Chestermere city council passed the first reading of an Anti-Bullying Bylaw during the May 7 council meeting at Our Lady of Wisdom School.
Bullying is prevalent in Canadian culture, and Chestermere’s local government is stepping up, and joining students to say a definite “No” to bullying, said Chestermere Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Bernie Morton.
“This bylaw that will be the best of its kind in our province, Chestermere can be known as a bully-free community,” Morton said.
Bullying is defined as the intentional repeated hostile or demeaning behaviour of an individual or a group, where the behaviour results in physical, emotional, mental harm, fear, or distress, said Municipal Peace Officer Sergeant Trever Bowman.
According to the Anti-Bullying Bylaw, no person in any public place shall communicate with an individual or a group that would cause a person to feel bullied, and no person shall encourage or support anyone in the act of bullying.
Also, no parent or gradian shall permit or encourage a minor under their care to engage in the bullying or cyberbullying of a person.
If someone contravenes any portion of the bylaw, they are liable to a fine not more than $10,000, and not less than $250. A fault of payment can lead to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year.
The specified penalty for the Anti-Bullying Bylaw is $500.
A person who is accused of bullying can avoid a court appearance or further penalty by providing a letter of apology to the victim of the bullying behaviour, and attending and completing an anti-bullying awareness course, Bowman said.
“This bylaw was developed to plug a hole where bullying cannot be addressed until it reaches the criminal justice system,” Bowman said.
The bylaw will allow Chestermere Municipal Enforcement to address bullying in its infancy and offer bullies an opportunity to see the impacts of their actions, and how they can correct their behaviour.
“Bullying can lead to an introduction to the criminal justice system. We don’t want to see that. We want to give people every opportunity to correct their behaviour,” Bowman said.
Chestermere Staff Sgt. Mark Wielgosz added that not only is the Anti-Bullying Bylaw a deterrent for bullying in the community, but it also has a rehabilitation portion.
“It’s a hefty fine for an offense, and it’s difficult for a bully to tell their parents why they are responsible for a $500 bill,” Wielgosz said. “It’s a form of restorative justice.”
Approximately 95,000 youth in Canada stay home each day because of bullying, while three per cent of bullying incidents receive no intervention and continue to occur, he added.
“Educators focus on how to handle bullying situations but are vastly outnumbered by students, and it’s impossible to see everything all the time,” Wielgosz said.
Children are more likely to experience verbal assaults targeting appearances, and behaviour rather than race or religious afflictions, he added.
Chestermere City Councillor Ritesh Narayan supports the Anti-Bullying Bylaw and believes the bylaw is very important for the community.
“An important piece of law is that it has different elements to it, including deterrents, denunciations, retributions, rehabilitation, and a component of education. This bylaw has all of that,” he said.