It's being billed as "The Most Important Movie of 2012." Theatres are taking group bookings in advance, anticipating a rush of class trips after it opens across Canada this month. The hype over the documentary Bully, which tracks the struggles of five students who have been tormented by their peers for being gay, skinny and awkward, or just plain different, is the latest flashpoint on the bullying problem in North America - a "national crisis" and "epidemic," as it's been called in both Canada and the United States.
The legislation in Ontario and Quebec has so broadly defined the complex act of bullying that behaviour such as spreading rumours could potentially be characterized as libel or even a criminal threat, opening student bullies - who are often also bullying victims - up to serious legal risks, said McGill University professor Shaheen Shariff, who recently received a Digital Citizenship grant from Facebook for her project definetheline.ca, which seeks to educate young people about the potential legal consequences of cyberbullying.
"The risk is there's harsher punishment on the kids who are labelled as 'the bullies,' because they're going to end up with longer and harsher criminal records and school records. It doesn't really address the problem," she said. "And a lot of the kids who are caught bullying are often provoked."