Summary of Defining the Legal Line Conference
On November 21 2012, The Defining the Legal Line: Youth, Cyber bullying and Wellbeing was held on behalf of the Institute for Human Development and Well-Being, McGill’s Dean of Students and the Define the Line Projects at McGill.
This conference brought together experts from the fields of education, law and information studies to discuss the issues of cyberbullying, cyber law policy and educational reform.
The conference began with an address by the Honorable Senator Mobina Jaffer, who spoke to a greater understanding of the behaviors underlying cyber bullying. In this sense, Senator Jaffer predicted that the new legislation to be passed that day, would focus more on tougher law than understanding and changing behaviors. To this effect, Professor Victoria Talwar of McGill University spoke at great length regarding the moral engagements of cyber bullying online. Professor Talwar demonstrated through her own research with Quebec adolescents, youth found it easier to disengage from online moral norms.
Professor Shariff commented on proactive measures and avoidance of tougher laws. The conference members saw education as a key feature of understanding adolescent behavior and the importance of educating youth on legal and digital literacy so that they were capable of making informed decisions.
Educational reform was a key theme in the conference with Talwar suggesting that communication patterns have shifted and ‘top- down’ approaches were counterintuitive to understanding the root causes of cyber bullying. To this effect Valerie Steeves, a University of Ottawa law professor, stated the commonly held practice of ‘surveillance’ among adult figures only serves to create a sense of mistrust amongst kids and adults. Professor Shauna Van Praagh, Associate Professor of Law at McGill, called for legislators to “rethink the very foundations of law.”
Conference participants understood that cyber bullying was a deeply rooted and complex issue that calls for a balance between softer sanctions and education. This conference was marked by the exciting release of a new app from Kids Help phone, launched by Sharon Wood, CEO and President of Kids Help Phone, and Alain Johnson, Clinical Director of Kids Help Phone. This app is designed to support adolescents in coping with bullying. The conference speakers urged for a more nuanced approach in understanding the underlying issues of cyber bullying in order to create systems of support rather than punishment for youth
Fittingly the conference ended with a workshop for students held by the Define the Line research team on legal and digital literacy skills and understanding the blurred lines between inappropriate harmful behavior and joking.