In April of this year, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons attempted to end her own life as the direct result of vicious bullying she had been the victim of following an alleged gang rape almost a year and a half prior. Several days later, she was taken off of life support and died.
She was not the first in Canada to attempt suicide. Several months prior, 15-year-old British Columbia teen Amanda Todd took her own life following her struggles with online bullying and in-person victimization.
In Ottawa, almost a year prior to Amanda Todd's suicide, 15-year-old Jamie Hubley - the only openly gay student in his school - committed suicide. His death was attributed to the bullying he received from peers for years for his sexuality and the fact he was a male figure skater.
It is a miserable state of affairs when the youth of a nation can't live their lives due to a fear of the past, comingled with a fear of the abuses that may lie in their future. It is a terrifying state of affairs when the youth of a nation begin to see suicide as a valid option to escape the torments of their lives.
But that is, sadly, becoming the case, in large part because of the advent of cyberbullying: the use of social media and technology that includes smartphones to carry on the victimization of an individual even when that person is not present or has moved away (as was the case with Todd).
In response to the death of Rehtaeh Parsons, Nova Scotia has enacted cyberbullying legislation. Called the Cyber-Safety Act, the legislation empowers victims of cyberbullying with the ability to sue those who are victimizing them, or their parents if the individuals are minors.
And Wayne MacKay, a law professor at Dalhousie University who spearheaded the initiative that eventually resulted in the cyberbullying legislation, is now advocating for similar laws in all provinces.
According to the CBC, MacKay has called cyberbullying "a national problem." He is absolutely correct.
The very nature of cyberbullying is that it happens via technology, and largely on the Internet. As witnessed in the Amanda Todd case in particular, that bullying follows individuals, even if they should try to escape it by moving away from the bullies.
Cyberbullying doesn’t respect borders or boundaries. It doesn't recognize provincial or federal jurisdiction.
It's time the governments of Canada go to bat for their youth, and place legal barriers into the mix, as MacKay suggests. Such legislation could help prevent further suicides in the same ilk as Parsons, Todd, and Hubley.
It certainly couldn't hurt.