The Liberal Senate Forum


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Meet Senator

Mobina Jaffer

The Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer, Q.C., LL.B. Senator Mobina Jaffer, named one of Canada's Top 100 Most Powerful Women in 2005, was appointed to the Senate by the Rt. Honourable Jean Chrétien in 2001. She represents the province of British Columbia.


Envisioning a national energy strategy »

Posted by 19 December 2020 by Senator Grant Mitchell  

Canada not only needs a national energy strategy, we need it very urgently. Here are some thoughts about what one might look like.

There are huge energy and environmental challenges facing this country. First, Canada has one export market for oil and gas, the U.S. And the U.S is very likely to be self-sufficient in both in5 to 10 to 20 years. We also need pipelines to reach diversified international markets.

Secondly, climate change is a real and very serious problem. The risks in climate change are literally infinite. Ask the residents of New York City, or the people who used to work in Canada's east and west coast fisheries, or the people of the north. Witness the surge of inexplicable drought and floods across our farming economy.

And, history tells us in Canada that challenges of this magnitude are not going to be solved by 10 provinces and 3 territories working as silos, and the private sector working without certainty. There is a profound need for a national energy (and climate change) strategy and it begs for national leadership. There is simply a vacuum of national leadership. Prime Minister Harper is missing in action.

To kick-start a national energy strategy, real leadership would embrace and promote an understanding of several economic realities:

1.  The Gateway and Keystone XL proposals have taught us that projects of this kind are never going to be built unless they earn the social license to do so. And they are not going to get that social license unless we can demonstrate real credibility on the environment, especially on climate change. We have to show real progress on greenhouse gas emission reductions. Not just rhetoric and spin.

2.  Dealing with climate change will not hurt the economy. You want to hurt the economy? Just keep doing what we are doing - ignoring climate change action. Canada restructured our economy to win WWII and it did not hurt the economy - it kick-started a powerful western industrialized economy that has sustained one of the highest standards of living in the world for the past 60 years.

3. Just because renewable energy isn't economic today doesn't mean that it won't be economic tomorrow. A few years ago the oil sands were making a barrel of oil for $25 and selling it for only $10. That certainly wasn't economic, but things seemed to work out. Why? Because there was a vision that with economies of scale, technology development, and market and price changes, the oil sands would become a driving force of our economy. Why are the Conservatives so squeamish about applying that thinking to renewable energy?

4. The ideological obsession against government partnership with the private sector is just plain stupid. Once again, the oil sands got kick-started because the federal government took a 12% equity position in Syncrude. Why so squeamish about government involvement when it comes to renewable/alternative energy - oil sands in its early days were the ultimate alternative energy.

What specifically should go into a national energy strategy? In addition to seeing the Prime Minister meeting with Premiers and a structured national discussion, a national energy strategy should include:

1. A price on carbon. The Senate Committee on Energy and the Environment committee (of which I am the Vice Chair) heard from 250 witnesses in its 3 year study of national energy strategy.  Even industry witnesses who appeared before the committee consistently called for a price and none called for regulation.  Regulation ultimately prices carbon in the most expensive way but can easily be manipulated by a government that does not really want to deal with GHG emissions and climate change.

2. A strong and significant commitment to the development of renewable energy. Renewable energy means jobs, investment, new markets, technological innovation and creativity, as well as reduced GHG emissions.

3. Rehabilitation of the electricity grid and in particular a concerted effort to "smarten it up." This is critical for efficient use of electricity and for the development of solar energy.

4. A focus on energy self-sufficiency.  Imagine what an economic advantage that would be for Canadian business and for generating international business interest in investing here.

5. Serious consideration of a West to East pipeline. It is interesting how Harper says that the Keystone is a no-brainer because our "ethical and secure" oil should replace the unethical and insecure oil the US buys from questionable sources. Well, where does Mr. Harper think that the Maritimes and Quebec buy their oil? Why is he not doing something about that problem? What about some leadership on that?  Mr. Oliver says that the Conservatives would never subsidize a pipeline. Well, what makes him think it would take subsidies; maybe it would just take leadership.

6. A focus on distributed energy development as a way to support and sustain rural communities and farmers.  Wind, solar, tidal, run of river and biomass energy are largely rural and provide jobs to small communities in a way that a massive coal fired electricity plant simply does not.

7. Stop attacking environmental groups. In fact, embrace them. Say repeatedly that the input of environmental groups allows us to do our energy strategy much better and enables us to get the social license to develop it. Embrace environment. Witness the forestry industry's approach in the 1990's when overwhelmed by the same kind of problems facing the energy industry today.

8. Focus on carbon capture and storage. It is essential that we perfect this technology. The world needs it and we can sell it to the world.

9. Develop a national labour strategy to support our traditional and renewable energy industries.

10. Coordinate research and development initiatives across the country in a way that supports energy and conservation technologies that reduce greenhouse emissions.

11. Consider that every solution to climate change is criticized by someone, either by industry or environmental groups. CCS is too expensive, nuclear is too dangerous, wind makes people sick, solar is not economic, hydro destroys habitat, etc. Well, we cannot wait for perfect solutions. We are running out of time and have to act.


 If I seem a bit frustrated, it is because I am. There are huge challenges here, but there truly are great opportunities. If we do this right, we can unleash a new level of inspiration, creativity, entrepreneurship that will create a remarkable 21st century, sustainable economy, the envy of the world.  We just need the leadership and focus to get it done. And, this kind of leadership is absolutely alien to the Conservatives.

