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Cyberbullying serious insidious matter, Toronto lawyer says

Lawyer Eric Roher addresses the Symposium on Safe Schools, held recently in North Bay. Photo by Phil Novak,

Lawyer Eric Roher addresses the Symposium on Safe Schools, held recently in North Bay. Photo by Phil Novak,

Cyberbullying has become a serious, insidious matter, and one that parents have to become aware of, Toronto lawyer Eric Roher recently told public, Catholic and French school board principals.

Roher, a partner in Bordner Ladner Gervais, was guest speaker at the second Symposium on Safe Schools Symposium, held in North Bay at the Rorab Shine Club.

“Cyberbullying has become a really serious problem, the number one issue in the Toronto schools we’re dealing with on a day to day basis,” Roher said.

“It’s insidious, it’s complex.”

Cyberbullying, Roher said, usually takes the form of emails or telephone text messages.

“We get, off course, emails harassing kids, threatening kids, pagers using MSM threatening sexual harassment, threatening to bomb the school,” Roher said.

The Internet has also become a favored vehicle for cyberbullying, Roher said,

He related the case of a student who created an abusive Web site in which he accused another student of being gay and inviting visitors to add their thoughts about the student in a guest book.

Another student in North Toronto created a Web site in which he took the head of female high school students and transferred them onto the bodies of nude models.

“He was sexually offering the services of these students and offering this from the Web site,” Roher said.

One student hated a teacher so much he created a Web site that asked students for donations to help him hire a hit man.

Cyberbullies hide behind the anonymity of the internet, Roher said, particularly those who create negative Web sites.

“They don’t fear being punished and feel they’re totally immune,” Roher said.

“They think it’s off-school, they don’t think the school has any impact on their conduct, they believe they’re outside the legal reach of the school board and schools. But they’re not.”

Roher alluded to a 2002 British survey which showed one in four youths age 11-19 have been threatened via cell phone or computer.

Another survey showed the only 16 per cent of students say they’ve talked to their parents about what they do online.
“And that’s a big issue, parents don’t have a clue. Parents are completely out to lunch about what their kids are doing, and in fact parents don’t even know particularly what their kids are up to online, who they talk to, what sites their on,” Roher said.

Parents are completely “clued out.” Roher said.

“We’ve got to get parents onside between monitoring and talking to their kids about who they’re online with and what they’re saying and what sites they’re surfing on.”

Children being bullied online often fear telling an adult because they may lose their cell phone or internet privileges,” Roher said.

“So that’s the thing. They also don’t want retaliation, they don’t want reprisal. We hear this all the time, students are scared.”

Roher had some advice for students who are being cyberbullied, and their parents.

Messages from cyberbullies shouldn’t be responded to, nor should they be erased or deleted.

“And the more you save, the easier it is to track down the offender,” Roher said.

Parents should also advise their Internet, instant messaging or mobile phone service providers about the problem, and also considering informing local police.

Schools should also change their bullying policies to include Internet or mobile harassment.