Bullying in schools

Region: Ontario Answer # 1409

What is bullying?

Bullying is when someone purposefully seeks to harm, exclude or intimidate someone else, often repeatedly. It often occurs between people of similar age and happens frequently in schools through daily interactions amongst students. It can include harassment, abuse, or social exclusion.

What forms does bullying take in schools?

Bullying can take many different forms in schools. These include:

  • Physical: Involves causing harm to another’s body or possession. This may include hitting, kicking, or destroying someone’s property.
  • Verbal: Involves hurting someone with verbal abuse. This may include threatening, insulting, or calling someone names.
  • Social: Involves using other people and relationships to hurt another. This may include gossiping, social exclusion, publicly embarrassing, or spreading rumours.
  • Emotional or psychological: Involves verbal attacks such as name-calling and teasing.
  • Cyberbullying: Involves using technology to harass or bully someone. This could include texting, email, or social media. More information about cyberbullying can be found here.

Provincial bullying laws

Most provincial laws regarding education define bullying and outline the rights and responsibilities of teachers, school boards, principals, ministries, and parents and guardians to prevent and address bullying in schools.

Education Act

Specifically, under Ontario’s Education Act:

1(1) “bullying” means aggressive and typically repeated behaviour by a pupil where,

(a) the behaviour is intended by the pupil to have the effect of, or the pupil ought to know that the behaviour would be likely to have the effect of,

(i) causing harm, fear or distress to another individual, including physical, psychological, social or academic harm, harm to the individual’s reputation or harm to the individual’s property, or

(ii) creating a negative environment at a school for another individual, and

(b) the behaviour occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance between the pupil and the individual based on factors such as size, strength, age, intelligence, peer group power, economic status, social status, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, family circumstances, gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, disability or the receipt of special education; (intimidation)”

The Act states that bullying is legally considered to have occurred in a school if it happens:

  • On a school site or public property within 50 metres of a school site;
  • During an activity, function or program that is conducted for school purposes, regardless of whether it takes place at a school site; or
  • When technology or an electronic device is used.

Accepting Schools Act

Ontario’s Accepting Schools Act 2012 outlines the responsibilities of school boards, principals, parents and others in bullying prevention. It’s purpose is to encourage a positive and inclusive school experience and promote strong and respectful relationships in both schools and the community.

Three main features of the Accepting Schools Act are:

  1. Helping schools and boards plan intervention and prevention activities to promote equity and inclusive education.
  2. Supporting boards and schools in engaging parents and other stakeholders to create a positive learning environment.
  3. Providing supports to students affected by bullying and creating programs to raise awareness about sensitive topics related to equity (i.e. racism, gender equity, etc.).

What responsibilities do schools have?

The Education Act states that significant measures must be taken by schools and school boards to effectively respond to bullying. School boards must establish a bullying prevention and intervention plan for it’s schools and must require that all schools implement the plan. The Act also establishes an annual Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week for schools to increase awareness about the impacts of bullying behaviour and promote understanding of inclusion and equity.

If an employee of a school becomes aware that a student may be the victim of bullying, the employee must notify the principal immediately. The principal must then investigate the situation. According to the Act, a student found bullying must be suspended and may be considered for expulsion if they have previously been suspended for bullying or if their ongoing presence creates an intolerable risk to another person’s safety. For more information regarding when a student can be suspended or expelled, go to topic #1402 Suspension and expulsion.

What responsibilities do parents and guardians have?

Parents and guardians also have a number of rights and responsibilities in preventing and addressing bullying in school. This includes:

  • Reminding school board employees that they must report bullying to the school principal immediately.
  • Contribute to discussions on bullying prevention activities within the school.
  • Ensuring the school board establishes policies to address bullying and prevention and these policies are effectively reviewed regularly.
  • Asking the Ministry of Education to ensure schools create inclusive education policies and create a model plan to assist in bullying intervention and prevention efforts. 

What can students do if they are being bullied?

There are a number of things you can do if you are a victim of bullying at school:

  • Leave the conversation or back away
  • Record any incidents to help you in reporting the bullying
  • Tell someone you trust, preferably an adult (teacher, parent etc.)
  • Notify school administrators and report any incidents
  • Get help from an adult if you are experiencing any criminal forms of bullying like assault, threats, sexual exploitation etc. Report any criminal behaviour to your local police department.

If you know someone who is being bullied, you can:

  • Let them know that they are not alone and support them by talking to them
  • If it is safe, intervene and tell the bully to stop their behaviour
  • Help them in reporting the bullying behaviour to a trusted adult or the school administrators or the police if it is criminal activity

When is bullying criminal?

Bullying can impact the health and wellness of it’s victims, and individuals involved (either as a victim or a bully, or both) put themselves at risk for future emotional and behavioural problems. However, some types of bullying can also be considered criminal behaviour and the person responsible for the bullying may be charged with one or more of the following Criminal Code offences:

Criminal Harassment Recurring unwelcome behaviour that intimidates or threatens another person’s safety.
Child Pornography Distribution of explicit photos and videos of minors (anyone under the age of 18).
Uttering Threats and Extortion Intimidating someone or threatening to expose information if they don’t take a particular action.
Assault Threatening someone or physically harming them or their belongings.
Defamatory Libel Sharing false information about another person to ruin their reputation.

For all criminal offences, it is important to alert the local police authority. Police will determine whether to initiate an investigation or lay charges.

For more information on bullying in schools and policies in your children’s school, contact your local school board, or visit Public Safety Canada, Bully Prevention in Schools.


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