Picking the correct objectives »

Posted by 13 December 2020 by Senator Grant Mitchell  

This evening as I sat in the Senate during the debate on the omnibus budget bill, Bill C-45, I began to consider a number of puzzling questions about the Conservative government. And, I began to wonder whether there is a common answer to these varied questions:

1. Why is it that the Conservatives provide literally no national leadership?

There is no national economic strategy; no national energy strategy; no national health care strategy; no national suicide prevention strategy; and no national climate change strategy. The Prime Minister does not bring the Premiers together to discuss these and any number of other issues that require national leadership.

2. Why is it that the Conservatives so diminish democracy?

The most recent evidence of this is yet another omnibus bill, but there is so much other evidence, including: misuse of prorogation; failure to report clearly on the F35’s cost; an inordinate use of in camera committee sessions, an almost complete -unwillingness to accept any amendments to their legislation; as well as countless other examples of breakdown in accountability.

3. Why is it that they seem incapable of balancing the budget?

4. Why is it that they array themselves so frequently against Canadians?

Why do they attack environmentalists? Why did they refuse to call MS patients before the Senate committee reviewing the new treatment for  the condition of MS? Why do they criticize charities for their involvement in public policy debate?

The common answer to these questions is this: because this Conservative government has focused on the wrong objective, an objective that distracts them from what should be their real objective. They focus on only the objective of reducing government instead of the objective of making Canada, and the lives of Canadians, better.

Great leadership is based upon, among other things, picking the correct objectives and inspiring people to achieve them. If you pick the wrong objective, you will get the wrong result.

This right wing Conservative government is driven by an ideology that, at its root, dislikes and disregards government.  There are obviously times in which the reduction of government - that is a more efficient government - can and does benefit Canada and Canadians. However, while a more efficient government will always, by definition, be a focus of good government, it is not immediately obvious that the idea can be applied indiscriminately.

Where has this right wing ideology ever really worked to make a better society? It simply doesn't work.

In the context of the failure to set the correct objective, that of making Canada better, the common answer to the four questions emerges :

1. There is no real national leadership because national leadership would extend the reach of government.

2. Democracy is diminished because the Parliamentary process that defends, defines, and supports it is clearly a part of government.

3. The Conservatives seem incapable of balancing budgets because, hating government as they  do means that they do not understand it, do not know how to manage it, and do not listen to their public servants who by and large can be very helpful in managing it.

4. They array themselves against so many Canadians because so often Canadians have the expectation and the understanding that government can and should assist them.

What Is a Rights-based Approach to Studying the Rights of Children and Others? »

Posted by 10 December 2020 by Senator Mobina Jaffer  

Every individual has rights, and states have obligations to all their citizens to protect those rights, including those of the most marginalized, vulnerable or at risk.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly sets out children’s rights and the principle that the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all decisions that affect them. Having signed the Convention, Canada also has specific treaty obligations towards children.

In 2007, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights supported taking such a rights-based approach with regard to children’s issues in its report, Children: The Silenced Citizens, Effective Implementation of Canada’s International Obligations with Respect to the Rights of Children.

In this report, we quoted Suzanne Williams from the International Institute for Child Rights and Development, who illustrated how this approach can change our perspective:

If 100 children need to be immunized, the needs- or problem-based approach would say that after 70 children are immunized we have a great success rate of 70%.  The rights based approach recognizes that there are still 30 children that need immunization.  The rights-based approach reaches out to even the most marginalized children and makes a difference in all children’s lives.

To take this illustration further, the rights-based approach could examine why the thirty children were not vaccinated. What was the reason they were not vaccinated? Was it because they were children at risk or vulnerable or whether they were not vaccinated  on the grounds of discrimination such as gender, sexual orientation, religion or race or ethnic origin? Taking a rights-based approach means being accountable to those other thirty children to determine what has prevented them from being equal participants in the vaccination or other public programs.

The purpose of a rights-based approach is to help individuals assert their rights and to help states to meet their human rights obligations.

The Human Rights Committee identified three key principles of a rights-based approach should be based:

  1. That all rights are equal and universal
  2. That all people are the subject of their own rights and should be participants in the development of those rights, rather than objects of charity
  3. That an obligation is placed on states to work towards ensuring that all rights are being met.

As the former Irish President and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson stated, the rights-based approach “means describing situations not in terms of human needs, or areas of development, but in terms of the obligation to respond to the rights of the individuals.  This empowers people to demand justice as a right, not as a charity.”

Due to children’s inherent vulnerability, the rights-based approach is very important when examining issues affecting children and youth, to ensure that they are not being excluded from the benefits of laws, policies, programs and other initiatives and that they are not adversely affected by them either. Children are individuals in their own right and with their own rights. The rights-based approach therefore requires engaging children in the matters that affect them. By supporting them in learning about their role as rights-holders, we empower children to actively participate in a free and fair society.

Children Are Not Born Cyberbullies »

Posted by 23 November 2020 by Senator Mobina Jaffer  

Children are not born cyberbullies. They’re children—unique but equally deserving of the happiness, love, and understanding guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

As I wrote in my last entry on fostering inclusive cultures, values like respect, kindness, and compassion are taught, learned, and experienced.

It follows that the issue of child development is central to cyberbullying. As Christian Whaelan, Acting Child and Youth Advocate in the Office of the Ombudsman of New Brunswick, observed before the Human Rights committee:

If we want to address this issue of the breakdown of respectful, responsible relationships in relation to children, we must also consider the early stages of child development and the ways that we can equip infants and pre-kindergarten children with the supports they need to become caring and nurturing children and adults. The experience, in our office, of working with youth with complex needs suggests to me that we have to do more, as a society, to support parents in their parental role, at the very early stages of life.

In other words, early child development is crucial. It’s the foundation for years of social skills development, leading to the late elementary and high school years, when cyberbullying reaches its peak.

