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Bullying: know your legal rights

Victims of bullying, whether it occurs in school, at work or online, often feel helpless to act or fight back. Parents of bullied children can feel equally exasperated when they feel institutions aren’t doing enough to protect their kids.

But there are legal options.

Bullying, when it happens on school grounds, falls under the education laws of each province and territory and amendments have been made to every provincial education act to deal with the problem.

Ontario’s Education Act defines bullying as any kind of aggressive and repeated behavior by an individual or group that causes fear, harm and distress to other individuals and/or groups. It typically serves to create a power imbalance between individuals based on a myriad of factors such as: age; gender; economic status; physical appearance; and sexual orientation, etc.

Bullying is usually divided into three categories: physical, verbal, and social. With the rapid rise of technology, cyber-bullying has also become a growing concern in the last decade.

Bullying has been linked to causing depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a host of academic and social problems. The existence of such risks makes it imperative for parents and other adult figures to take measures to counteract against bullying and its effects.

Handling bullying

Bullying had traditionally been left to school authorities to regulate, but an increase in bullying-related suicides highlighted the need to make it a criminal matter.

Provinces and territories across Canada have taken the initiative to address bullying in recent years. The Accepting Schools Act of 2012 included anti-bullying legislation for the first time in Ontario. Bill 56 in Quebec and Bill 3 in Alberta were amendments made to include legal definitions, regulations and penalties for instances of bullying. Though these amendments and definitions are specific to each province, their overall message is to reduce bullying in schools and offer safety to all students.

Though contacting school authorities is still an important first step, severe instances of bullying warrant a call to the police. These include:

  • Any instance of threats or harassment that includes repeated taunting, intimidation, and instilling fear for one’s safety.
  • Physical assault such as: hitting, pushing, punching, slapping, and vandalizing someone’s property.
  • Theft of someone’s personal items, such as phones, books, and bags, etc.
  • Any case of hate crime, where a person’s religious beliefs, ethnicity and sexual orientation are targeted.

Punitive measures can range from suspension from school to jail time.

Workplace bullying

When people are bullied at work it’s generally considered workplace harassment and is covered under the provincial employment laws. These regulations often deal with issues of discrimination based on age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, etc., and other forms of harassment.

Though the term “bullying” is not explicitly stated in any of the regulations, the employer is generally held responsible by law to provide a fair work environment that protects employees from physical and mental harm.

In an Alberta workplace harassment lawsuit, a judge ruled it’s the implied responsibility of the employer to treat employees with civility, decency, respect and dignity. Breaching any of these and making unnecessary criticisms and regular threats of dismissal can be constituted as bullying.

Quebec has implemented a psychological harassment element to its workplace law and listed degrading remarks, ridicule, abuse, and shouting as bullying.

British Columbia has implemented an anti-workplace bullying program called WorkSafeBC. The program teaches employees who feel threatened and bullied at work to report it to their employer or another authority figure. If the bullying is persistent and no preventive measures are taken, the police should be contacted.


Cyber-bullying has seen rapid growth in the past decade. It’s defined as any form of harassment done using communication technologies. Instances of cyber-bullying include:

As with other instances of bullying, it’s important to notify authorities immediately if your child is being bullied online. Cyber-bullying legislation, although new, is including increasingly severe penalties due to the potential threats and trauma faced by victims.

New Brunswick’s Education Act was amended in 2012 to include legislation for cyber-bullying, while Nova Scotia introduced its Cyber-safety Act in 2013 to focus exclusively on cyber-bullying. Other provinces have also made provisions with regards to cyber bullying in recent years.

Read more:

RCMP Bullying and Cyberbullying 

Nova Scotia Cyber-safety Act