While the federal government is ignoring life-and-death issues such as tragedy of murdered and missing women, Quebec is taking action. The province will unveil an anti-bullying campaign and plan at the end of November. The plan will look at ways to stop the abuse and bullying of Aboriginal peoples.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said there are many different types of bullying but, he observed, “The Aboriginal reality is so specific that it deserves to be treated separately.”

An Innu woman who had to leave school because of bullying by classmates hit home for the premier. Because she had an accent when she spoke French her classmates made her life a living hell.

The Quebec Native Women’s Association agrees with the premier and said it was a double whammy for Aboriginal women because they were women and Aboriginal. Said QNWA President Viviane Michel: “We’re confronted with racism every day. It weighs on you because you live it constantly: hateful glances, racist insults, or the prejudices of people that are anchored on our identity, on us.”

She added that a public awareness campaign should be a priority. “People need to understand where we come from, who we are and why we became this way,” Michel said.

In 2012, the National Assembly passed the Act to prevent and stop bullying in schools. It provides for “prevention measures to put an end to all forms of bullying and violence, in particular those motivated by racism or homophobia or targeting sexual orientation, sexual identity, a handicap or a physical characteristic.”

Only two large cities in Canada have fines for bullying (race related or not). They are Regina, Saskatchewan, and Edmonton, Alberta. Edmonton led the way with minimum fines of $250. Another Alberta town, Rocky Mountain House, has a $1,000 fine for a second offence. The idea is to prevent individuals from continuing to engage in bullying and escalating in their behaviours (e.g., assault, gang violence and harassment) by making bullying a criminal offence. This is great because bullying has been shown in research studies to be a stepping-stone to more severe behaviours.

It remains to be seen how effective these legal efforts will be are. Police officers say that few tickets have been issued so far, because once people are aware of the cost and consequences of bullying, they generally stop doing it.

There are other benefits. It addresses harmful behaviours not covered under the Criminal Code, such as gossiping or other forms of bullying that cause a targeted individual to feel harassed or bothered. In this way it supports the Criminal Code and the level of evidence required allows police to intervene in a variety of bullying situations.

As we can see it should not just be the province dealing with bullying, racist or not, but local and regional forms of government as well. In the meantime, hats off to Quebec for moving ahead on this issue and hopefully others will follow their lead.