There’s a common misconception that children who have developed skills required to engage in bullying have also developed the capacity to maturely rationalize their behaviour. Not so, testified Professor Shelley Hymel of the University of British Columbia’s Department of Education and Counselling Psychology:

There are three areas that are not adequately developed.

1. Children at this age tend to be entering a period of identity development, trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in. Some stumble upon bullying in this process and it works.
2. We know that this is the time when the frontal lobe of the brain, the part that oversees executive functions and puts information together to help us make the best decision, undergoes a rapid period of development that continues into the mid-20s.
3. At this point most children are considered to be in the pre-conventional stage of moral development, focusing primarily on what is in it for me. It is not that these children are immoral. Rather, our research is showing that these children are just beginning to understand the society as a social system where we have to work together and help each other.

Professor Hymel’s research shows that “children who bully others, including electronic bullying, are much more likely to morally disengage in thinking about their own behaviour. They justify and rationalize it in such a way that they minimize their own responsibility for the outcomes and the outcomes themselves. Such moral disengagement also predicts bystander behaviour.”

Professor Hymel’s reference to “bystander behaviour” was interesting given earlier testimony from Hal Roberts, Vice-President of Stop a Bully, who had appeared before our committee a month earlier. In his presentation, Roberts spoke of the “fluidity between roles,” noting that children are often “not even aware that in one scenario they may be instituting something…in the next scenario they may be observing it and passing it along…[and] at some point in the process, they may have been a victim [of cyberbullying].” I’ll speak more about this theme in my next entry on labels and roles: bully, victim, and bystander.

From a human rights perspective, the witnesses’ testimony reinforces the need for policy and resources that allow children, with the support of their parents and teachers, to develop skills and abilities to act, react, and reflect on their behaviour and its consequences. No two children develop in the same way, but all children have equal and universal rights—our committee affirmed this principle in adopting its own rights-based approach to policy studies. The testimony also identifies children as subjects—the actors, not the objects—whom parents, teachers, and communities must educate, enable, and empower. That is the second principle of our committee’s rights-based approach.

The third principle is that States are obligated to ensure rights are met. Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges State Parties to “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.” Canadian children have a right to live happily, learn safely, and develop into kind, caring, and compassionate people with the support of nurturing adults. Focusing on these rights is the best way to prevent cyberbullying because children are not born cyberbullies. They’re born with an infinite capacity to love. We need only give them that chance.

Inclusive Culture and Cyberbullying: More of One Means Less of the Other »

Posted by 21 November 2020 by Senator Mobina Jaffer  

In the context of digital citizenship, my last entry referenced the digital native-digital immigration dichotomy that witnesses reported to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights during our recent hearings on cyberbullying. Given witnesses’ insistence that digital literacy was more about learning respect than HTML codes, their observation prompted broader reflection on the culture in which “digital natives” have grown.

“When we think about bullying and cyberbullying…” offered Professor Faye Mishna, Dean of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto, “if we live in a society where there are certain attitudes, discriminations and prejudices, even though that might not be bullying per se, it sets an atmosphere that gives a message to kids that it is okay.”

The implications of that declaration seem daunting. If preventing cyberbullying hinges on reversing discriminatory attitudes, the scope of the problem suddenly expands from teaching children…to teaching ourselves. There’s good news, though—young people seem on the cusp of leading a massive rethink about how we, adults and children alike, treat one another. In June, Scott Hirschfeld, Director of Curriculum of the Anti-Defamation League, offered concrete reason for hope:

It speaks to an issue of an entire school culture. Much of the research shows that most students and young people are privately uncomfortable with bullying and retaliatory behaviour; however, they may feel that they are the only ones who are feeling or thinking that way and that the rest of their peers would support that kind of negative behaviour going on in the environment.

You have a lot of students who share the same feelings and beliefs, all keeping quiet, because they feel that they are the only ones who think that way. It is the responsibility of a school to open up the dialogue, to educate, and to make students aware that the majority of students want a safe, supportive environment. The majority of kids do not support the bullying behaviour. When that information gets out in the open, the social norms of the entire community can be adjusted, and most students can be empowered to act as allies and supporters so that retaliation cannot take hold.

Hirschfeld’s testimony speaks to the transformational power of educational leadership. As Justin Patchin, Co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Centre at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Clair testified, there’s an inverse relationship between “a positive climate at school” and bullying:

The benefits of a positive climate at school have been identified through much research over the last 30 years…it contributes to more consistent attendance, higher student achievement and other desirable student outcomes. Though limited, the research done on school climate and traditional bullying also underscores its importance in preventing peer conflict. Existing research has consistently identified an inverse relationship between climate and bullying. The more positive climate at school, the less bullying that happens at school. Our research over the last year has also demonstrated that the better the climate at school, the fewer problems with cyberbullying and other online behaviours we see in the schools as well, both victimization and offending.

Patchin’s research is important. It demonstrates to policy makers, educators, and parents that emphasizing the importance of values education is justified. There’s empirical evidence—30 years of empirical evidence!—that supports encouraging a positive school climate as the clearest way to prevent bullying. In particular, Sandi Urban-Hall, President-Elect of the Canadian School Boards Association, highlighted the need for an inclusive environment. “Being inclusive,” she told us, “makes the school population, the students, less vulnerable.”

Creating that climate requires opportunities to engage and learn, to confront and explore, to question and critique. Bill Belsey, teacher at Springbank Middle School and President of, argued for this approach:

I think it is important and germane to discussions about cyber-bullying, because we need to model for our kids — not have a culture of banning and blocking. We need to have a culture of planning and teaching and learning, where we say how do we use Skype? Guess what, we connect with kids from Africa. Why do projects about Africa when we can do it with them?

