer, Jodan Donich, said. There are cases of children being fined for bullying in Canada, he added, but generally they are not in the parent.
These cases include:
In Hanna, Alta., police will hand out a $250 fine to a minor (18 years old or younger) caught bullying and then another $1,000 ticket if that person re-offends. If the tormenting gets out of control, the bully could face time in jail for up to six months or do community service hours.
WATCH: Are young kids with smartphones more susceptible to cyberbullying?
The town defines “bullying” as “harassment of others by the real or threatened infliction of physical violence and attacks, racially or ethnically-based verbal abuse and gender-based put-downs, verbal taunts, name-calling and put-downs, written or electronically transmitted, or emotional abuse, extortion or stealing of money and possessions and social out-casting.”
The town of Grande Prairie, Alta., also has a law that punishes bullies. If a youth is charged under the bullying bylaw, RCMP will issue him or her a $250 fine.
The town of Grenfell, Sask., passed an anti-bullying law in 2013 — which applies to both minors and adults. Under the bylaw, bullies can be fined anywhere from $250 to $1,000.
Another Saskatchewan town, Eston, passed a similar bullying law in 2013. First-time offenders face a $250 fine while repeat offenders may owe as much as $1,000 for each offence. Failure to pay the fine could result in up to six months in jail.
In 2006, Regina became one of the first Canadian cities to prohibit bullying. Under the law, bullies can be fined up to $2,000 and have to attend an anti-bullying course or be sentenced up to 90 days in jail.
In 2015, the bylaw was put to the test and two Regina teenagers were charged under the municipal anti-bullying law.
WATCH: Students face bullying charges for mocking schoolmate with Down syndrome
Do fines deter bullying?
Rob Benn-Frenette, with BullyingCanada, says a monetary fine to minors can be a deterrent in some cases, but the organization encourages communities to look at other solutions against bullying, such as peer mediation or having youth work with victims of bullying.
“Research shows that bullying generally is a learned behaviour, so we rely on parents to play an active role in ensuring that children and youth understand the long-term effects of bullying,” Benn-Frenette said.
Could parents of bullies be jailed in Canada?
New York lawyer, Paul Cambria, told WGRZ News, the new anti-bullying law in New York could stick around.
“I think it could stick as long as it requires a reckless disregard by the parents, in other words, they have seen bullying and did nothing about it… or there is a negligence here,” Cambria said.
“If you have been notified that your child is a bully and do nothing about it… I think they [law officials] can enforce a statute,” he said.
But in terms of this law coming to Canada, Donich said he hopes it doesn’t.
WATCH: Canada cracks down on cyberbullying
“It does not make sense. It is police telling the parents to be police,” he said. “And if you don’t do your job, we will put you in jail. This is wrong. It’s wrong to kick the onus back to parents because parents are not the police.”
He said Canada already has an existing framework to handle this, which is to punish the accuser.
“Police are trained to handle bullying or cyberbullying, parents aren’t. It’s just a lazy approach to try and solve the issue.”
BullyingCanada reached out to the town in New York about the new law, but Benn-Frenette said he has not heard back yet. He also believes fining parents may not be the best solution to curb bullying.
“While the parents do play an important role, we do not believe that parents facing jail time will curb the bullying incidents,” he said.