Airdrie City council approves final reading of anti-bullying bylaw
Airdrie took a step forward in the battle against bullying when City council voted unanimously in favour of final reading of the anti-bullying provision to the public behaviour bylaw on Sept. 16.
Applause rang through council chambers from the close to 40 people in attendance as aldermen raised their hands in favour of third and final reading.
Tara Murphy, mother of bullying victim Mackenzie Murphy, embraced her daughter with tears in her eyes.
Mackenzie approached the delegation desk to address and thank council.
“I just want to thank all of you for all of your hard work and support on this,” said Murphy. “You guys have all been so great and I just really want to say thank you.”
According to the bylaw, if a person is charged with bullying, they will be charged $500 on first offense, but that number can be reduced to $125 if they agree to attend a bullying education course. A second offense would result in a fine of $1,000.
The addition of an anti-bullying bylaw is a step in the right direction, according to Deputy Mayor Allan Hunter, though there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of fine tuning.
“This is a great starting point for us, it sends the message to victims of bullying that we’re here to support them,” said Hunter. “We can craft and mould this bylaw as we go along, but we need something in place right now.”
Through a pair of public input sessions and an open house, City staff were able to make small adjustments to the wording of the bylaw, to ensure there are no loopholes.
Airdrie Manager of Legislative Services and Corporate Communications Sharon Pollyck presented the adjustments staff came up with by analyzing the feedback from the public. The adjustments included the addition of the sentence “through any medium whatsoever,” to the definition of bullying.
“Cyber bullying was a big concern when we took a look at the response we got at our open house,” said Pollyck.
The full definition of bullying as written in the bylaw is as follows, “repeated and hostile or demeaning behaviour by an individual in the municipality, either directly or through any medium whatsoever, where the behaviour results in harm, fear or distress to one or more individuals in the municipality including, but not limited to, physical harm, psychological harm or harm to an individual’s reputation.”
The addition of the word “repeated” was an amendment made to the definition and one that Murphy was glad to see added.
“I’m glad that they added that in there because that’s something that could’ve been confusing,” said Mackenzie. “There are a lot of times where you might get mad at someone and call them a bad name or something, but that’s just a reaction, that’s not necessarily bullying; bullying is something that’s repeated over and over.”
While the bylaw is in its early stages and as mentioned by Hunter, will require some tweaking and molding, what’s clear is that there is a great deal of support from the community to come together to make this provision work to its fullest.
Christy Harcourt of the Red Cross spoke in favour of the bylaw and committed to providing resources on behalf of the Red Cross.
“The Canadian Red Cross is active in bullying prevention and awareness across Alberta and we have a program that is available in Airdrie right now that’s delivered by personnel who are involved in Community Links and the Boys and Girls Club,” said Harcourt. “We are excited to see the educational component as part of the bylaw especially for youth and parents; the Canadian Red Cross would like to offer that we’re available to help if you guys are looking to go ahead in the educational component, in terms of working with City staff and our local resources.”
Harcourt made reference to section 8.4 of the bylaw, which states that anyone charged may be ordered by the court to attend anti-bullying counseling or a course recommended by the prosecutor.
Alderman Fred Burley spoke about the fine structure at the open house on Sept. 12, stating, “for right now, it’s good, but that’s something that we can look into reworking down the road if needed.”
Mayor Peter Brown has been cautiously supportive of the bylaw throughout the process, and said while he is in favour, it is a complex issue and he wants to be sure RCMP resources are being put to good use.
“I’m just trying to play this out in my mind as to how it’s actually going to work,” said Brown, addressing RCMP Sgt. Dennis Esayenko.
“If I’m a 12-year-old kid and I get a Facebook post multiple times, how does that look to you? Do the parents or the kids bring it forward to the RCMP or the City and then you investigate?”
Esayenko said there will be discretion used when it comes to investigating bullying matters, and that the RCMP would likely be receiving approximately two to three complaints of bullying per month.
“Of those two or three, we might be giving out one ticket every two months perhaps,” said Esayanko. “A lot of discretion goes into investigating these matters, the bylaw is clearly written as I can see it and we certainly wouldn’t write a ticket to someone based on just one person’s interpretation of (the bylaw), we would be looking at it from a holistic perspective. I don’t see this as being a burden on our resources, I think this is another tool for us.”
Alderman Glenda Alexander was absent from the meeting.
The anti-bullying provision can be read in its entirety in the bylaw section of the city’s website at www.airdrie.ca