Belsey emphasized reversing the capacity for technology to be used in harmful ways, and instead encouraging students to see the internet as a tool to connect with others and build meaningful, positive relationships.

When cyberbullying does occur, witnesses stressed the need to repair relationships and restore positive cultures, where possible through restorative justice programs. Professor Tina Daniels of Carleton University’s Department of Psychology, Cathy Wing, Co-Executive Director of the Media Awareness Network, Belsey, and many others highlighted the need for students to learn from conflict and to remain responsible for promoting an inclusive culture. Said Belsey:

I think restorative justice is a really important thing. When you hear terms that are bandied about these days in education, such as “zero tolerance,” the idea to not want to tolerate bullying is laudable; however, to say, “If you bully, you are out,” really does not, of course, change anything. What is important with approaches like restorative justice is that there are consequences, but they are formative consequences, consequences that teach.

“Consequences that teach,” recalls once more the value and importance of positive learning experiences, and the role that schools can play, with the support of parents and communities, in fostering these opportunities by promoting an inclusive culture. It was a message that our committee heard repeatedly during the hearings. Wing captured witnesses’ consensus on the importance of school cultures:

Cultivating healthy school cultures, as we have heard from all the witnesses that have previously spoken, is extremely important. We need to create cultures of respect and empathy in our schools, which will permeate all aspects of school life and the student-teacher and administration relationships. Parents and the wider community must be included as integral members of this culture.

Witness testimony demonstrates that, to change our culture for the better, a consistent set of values—inclusion, respect, compassion—must somehow manifest through modelled leadership. It’s also clear that these values aren’t necessarily innate: they’re taught, learned, and experienced from a young age. My next entry will explore witnesses’ observations on how child development influences the cyberbullying phenomenon.

Digital Citizenship: Good Judgment and Critical Thinking Skills »

Posted by 13 November 2020 by Senator Mobina Jaffer  

During the Human Rights committee’s recent hearings on cyberbullying, witnesses answered the question “what is cyberbullying?” by focusing on behaviour rather than technology. I gave an overview of related testimony in my recent blog, Defining Cyberbullying.

As many witnesses also pointed out, it’s important to consider how the “tools”—communications technologies and social media—facilitate cyberbullying, and how they should influence our response to bullying behaviour.

These considerations almost always lead to what became a recurring theme of discussion during the hearings: digital citizenship.

To many adults, anything “digital” represents an unknown (and sometimes intimidating) frontier. There’s a stark contrast between adults and young Canadians, explained Faye Mishna, Dean of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto:

Youth are digital natives. They have never experienced a world without technology. Adults are immigrants; it is very new for us. Ninety-eight per cent of Canadian youth use communication technology daily. They acquire technological competence much faster than their parents and they know much more. Technology has outpaced legislators, politicians and parents, and now they must grapple with how to maximize the benefits of technology and how to minimize the risks.

Our committee learned, however, that addressing a digital citizenship deficit is much more a question of ethical and interpersonal skills than technical knowledge. Cathy Wing, Co-Executive Director of the Media Awareness Network, underscored this point: “Exercising good judgment and acting as good e-citizens is central to the development of digital literacy skills… Digital literacy is not about technical proficiency; it is about developing critical thinking skills that are essential to lifelong learning and citizenship in a digital society.”

Witnesses exposed the widespread use of communications technologies amongst Canadian youth and the need for critical thinking skills and judgment. They proposed education and engagement. For example, Elizabeth Meyer, Professor at the School of Education of California Polytechnic State University and Concordia University, argued against digital firewalls and blocks:

When teachers are trying to do digital literacy activities they are not in an authentic online environment. They do not have an opportunity to work with students in an adult-mediated learning situation to help them learn to navigate and make judicious decisions about what goes online, in private spaces, semi-public spaces and public spaces online. We need to think about how our schools are dealing with this rather than building stronger firewalls—as far as fencing everyone in—to being able to provide our teachers with the technology, curriculum, and support to provide students with authentic online learning activities in order to develop this judgment, and to begin to recognize the impact of what they say online and where it goes.

The same strategy should apply at home, argued Meyer. “Rather than turning things off,” she proposed “engaging with [children]” and suggested that parents “sit down and play the video game alongside their son or daughter, or go ahead and visit some sites with them online and use that as an opportunity to engage in dialogue and as teachable moments. Even though it might be some place that they are uncomfortable, they might say, ‘Just teach me. I want to know more about what you are doing here and why this is important to you.’”

It’s an important strategy, Wing commented, because “young people are stumbling across hate on sites over which we have no jurisdiction. That is why we promote the educational approach over everything.” She used an example to support her assertion:

This is the thing about using filters in our schools. One of the teachers told us they do not have filters in their school, and they came upon the hate site. The students did not recognize the information because it was very subtly done. It was an anti-Holocaust site. They did not know what they were looking at. This teacher had a wonderful teachable moment that the students were totally engrossed in because they had been completely taken in by this site. They did not know how to authenticate the information. It was a great teachable moment to show them, first of all, authentication skills for the Internet, and second, to understand how people can post anything online and there are no gatekeepers.

Bill Belsey, a teacher at Springbank Middle School in Alberta and founder of, told the committee that he encourages the use of communications technologies and social media in his classroom: students use Twitter, Skype, and blogs to develop literacy skills…and also to develop digital citizenship. These are, as Alain Johnson, Clinical Director of French Language Services at Kids Help Phone put it, “power tools.” Nevertheless, Paul Taillefer, President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation argued, “[though] cyberbullying is the act….the technology is neutral…in the classroom it is as good as the pedagogy supplied by the teacher.”

