Time to Unpack the Juggernaut?: The Cyberbullying Debates in Canada
“Cyberbullying” has come to the fore in Canadian federal parliamentary debate largely in the last two years in tandem with high profile media reporting of several teen suicides. The federal government has responded to the issue by tabling Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. The omnibus Bill proposes, among other things, criminal law responses to non-consensual distribution of intimate images and gender-based hate propagation, but only at the expense of expanded state surveillance writ large. A criminal law response might appear to be the obvious policy choice for many who have followed media reporting on cyberbullying. However, our review of federal parliamentary debates from 2008-2013 revealed a much richer array of approaches in which the efficacy of criminal law responses was heavily contested. This presentation reports on the diversity of viewpoints that emerged within those debates, first contextualizing them within the conceptual complexity of the term “cyberbullying” and the media focus on tragic suicide cases. It suggests that “cyberbullying” has become less a problem and more an intellectual and political juggernaut for transporting a broad range of individual and social issues, as well as political ideologies, onto the public agenda. The conceptual elasticity of the term has to some extent facilitated co-optation of tragic suicide cases as a guise for pushing a tough on crime agenda, while obscuring underlying relational and systemic issues repeatedly identified by many claimsmakers within the debates. This presentation will argue in favour of unpacking the “cyberbullying” juggernaut to expose as candidly as possible the wide range of individual and social issues that the term itself too easily obscures from view. Doing so will be an essential first step toward development of a comprehensive multi-pronged strategy that better accounts for the richness and diversity of the concerns reflected in the cacophony of voices within the debates themselves. Such an approach could allow for prioritization of issues and development of responses aimed at addressing those most at risk, and capable of accounting for the ways in which individual actions are informed by the social context in which they occur, including well-established structures of discrimination.