Prime Minister Stephen Harper listened to heartbreaking stories Friday from families who lost loved ones due to cyberbullying and promised to do everything he could to prevent such tragedies in the future.
Harper met in a downtown Winnipeg hotel with the mother of Amanda Todd and the parents of Rehtaeh Parsons, and others, for more than an hour in what was described by one participant as a "very emotionally charged" meeting.
The prime minister made a brief statement to the media before the meeting got underway but did not take questions. He left the city shortly after the session wound up.
'I feel very honoured to have been asked to be here'
"We are expediting a review of the Criminal Code with the provinces that was already underway on these very matters, to identify potential gaps with regard to cyberbullying... and we are looking for other practical suggestions to combat such terrible acts," the prime minister said.
Participants said Harper did not make any firm commitments but reiterated his view that harassment that is criminal outside the Internet should also be considered criminal when it occurs online.
"I feel very honoured to have been asked to be here," said Carol Todd afterwards. Her daughter, 15-year-old Amanda Todd of Port Coquitlam, B.C., committed suicide last October after being bullied and blackmailed online. "He (Harper) took the time out of his schedule to listen to us, to listen to us as parents who have lost kids."
The private meeting, closed to reporters, was organized by the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection. Also among those in attendance were: Public Safety Minister Vic Toews; Pam Murchison, mother of Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, a Nova Scotia teen who took her own life in 2011 after she was harassed at school and through a social-networking site; Jo-Anne Landolt, aunt of Kimberly Proctor, an 18-year-old Langford, B.C., girl who was lured to her death by two classmates who murdered her in 2010; Sharon Wood, president and CEO of Kids Help Phone; former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, co-founder of Respect Group Inc.; and Dr. Wendy Craig, a Queens University psychology professor and scientific co-director of PREVNet, a Canadian network of researchers and organizations devoted to stopping bullying.
Children need to be better educated from a young age on the need to prevent cyberbullying, victims' families said Friday.
And telecommunications companies cannot sit silently on the sidelines, they added. The companies should carry out their own educational programs and take a stand against cyberbullying by requiring teens and their parents to pledge to refrain from such activity when they sign cellphone contracts.
Glen Canning, father of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old Nova Scotia girl who took her life last month, said there need to be greater consequences for online harassment.
"We need to have something to protect children online, and right now, when it comes to being harassed by other children, there's just nothing there whatsoever," he said Friday. Rehtaeh's death has been attributed to the online distribution of photographs of an alleged gang rape that occurred prior to her suicide.
Canning said Friday he's struggling "day by day and hour by hour sometimes" to cope with her death. He, like other victims' family members, said they were grateful for the opportunity to meet with the prime minister.
"It is nice to know that there are people in government who are outraged by what happened to our daughter. And they're making commitments to us to do everything they can and I appreciate that very, very much," he said.
Lianna McDonald, executive director of Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said she was pleased with the meeting.
She said Harper did more than provide a sympathetic ear and personal support to the families.
"He also acknowledged that more needs to be done in terms of looking at different ways that we can further protect children who are using new technology. So we're very, very happy with that," she said.