Though technology isn’t the action behind cyberbullying, the context it presents is still significant. Belsey explained:

Kids who are normally very nice, generally speaking, may do or say things online that they would never do in real life. Online, you do not see the face of the person you are hurting. That distance gives people a false sense of having licence to say or do online whatever they want. They do not understand that although these are virtual worlds, there are real life consequences for them and for others.

The next step, emphasized by so many teachers, experts, and advocates with whom our committee spoke, was perhaps best summarized by Sheen Shariff, Association Professor at McGill University’s Faculty of Education: “Encourage legal literacy and digital citizenship that will help youth develop the filters to define the line between fun and cyberbullying, and define the boundaries between public and private online spaces.”

It’s a challenging endeavour, but one that witnesses contended could be realized—if it’s supported by a healthy, inclusive, culture in communities, schools, and homes. In my next entry, I’ll share witnesses’ views on the value of promoting that kind of culture in response to cyberbullying.

Defining Cyberbullying »

Posted by 8 November 2020 by Senator Mobina Jaffer  

Between December 2011 and June 2012, I chaired a series of Senate Human Rights committee hearings on cyberbullying. Our committee conducted a study on the issue in the context of Canada’s international human rights obligations under Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Having ratified the Convention, Canada commits to taking “measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.” Even before our study, we knew that cyberbullying represents so many of these things—rights violations that the Canadian government promised to prevent.

We heard from experts and advocates, parents and teachers, and, most importantly, young people. Over the summer, committee members reflected on what we had learned from the witnesses who appeared before us. This fall, with the support of clerks and researchers from the Senate and the Library of Parliament, we’ve been drafting and revising our report. We hope to release it very soon.

As I’ve been reflecting on what our committee learned and reading through the witnesses’ testimony, a series of common themes and messages has emerged. Over the next month, I want to share and offer reflections on that testimony. For unabridged transcripts of the hearings, please visit the Standing Senate Committee on Human Right’s webpage.

As a relatively new phenomenon, there’s no universally accepted definition for cyberbullying.

Bill Belsey is a teacher at Springbank Middle School in Rocky View County, Alberta and President of He’s offered this definition:

Cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies that support deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm others. The key aspects are: It is deliberate, repeated and has intent to harm others. That is what makes bullying, bullying. Whether it is physical, verbal, psychological or social, those are the three key aspects that most of the world’s major researchers and academics agree upon.

Belsey’s definition highlights three key elements of bullying: it’s deliberate, repeated, and is intended to harm. For bullying to classify as cyberbullying, it involves the use of information and communications technologies.

Professor Faye Mishna, Dean of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work, cited a definition that draws on some of the same elements: “it is the use of communication and information technology to harm another person. It can occur on any technological device and it can include countless behaviours to do such things as spread rumours, hurt or threaten others, or to sexually harass.”

Professor Jenifer Shapka of the University of British Columbia’s Department of Education and Counselling Psychology, and Special Education adds another relational element. Her definition builds on Belsey and Mishna’s, but she specifies that cyberbullying occurs “within the context of a power differential.”

Shapka also noted that the “repetition” element manifests differently online: “virtual bystanders…are often responsible for the repeated humiliation felt by victims. For example, some of the most highlighted cases of cyberbullying in the media were based on a single event, and yet the victim still experienced the event over and over again by having it circulated and re-posted by others.”

Professor Tina Daniels seemed to agree. She sees parallels between bullying and cyberbullying: “cyberbullying meets the same needs, leads to the same emotions, and is motivated by the same desire for power, status and control as are other forms of bullying behaviour.” But she also echoed Shapka’s particular caution regarding cyberbullying: “Where it is different is in the magnitude of both the behaviours received and the consequences of these acts.”

Mariel Calvo, a student at Springbank Middle School, built on Daniels’ theme of magnitude and consequences. Speaking before our committee in June, he testified:

“Cyberbullying is a huge issue to Canadian teenagers throughout the country. To those people who say that it is nothing, that it is not a big deal and that it is teenagers being dramatic, that is completely wrong. It affects our lives enormously. The outcome of this harassment can lead to poor performance at school, low self-esteem and serious emotional consequences, including depression and suicide, so it is much more than just teenagers being dramatic.”

While there’s no clear and comprehensive definition of cyberbullying, the witnesses who appeared before our committee highlighted several keywords: intent, repetition, harm, behaviour, power, and consequence.

As Seth Marnin of the Anti-Defamation League testified, these findings demonstrate not only the complexity of cyberbullying, but the need for to preventative policy to include “a clear definition of bullying, specifically one that defines electronic communication broadly so that students and the community know exactly what is and what is not acceptable.”

Veterans’ Week »

Posted by 7 November 2020 by Senator Roméo Dallaire  

When we compare Canada to other countries, we realize that we are not a superpower. We cannot claim to have the biggest army or the most prosperous economy. Yet Canada has distinguished itself on many occasions through the valour of its citizens. Many Canadian men and women have taken up arms to defend our country’s interests and protect human rights against the forces of tyranny and oppression in other lands. Canada can be proud of its veterans because they have so often shown their courage and skill in all manner of conditions. Many have died as their families waited impatiently for their return, and so many others have come home with serious injuries that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

The week of November 5 to 11 is a time to remember our veterans. They have helped to shape Canada’s image abroad and, through their commitment, they have enabled countless numbers of people from many countries to experience the same level of peace and security that Canadians enjoy. The courage and commitment of our soldiers has been a source of pride for Canada and always will be. We should remember those who sacrificed themselves for our country. I invite all my fellow citizens to wear a poppy and show their support and appreciation for what so many people have done for our country.

