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What are acts of bullying?

Bullying may take many forms and emerge in various contexts. Anyone may be affected by bullying, regardless of their gender or personal features. Anyone may commit, be a perpetrator, a witness, or a victim of acts of bullying.

The Education Act (section 13, paragraph 1.1) states that “bullying” means “any repeated direct or indirect behaviour, comment, act or gesture, whether deliberate or not, including in cyberspace, which occurs in a context where there is a power imbalance between the persons concerned and which causes distress and injures, hurts, oppresses, intimidates or ostracizes.”

The figure below presents the key elements that must all be present before one can conclude that an act can be considered as bullying :

Replacement text for the visually impaired: Characteristics and manifestations of acts of bullying

Replacement text for the visually impaired: Characteristics and manifestations of acts of bullying

Clarifications with regard to characteristics

  • Each of the characteristics described in the figure must be present before one can conclude that an act can be considered as bullying. The situation must be considered from every angle: the context, the nature of the gestures, and the consequences for the person targeted.
  • Bullying is a social phenomenon. The effect of gestures on the targeted person must always be evaluated. Many acts are not criminal in themselves but have serious consequences for the person affected (e.g. distress, insecurity, low self-esteem, humiliation, a feeling of powerlessness, etc.) and, in this sense, constitute bullying.

    The same gestures may not be considered as bullying if the targeted person does not feel affected. This situation in no way excludes the need for a response to inappropriate behaviour whether it constitutes bullying or not.
  • Regarding the repetitive nature, several important clarifications are required :
    • La répétition peut naître du fait que le geste se produit à plusieurs reprises sur une certaine période de temps. Par exemple : un élève en pousse un autre lorsqu'il se trouve en même temps que lui aux casiers; la situation dure depuis quelques semaines.
    • The repetition may result from the fact that the act is repeated many times over a certain period (e.g. one student pushes another when they arrive in front of their lockers at the same time. The situation persists over several weeks.).
    • A single gesture that affects the physical or moral integrity of a person requires an intervention even if it is not repetitive.
    • Most single gestures that are objectively considered serious are punishable under the Criminal Code and may be subject to a complaint to police for investigation. If applicable, a complaint may be submitted to the Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales (DPCP, director of criminal and penal prosecutions).
  • Although gestures of bullying generally refer to a deliberate behaviour, in some situations they may be involuntary or without realizing the effect on others. This may be the case with youth who, lacking maturity, don’t anticipate the effects of their actions, or people with neurological disorders (e.g. associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), cranial trauma, or the consequences of aging) that prevent them from objectively assessing the impact of their behaviour and rob them of the ability to restrain themselves from performing certain gestures. Therefore, the personal characteristics of the author of these acts must always be taken into account.
  • The characteristic entitled “Unequal power relationship” may be the result of superiority in numbers, age, physical strength, authority, difference in abilities, or the desire of one participant to gain power at the expense of the other.

Associated phenomena

The manifestations of bullying may be part of a larger and punishable offence such as abuse, negligence, discrimination, exploitation, or domestic, family, or sexual violence (see the glossary). However, they are not necessarily part of those other problems.

Examples of behaviours in which bullying is part of other problems

  • Bullying is often part of the cycle of domestic violence.
  • Bullying is, on occasion, a component of abuse.
  • Victims of sexual agression may be bullied by their aggressor to ensure their silence.
  • When a person’s belongings are stolen, vandalized, or destroyed (e.g. painting graffiti on a locker, car, or other personal belongings; breaking personal belongings), it is a criminal act that can also constitute bullying.
  • When a minor sends an intimate image of him- or herself to his or her partner and then finds the image circulating on social networks, he or she may feel betrayed and humiliated. The persons circulating the image, including the minor who created it, may be accused of possession and distribution of child pornography and of publication of an intimate image without consent (Criminal code).

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Last modified date :
April 19, 2017