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What are acts of bullying?

Bullying can take many forms and emerge in various contexts. Anyone can be affected by bullying, regardless of their gender or personal characteristics. Anyone can be a perpetrator, witness, or 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.”

While this definition still meets with general consensus in the community today, a broader look must be taken at the manifestations of the key elements of bullying. These elements are presented in the following figure, and consist of the context (power imbalance), nature (generally deliberate and repeated), and consequences for the person targeted. Each situation must be evaluated separately before concluding that an act of bullying is involved.

Replacement text for the visually impaired: Manifestations of the key elements.

Replacement text for the visually impaired: Manifestations of the key elements

Bullying is sometimes confused with other types of violence or related phenomena. A general overview of these phenomena is provided below.

Definitions of phenomena associated with bullying


Treating a person differently on the basis of certain characteristics or differences. Reasons for discrimination that are prohibited in Canada’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms include:

  • race, colour, ethnic or national origin;
  • sex;
  • gender identity or expression;
  • sexual orientation;
  • age;
  • religion;
  • language; and
  • disability, or the use of any means to alleviate a disability.

Homophobia and transphobia

Negative attitudes that can lead to the rejection of people who are homosexual, bisexual, or trans and of people whose appearance or behaviour does not conform to the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity.

Source: Plan d’action gouvernemental de lutte contre l’homophobie et la transphobie 2017-2022 (in French)


A single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, intentional or not, that is observed in a relationship where there should be trust between the caregiver and care recipient and that causes harm or distress to the latter.

Sources: Plan d’action gouvernemental pour contrer la maltraitance envers les personnes aînées 2017-2022 (in French)
La maltraitance envers les personnes avec incapacité : recension des écrits et portrait statistique (in French)


Ideas, attitudes and actions that as a whole are intended to portray, or end up portraying, ethnocultural and national groups as inferior socially, financially, culturally or politically, and which prevent them from taking full advantage of the benefits granted to other citizens.

Source: Politique québécoise en matière d’immigration, de participation et d’inclusion (in French)

Politique québécoise en matière d’immigration, de participation et d’inclusion – Glossaire (in French)

Stratégie d’action en matière d’immigration, de participation et d’inclusion 2016-2021 (in French)

Domestic violence

Psychological, verbal, physical, sexual, or financial abuse that is not the result of a loss of control, but, on the contrary, a means chosen to dominate others and assert power over them.

Source: Plan d’action gouvernemental en matière de violence conjugale 2018-2023 (in French)

Sexual abuse

Any form of violence committed through sexual practices or targeting sexuality, including sexual assault. This notion also includes any other misconduct in the form of actions, comments, behaviours or attitudes with an unwanted sexual connotation, expressed directly or indirectly, including via a technological means.

Source: Stratégie gouvernementale pour prévenir et contrer les violences sexuelles 2016-2021 (in French)

Psychological harassment

“…any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affects an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee. For greater certainty, psychological harassment includes such behaviour in the form of such verbal comments, actions or gestures of a sexual nature.”

Source: Act respecting labour standards (chapter N-1.1)

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Last modified date :
August 16, 2021