What have the Conservatives really done? »

Posted by 30 October 2020 by Senator Grant Mitchell  

Canadians are currently the target of probably the most effective "spin" political machine in the history of Canadian politics. We are continually inundated with relentless messaging from the Conservatives that leaves the impression that somehow the Conservatives have been competent managers. 

But, when you scrape away all the spin, you are really left with a very different conclusion. I am compelled to ask the question: "What have the Conservatives really done where it really matters?" The answer is quite different from the propaganda we have been getting:

1. Unemployment has increased by a factor of 20 to 25 %.

2. Youth unemployment is unprecedentedly high.

3.  The Conservatives have brought in deficits that are records in the entire history of Canadian government.

4. They missed their deficit reduction target this past fiscal year.

5. They will have increased the national debt by upwards of $200 billion by the end of the next three years.

6. The stimulus package that reduced the effect of the recession was not even their idea. They resisted it and only agreed to implement it when they were threatened with expulsion from government by the coalition.

Why does anyone think that they can run an economy?  The Conservatives will argue that they were faced with a worldwide downturn explaining their fiscal and economic failures. But, under Mr. Chretien and Mr. Martin, the Liberals brought in 9 consecutive surplus budgets and left the Conservatives with a $12 billion surplus, despite the 1998 markets melt-down and 9/11. There was a structural deficit created by the Conservatives before the recession struck. And the Conservatives have been blessed with $100 oil.

But, there is more:

7. After almost 7 years in government, they have been unable to get a pipeline built to diversify Alberta's off-shore oil markets even though they continually say it is essential and have set it as one of their priority goals.

8. Four years after the listeria outbreak killed 22 Canadians due to failures in the meat monitoring process on the Conservatives' watch, there is now an E. coli outbreak resulting from yet another failure of the meat monitoring process on their watch.

9. We see the recent specter of the Minister of Finance scolding businesses for not investing the money they have stockpiled from corporate tax cuts to create jobs for Canadians. This illustrates the ineffectiveness of the Conservative’s job creation plan.

10. They act in ways that reflect a fundamental dismissal of the science of climate change and the science of crime reduction.

11. After almost 7 years in government, they have not yet "cut steel" on new navy ships, solved the helicopter issues, built the northern port they promised, or built the ice-breakers they have promised.

I think they are captive of an ideology that just does not work. Where has the right wing, conservative, "everyone for themselves" philosophy ever really worked to make a society better, to bring people together? Perhaps, leaving the bulk of the meat monitoring process to the companies that do it is just one of those places where the private sector will not out-perform government. Perhaps, the private sector needs some federal government leadership to see pipelines built, and a West to East pipeline and domestic refineries considered.

Maybe just maybe, there are some things that the federal government has to do to represent the national interest that the private sector is ill-equipped to do.

The Trouble with Radio-Canada »

Posted by 24 October 2020 by Senator Pierre De Bané  

Successive studies for successive governments have declared that the public interest in broadcasting lies overwhelmingly in enabling Canadians to hear and see themselves on radio and on television.

It is content – Canadian content – that is the rationale for the Broadcasting Act, for the CRTC and for the creation and continued public financing of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (or, as it is titled in French, La Société Radio-Canada).   The shared purpose of all these instruments of public policy is to enable Canadians, in both official languages, to learn about themselves and to see themselves reflected in the programs presented on Canada’s airwaves, particularly in the programming of CBC/SRC.

Sadly, and despite the best efforts of many people inside and outside CBC/SRC, this essential goal of Canadian broadcasting policy has yet to be achieved.  This policy failure has had profound consequences, not the least of which is the disengagement from Canada of whole generations of French-speaking Quebeckers. 

Click here to read A Critique and Call for Urgent Change in the Role and Performance of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation / Société Radio-Canada

The Conservative government has badly fumbled the energy file »

Posted by 18 October 2020 by Senator Grant Mitchell  

The Conservative government has badly fumbled the energy file. Perhaps, the single greatest reason for this is that they have offered no leadership.

The Conservatives have failed to get a pipeline built in energy rich Canada in order to deliver Albertan oil to diversified off-shore markets despite being in government for upwards of 7 years and; despite having this objective as one of their stated priorities.

The Conservatives will barely engage on the issue beyond changing environmental regulations and criticizing environmentalists. It is as though they think that this is not really their problem. Perhaps they have been seduced by their right-wing ideology that says government should really not be involved, or that the federal government should simply leave it all to the provinces. Well, the federal government has to be involved if we are to get a pipeline built.

The Conservatives can blame Premiers Clark and Redford as they bicker over the Gateway pipeline, but these Premiers are representing the interests of their respective provinces, as we would expect them to do and as they are paid to do. The question here is, "who represents the national interest?" Clearly, the Prime Minister has the responsibility to lead in the interest of the national interest and it seems that he won't even meet with Clark and Redford.

He has also refused to meet with the Council of Premiers despite being formally invited to their November meeting where they want to discuss developing a national energy strategy with him.

When asked on a Calgary talk show what Premier Redford means when she talks of a national energy strategy, Harper answered that he has no idea.  If he does not know what the Premier of the energy center of Canada means about energy strategy, why would he not just pick up the phone and ask her?

He talks of Canada becoming an energy superpower. Does he think that will happen by itself without federal - provincial cooperation and with provinces bickering amongst themselves? Does he believe that this will be advanced by his being publicly dismissive of the Premier of AB?

While the Conservatives blame environmentalists, US foundations that may fund them, Aboriginal groups, and now even companies for delays in getting the pipeline built, former Conservative Environment Minister Jim Prentice says that a major impediment to progress on the Gateway is the government's failure to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to consult Aboriginal peoples. Effective leadership means taking responsibility for their own failures and fixing them rather than deflecting blame to others which may be good politics but will not get a pipeline built.

