November 18, 2012 marked the beginning of the Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week in Ontario schools. Until November 23, 2012 Ontario schools are organizing activities to educate students, parents and school staff about what constitutes bullying and the consequences it can have on the overall school environment. Greater awareness will educate the community on this important issue while highlighting resources available for the prevention of bullying.

Bullying is an increasingly pervasive problem in Canada, particularly in schools. Ontario’s Ministry of Education defines bullying as a form of “repeated, persistent and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person's body, feelings, self-esteem or reputation.”

Bullying can take many forms, such as physical, verbal, social or electronic (cyberbullying). Victims of bullying can suffer psychological damage and even injury leading to death. One only has to think of recent examples such as Mitchell Wilson (Pickering, ON) and Amanda Todd (Port Coquitlam, BC) to understand the severity of this problem.

For the first time, this year’s Awareness Week is being recognized as part of the newly adopted Accepting Schools Act. Adopted in June 2012, the law requires that all school boards in Ontario take preventive measures against bullying, issue tougher consequences in cases of bullying, and support students who want to promote greater understanding and respect for all. This supplements other obligations and responsibilities of principals and teachers to make Ontario schools more safe, inclusive and tolerant.

In addition, the Minister officially launched the new edition of the Premier's Awards for Accepting Schools. These awards pay tribute to the safe school teams for the work they have done in creating a safe and tolerant school environment.

Perhaps one day we will see similar initiatives in other sectors and industries in Ontario. Meanwhile, the awareness of students and parents may have a positive impact on the workplace environments of tomorrow.