OTTAWA, May 24, 2012 ( – With legislation to combat bullying in schools currently being hotly debated in Ontario, and with many other provinces promising to consider such legislation, an investigation into anti-bullying policies and legislation across North America by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) has found that the effectiveness of these policies remains unproven.

The report, titled “The limits of anti-bullying legislation: A cross-Canada assessment of what legislation can—and can’t—do,” chronicles the position of Canadian provinces with regards to anti-bullying measures and legislation, and examines whether bullying policies and legislation actually work across North America.

“Politicians are falling all over themselves to introduce legislation without considering the basics of what they hope to achieve through the law,” said Peter Jon Mitchell, Senior Researcher at the IMFC. “It is reasonable to ask that more research be done specific to measurable outcomes before pushing forward with new legislation,” he stated.

Mitchell observed that most Canadians believe bullying is a serious problem among students.

However, while increased awareness and media coverage have lead some to believe that bullying is no longer considered “just part of growing up” but has become epidemic, Mitchell said that the introduction of provincial anti-bullying legislation in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia is “an escalated response lacking clear evidence of what can be accomplished combined with few tools to evaluate the practical outcomes.”

The report considers the millions of dollars that have been spent and the numerous programs and policies that have already been put in place without evidence that these dollars and policies work.

The Ontario “Shaping safer schools: a bullying prevention action plan” program, introduced in 2005 as the first part of a three phase school safety initiative, is highlighted in the report as an example of an expensive policy that “lacked sufficient reporting measures resulting in the ministry being unable to track the effectiveness of the policy on student behaviour.”

“When all safe school programs are considered,” the IMFC report states, “Ontario spent almost $150 million between 2007 and 2010. A 2010 report from the auditor general noted that the government plan dispersed funds inefficiently and lacked sufficient reporting measures.”

Touching on the Ontario government’s proposed anti-bullying legislation, Bill 13, the IMFC report states that, “Much of the public debate has focused on the prioritization of anti-bullying measures aimed at the LGBTQ demographic, which is a serious issue, but accounts for a small portion of bullying incidents.”

All other provinces and territories are assessed in the IMFC investigation, with the finding that while “the majority of jurisdictions have some policy in place, usually under a broader safe school or anti-violence initiative,” Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia “have pursued the next step in the progression in the campaign against bullying by proposing legislation.”

“Other jurisdictions are sure to follow suit, yet we have no proof that legislation results in an identifiable reduction in school bullying,” the report concludes.

Looking at public policy responses to school bullying in the US, Mitchell notes that a report on state legislation up to April 2011 prepared for the United States Department of Education found that 48 pieces of legislation on bullying were passed between 2000 and 2006 with an additional 78 pieces of state legislation passed in the following four years. That report’s authors suggest that revisions and amendments are the norm for legislation in the United States as politicians grapple with how to enact the legal approach to bullying.

“If the American experience is any indication, the proposed provincial bills will only be the beginning in a long line of legislative action,” Mitchell said.

As a result the report recommends that policymakers should consider the following before initiating legislation:

• Review existing policies and funding commitments
• Prioritize evaluation and research
• Minimize the scope of legislation, maximize community autonomy
• Communicate clear, pragmatic expectations of legislation

“Bullying is a relational problem that impacts the social climate of a school community,” Mitchell points out. “The law can provide clear definitions of bullying behaviour, mandate the need for policies, assign responsibility and empower educators with disciplinary tools, but it will be community level involvement that will best address the complex issue of bullying.”

“There is no question that schools must respond to bullying,” says Mitchell. “However, laws cannot be a substitute for the community level involvement needed to address bullying. Effectively addressing bullying begins with families, parents, students and educators, not the legislature,” he concludes.

The IMFC states that a follow-up report will examine effective community-based solutions to the problem of bullying.

To download the full report titled “The limits of anti-bullying legislation: A cross-Canada assessment of what legislation can—and can’t—do,” click here.