The Conservatives basically made only one case for the Keystone pipeline: that it is a "no brainer" because the US needs to buy our ethical and secure oil to replace their unethical and insecure oil from questionable sources. Well, Prime Minister Harper, where do you think that the Atlantic provinces and Quebec get their oil - from the same insecure and unethical sources that the US does. So, why are you not providing some leadership on that front to at least consider a west-east pipeline to solve the problem?

Minister Oliver says he is not going to subsidize the energy industry to build a pipeline. Might he want to consider that the energy industry does not necessarily have Canadians' interests in mind when it makes its commercial decisions and should not be left entirely to its own devices as the only place where our national interest might be considered? And why does he conclude that it would take subsidies? Maybe it would take only leadership.

And, when it comes to selling energy projects and products, some of the strategic initiatives taken by the Conservatives are almost incomprehensible.

The single greatest concern that the people of BC have with the Gateway pipeline is tanker spills.  So, what do the Conservatives do?  They close the Vancouver Environmental Emergencies (Spills Coordination) Office and move it to Quebec. What marketing "genius" inspired that idea?

Why would the government attack wealthy and powerful US foundations for funding environmental groups in Canada when we need these same groups in order to secure the social license to build the Keystone? What marketing "genius" inspired an initiative that will simply give these powerful interests more ammunition for making the case that Canada is not environmentally responsible enough to be trusted to build a pipeline in the US?

It is very likely that the ill-conceived changes to the environmental review process, under the guise of speeding it up, will in fact result in much more opportunity for groups like Aboriginal peoples to hold the process up in the courts. Shawn Atleo made this very clear in his 2012 committee appearance regarding the changes that have been made to environmental assessment legislation.

Furthermore, how could any government of a modern, western, industrialized nation be considered anything but incompetent when it simply will not embrace the overwhelming science of climate change?

It is breathtaking. And not in a good way.

Malala Yousafzai »

Posted by 10 October 2020 by Senator Mobina Jaffer  

“I am sad watching my uniform, school bag and geometry box,” wrote Malala Yousafzai in a February 8, 2021 diary entry published by BBC Urdu. “I felt hurt on opening my wardrobe and seeing my uniform, school bag and geometry box. Boys’ schools are opening tomorrow. But the Taliban have banned girls’ education.”

According to the latest reports, Malala Yousafzai is still unconscious. The Taliban shot this 14-year-old Pakistani student yesterday because…

Why did the Taliban shoot a 14-year-old girl? I cannot accept that compassion engenders hatred and violence. I do not believe that a causal relationship exists between Malala Yousafzai’s courage and the Taliban’s cowardice. I humbly reject an explanation that identifies “advocating for girls’ education” as the precursor to “a Taliban gunman walked up to a bus taking children home from school and shot her in the head and neck.”

A man targeted and shot a child. That is the actus reus. To prosecute the crime, mens rea, or the guilty mind, would require exploration and evaluation. But the world is not a courtroom. Even absent this truth, the courtroom’s virtues—evaluation, exploration, prosecution, explanation—are woefully inadequate. Some acts of evil yield only questions. A man targeted and shot a child.

Statistics numb the effect of those words. UNICEF estimates that between 500 million and 1.5 billion children experience violence annually. One billion children are deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development. 101 million children are not attending primary school; more than half are girls. Youth literacy among young men is 1.2 times higher than among women in the least developed countries.

While statistics reveal the scope of the human rights abuses and inexplicable tragedies demand impossible answers, the courage and compassion of children like Malala Yousafzai compel us to honour their example.

During the Senate Question Period last Tuesday, I asked the Leader in the Government about the status of women and girls around the world, and how Canada plans to promote the universal recognition of human rights. Under the leadership of Foreign Affairs minister John Baird, Canada has declared its intention to protect fundamental human rights around the world. Now Canada must leverage a nuanced diplomacy, generous funding, and a strategic foreign policy to apply our values and realize our goals. As retired diplomat Daniel Livermore wrote at the Centre for International Policy Studies blog recently, “No matter how virtuous it sounds, a human rights policy can’t stand on its own.”

More potent than the sadness we feel in the aftermath of violence, Malala Yousafzai’s courage inspires hope and demands active compassion. We must insist upon policies that will facilitate that education for all. We must harness political will and empower countries, communities, schools, teachers, children, and girls to learn. Malala Yousafzai is still unconscious; we must take up the torch.

“And what will explain to you what the steep path is? It is the freeing of a slave from bondage; or the giving of food in a day of famine to an orphan relative, or to a needy in distress. Then will he be of those who believe, enjoin fortitude and encourage kindness and compassion” (The Quran, 90: 12-17).

A Look Into the Assault on Reason »

Posted by 9 October 2020 by Senator James Cowan  

In this morning’s Toronto Star, the chair of Harris/Decima and respected political commentator Allan Gregg offers an insightful analysis of how social media plays a crucial role in building a growing movement of Canadians that come together to ask that their government put aside ideology and dogma, and reaffirm the importance of facts and science in the development of public policy.

This commentary follows the fascinating speech Mr. Gregg delivered at Carleton University on September 5th. Entitled ‘‘1984 in 2012: The Assault on Reason’’, the speech went viral, as Mr. Gregg explains, by being shared online through a number of different circles: academics, the scientific community and the Occupy movement, to name only a few.

If you have not already done so, I strongly encourage you to read both of these pieces, as they establish a very real image of what is wrong with this government, and how we can successfully relay that message to Canadians.

