Last month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with parents of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year-old Nova Scotia teenager who took her own life. She had been sexually assaulted and a digital photograph of the incident was shared around her school. Mr. Harper promised to create a new law against cyberbullying. That's good news.
But much of the news relating to bullying is far from good. Bullying is an expansive phenomenon, running along a wide continuum, ranging from physical to verbal abuse. For some reason, society deems much of it to be perfectly acceptable, as in sports and politics. In politics, this means harsh, often dishonest personal attacks on opponents. Last week's B.C. election demonstrated once again that such tactics work.
No one knows this better than our Prime Minister, as some Ottawa-area Grade 5 students have just learned. Their teacher, Natalie Casault, had been teaching them about bullying – with no exceptions. "They're hearing all the time, 'Don't be disrespectful, be courteous to people, be nice to people, don't say things that you wouldn't want said about you' ... These are the speeches that I keep giving them every day." So do many teachers. But her kids went an extra mile.
One of them saw a Conservative ad on TV sneering at Justin Trudeau for doing a mock strip tease for a charity event. The class had only recently learned about cyberbullying after Rehtaeh Parsons and other high-profile teenage suicides by kids who'd been humiliated online.
"Yeah, they're really not nice," this 10-year old told his teacher. "He did a charity and they're laughing at him and he looks like a clown and they're saying he's just a simple teacher and that's not fair. They can't do that, Madame, that's cyberbullying." Several students were seriously concerned that "Justin" would be "really sad about this."
Like all good teachers, Ms. Casault takes her students seriously. She pointed out that all Canadians had the right to write to the PM with their views and seven of them, each independently, did exactly that. One of them stated, with glorious innocence: "You know, there are better strategies, Mr. Prime Minister. You could talk to us about all the great things that you want to do for the country, instead." Sure, kid.
This is all very troubling. These youngsters are clearly not being socialized to function in the real world of Harperland. How will they get by when they grow up? Who'll tell them that the attack ads on Trudeau are simply how their Prime Minister fights his political wars? They're just part of his bullying culture, which is the exact antithesis of Ms. Casault's definition of bullying.
So Justin's just getting what they all got – Dion, Ignatieff, Mulcair, "Taliban Jack" Layton.
The point these kids had better learn is this: not only is this shameless bullying, bullying is exactly what it's supposed to be. I guess they'll figure it out when they're more mature. Then they too can enter politics. Then they too will be able to smear those who disagree with them. So, for example, they could label as eco-terrorists, radicals and threats to national security those Canadians who care about the environment, as our Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver has done.
Or like Public Safety Minister Vic Towes, they could issue reports on terrorism lumping environmentalists in with other "domestic extremists" who use "low-level violence" like those who promote "animal rights, white supremacy…and anti-capitalism."
Soon enough, Ms. Casault's kids will come to see that Harperland really can't function without bullying. Its enemies are everywhere and it must be eternally vigilant. That's why many charities, faith-based organizations, human rights groups, trade unions, scientists, development NGOs, women's equality groups and environmental organizations have already felt the government's sting. They've lost funding, been publicly vilified, had their patriotism questioned, their charitable status revoked, their fundraising capacity crippled and their accounts scrutinized by the ostensibly non-partisan Canada Revenue Agency. I just hope our young letter-writers don't get their parents in trouble with the CRA.
Ms. Casault could have a great class on government bullying by introducing her kids to the shocking saga of Franke James. Ms. James is an artist/author/environmental activist. Her work is great fun for kids of all ages and they can Google her easily. Two years ago, she was supposed to have her work exhibited in 20 European cities. But the local NGO that was sponsoring her was bullied and intimidated so badly by Canadian officials that it pulled out and the entire show was canceled. Her terrible crime? As a spokesperson for our government candidly explained, Ms. James' show was about climate change and her opinions were contrary to those of the government. That was it. Here's the big message that all kids better learn if they're to survive in a bullying culture. With the rarest exception, Stephen Harper and his minions never ever admit they're wrong. Whatever they do is always honorable, whatever opponents do is always dishonorable. Even, repeatedly, smack in the middle of the entire WrightDuffyGate scandal, led by the Prime Minister himself boasting to his caucus that no government has ever been more accountable than his.
What's worse: that he believes it or that he says such things knowing they're false?
And for the record, Ms. Casault's earnest letter-writers have received no response from Mr. Harper. Or maybe that is his real answer.