Saskatoon’s school boards will be asked to weigh in before city council moves any further on the issue of bullying.
This after a lengthy debate on a proposed bylaw that contained provisions against behaviours like gossip, hair-pulling and pinching.
Council heard from a number of speakers, including anti-bullying expert and former Saskatoon police officer Bryan Trainor.
Trainor told council he wanted to see them come up with some sort of bylaw, but he didn’t support the wording of the one in front of them, calling it too broad. He said he wanted to see something closer to what was passed in Regina or Airdrie.
Also addressing council was Bridgette Krieg.
Krieg shared the story of severe bullying that her daughter endured in her late teens. She said the girl was tormented by a group of classmates — including an online discussion group that saw over 40 pages worth of negative comments directed at her.
Krieg said her daughter became so depressed that she ended up abusing drugs, leading to a fentanyl overdose that put her in a coma and nearly ended her life.
Urging council to pass the bylaw, Krieg said her daughter’s story wasn’t unique, and could happen to anyone as long as bullying is tolerated.
Janelle Pewap addressed council on behalf of the Saskatoon Co-ordinating Committee Against Police Violence. Earlier in the day, the group held a small demonstration against the bylaw out front of city hall.
Pewap told council the group was concerned the proposed bylaw would criminalise young people who couldn’t afford to pay fines.
“I believe this bylaw further punishes youth who need help, not fines,” she said, describing the bylaw as an attack on poor people and visible minorities.
Council called on Saskatoon police chief Clive Weighill after hearing from the speakers.
Weighill said he was in favour of some sort of anti-bullying bylaw. He said a bylaw would give police a tool to use before laying criminal charges. If anything, he said the bylaw would help keep kids out of the criminal justice system.
Weighill told council officers would not be likely to go patrolling for infractions. Rather, he said police would be more likely to respond to complaints. He said police would consult with school boards before doing any enforcement on school property.
The bylaw was brought forward by Ward 3 councillor Ann Iwanchuk.
Iwanchuk said commenters both online and in the media had failed to recognize that the bylaw was aimed at repeated patterns of behaviour. She said this had led to people kicking around absurd scenarios as to how it might be enforced.
“I don’t think there is any intent that if someone is having coffee and doesn’t invite someone to sit at their table that they’ll be charged with bullying,” she said.
Iwanchuk said she worried an anti-bullying bylaw would be unworkable without support from educators. With that in mind, she put forward a motion to have administration gauge interest from school board trustees and then report back.
The motion passed with only councillor Zach Jeffries opposed.
Jeffries voted against the motion saying council should act if and when the school boards come to them asking for a bylaw, rather than trying to force the issue. He said he didn’t want to see administration spend any more time and effort on further reports.