Today’s op-ed may be found here, in the Toronto Star:

The original speech of September 5 can be found here, on the iPolitics website:

Links to web sites not under the control of the Liberal Senate Caucus are provided solely for the convenience of users. The Liberal Senate Caucus is not responsible for the accuracy, currency or the reliability of the content. The Liberal Senate Caucus does not offer any guarantee in that regard and is not responsible for the information found through these links, nor does it endorse the sites and their content.

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A National Strategy for CCSVI »

Posted by 3 October 2020 by Senator Mobina Jaffer  

Yesterday I spoke on Senator Cordy’s Senate inquiry on access to angioplasty treatment for Canadians with multiple sclerosis and chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI.

Multiple sclerosis, the MS Society of Canada tells us, is “an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system which is composed of the brain and the spinal cord. The disease attacks the myelin, which is a protective covering wrapped around the nerves of the central nervous system… Symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary greatly from person to person and from time to time in the same person.” These symptoms can include vision problems, loss of balance, loss of coordination, extreme fatigue, speech or memory failure, muscle stiffness, and paralysis.

Chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI, also attacks the central nervous system. “CCSVI describes a theory in which portions of the venous system in the head and neck are narrowed or blocked and therefore unable to efficiently remove blood from the brain and spinal cord.”

In 2008, Dr. Paolo Zamboni of the University of Ferrara in Italy first published findings on an apparent association between multiple sclerosis and CCSVI. Since then, he has pioneered an angioplasty procedure correcting the abnormality in veins to the brain.

More than fifty countries around the world have implemented clinical trials for the CCSVI angioplasty treatment. Until last Friday, September 28, Canada was not one of them. I commend Minister Aghlukkaq on her announcement that the Canadian government will conduct clinical trials in British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec to determine the safety and efficacy of treatment for CCSVI. In a piece by Anne Kingston of Maclean’s, Dr. Michael Shannon, a former deputy surgeon general of Canada, said that the CCSVI clinical trials, [and I quote], “[have] the potential of providing very useful information that can be integrated into the bigger CCSVI research picture.”

As Dr. Shannon, an expert in setting up clinical trials, goes on to say, it is absolutely essential that these clinical trials adopt an unassailable design universally perceived as credible.

We have much still to learn from science, but also from one another and from each person’s unique experiences.

Roxane Garland died this past summer, on July 22, after a long battle with MS. She was thirty-seven years old.

Garland fought for her life, undergoing angioplasty treatment abroad, which provided some relief from her symptoms. She paid for procedure out of her own pocket.

When she returned home to Saskatchewan, however, she was unable to access follow up care—procedures and services available to all Canadians.

From a CBC News story dated August 1, 2012:

According to Michelle Walsh, a friend to Garland and an advocate for improved MS treatment, [Garland] was unable to get an appointment for a specialized scan— available in Saskatchewan—to evaluate her need for further treatment.

‘Anyone could pay to have this test done,’ Walsh explained to CBC News. ‘But not if you have MS and you have CCSVI. So they were being turned away.’

As Garland’s MS progressed, it became more difficult to manage. She contracted a bladder infection, among other complications. She was finally admitted to hospital where she died.

Her husband Vince Garland told CBC News he believes Saskatchewan doctors are reluctant to provide follow up care for the CCSVI procedure because it is relatively unknown.

‘They don’t want to get involved because a doctor somewhere else has done the surgery,’ Garland said. ‘And they don’t want to learn anything about it. They don’t want to know anything about it. This is something new.’

Walsh says Saskatchewan’s health system should support MS patients who need follow up care after CCSVI treatment.

She said it should not matter where they went for treatment or who paid for it.

‘If you went on a holiday and broke your leg, you wouldn’t be refused by a doctor,’ Walsh said. ‘So why are MS patients being treated like second class citizens here?’

While Saskatchewan will allow some MS patients to take part in clinical trials in New York, the government is only supporting follow-up treatment for those involved with the clinical trial. The federal government’s announcement about clinical trials does not guarantee the follow-up care that Canadians who seek treatment for CCSVI abroad deserve. Clinical trials are a good first step, but they will not facilitate follow-up care for the thousands of Canadian MS patients who have travelled abroad to receive treatment.

Roxane Garland’s obituary read, “Rocky would want people to keep on trying to get CCSVI treatment available in Canada and more importantly, the follow up care that she so desperately needed but could not attain.”

Senator Cordy’s private member’s bill, S-204, An act to Establish a National Strategy for Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency, is currently before the Social Affairs, Science and Technology committee. Even after the announcement of clinical trials, Bill S-204 remains incredibly important: it is essential that Canada adopt a comprehensive approach to healthcare for MS and CCSVI patients, and a national strategy is vital to this goal.

The bill would require the Minister of Health to convene a conference with the provincial and territorial ministers responsible for health in order to establish a national strategy that would:

a) Ensure the development of clinical trials CCSVI treatment and
b) Estimate the funds required for the conduct of clinical trials in Canada and the monitoring of those who underwent the angioplasty treatment and specify the appropriate source of funding.

In short, the bill calls on the Government of Canada to show leadership by ensuring all Canadians’ access to a comprehensive, quality healthcare system.

Our Canadian government has the opportunity to honour Canadian values by demonstrating leadership and by ensuring that desperation is met with compassion, that fear is met with love, and that the scourge of disease is met with respect for human dignity. I hope and pray that Canada will respond to Roxane Garland’s dying wish.

Inuit education and language rights in Quebec »

Posted by 28 September 2020 by Senator Charlie Watt  

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to speak to the issue of Inuit education and language rights in Quebec.

Although I will be speaking to this issue again, you can see the clips for Igalaaq and Northbeat here:



Inuktitut (begins at 3:56)


English (begins at 5:10)

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