From bullying to corruption: Two diseases afflicting Canadian society

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Two diseases seem to be gradually worsening in Canadian society: bullying and corruption.

Both can be interrelated and seem to afflict our children in schools and our politicians in the public arena, respectively.

Sometimes one disease is a simple continuation of the other, sometimes they are totally separate, but both diseases are nevertheless extremely dangerous.

In September 2012, the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) reported that on a scale of 35 countries, Canada has the 9th highest rate of bullying in the 13-years-old category.

Psychologists, teachers, parents, students and experts from all fields have all tried hard in recent years to denounce bullying, or to come up with initiatives to eradicate the disease. Unfortunately, we are still hearing of teenagers committing suicide or harming themselves because of what they endured in schoolyards. Whether it is aggressive behaviour or harassment, school is not the only place they are bullied. Bullying on social media networks (a.k.a. cyber bullying) is also becoming commonplace.

Bullying is becoming a nightmare for children, for their parents, for their teachers and their schools. As the numbers confirm, it has reached an endemic level in Canada and the rest of the world.

Local policies are good, but they are not enough. A few weeks ago, the federal government announced funding of $250,000 for an already existing program to train youth to tackle bullying in their respective communities across Canada.

Unfortunately, no words were mentioned towards the creation of an anti-bullying strategy that would involve different partners to eradicate this disease. What we need is a national policy of zero tolerance towards bullying. Bullying doesn't seem to stop at the school gates. It isn't simply a phenomenon that children outgrow once reaching the adult stage.

Indeed, the same report from CIHR declares that 40 per cent of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis. This number clearly shows that many children who didn't change their behaviour continue to be bullies when they grow up. What is disturbing is that in some bullies' minds, bullying can be interpreted as defending their own interests or just a cute way to be "tough".

Rima Khouri, a columnist with the Quebec-based newspaper La Presse, reported that the ex-mayor of Montreal, Michael Applebaum, now accused of fraud conspiracy and corruption, once used his influence to scold and silence an urbanism professor at UQAM who dared to criticize one of his actions. The mayor was furious at how the professor wrote a letter to denounce the lack of transparency in the administration of the now ex-mayor. This incident portrays quite well how the disease of bullying continues in the public arena, and even leads to the spread of corruption and nepotism.

It would be interesting to ask the following question: does bullying lead to corruption? Are there signs of direct causation?

Of course, corruption is hard to prove and to measure. However, it seems obvious that in the last two decades the world entered an era of successive corruption scandals. Canada is not immune.

For many years, Canada lived with the reputation of a relatively transparent and corruption-free country. Today the picture is darker: the disease of corruption has claimed many victims in Canada.

Nortel and SNC Lavalin, two jewels of the Canadian economy, are just two examples to reflect upon. A quick glimpse at the Transparency International Perception Index, an index that ranks countries relative to their transparency levels in public and economic affairs, indicates that Canada has slipped from 6th place out of 183 in 2010, to 11th place in 2011. This isn't a disaster, as some analysts might argue, and I totally agree. However, in an age of super communication, of transparency and competition, the same scandal that happened in the early 20th century wouldn't have the same weight or impact that it would have today.

First, today with our smart phones, tablets or other wireless devices, we are quick to hear news and quick to spread it around. In addition, news travels so quickly that the reputation of a country is easily hurt. Moreover, as the economy becomes more and more international and nationally integrated, the financial consequences of a corruption scandal affect even the pockets of modest taxpayers and not only the pockets of some privileged banks or some wealthy investors.

The financial scandals in the U.S., like the sub-prime mortgage crisis, made dangerous ripple effects in Europe, Asia and Canada. In a global world, where austerity became the mot d'ordre of many politicians, corruption should have no room in the economy. Zero tolerance policies should be adopted and corrupt politicians should be banned from running and serving the public.

Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Spain and many other countries are in the news because their populations are more and more aware of the corruption taking over their economies and devouring their life savings. They denounce the bullying carried out by politicians, the financial institutions and the big corporations.

Here, in North America, the echoes of the student protests in Quebec and the Occupy movements are still in my ears and in those of many activists. It is not because tents were dismantled, special laws enacted, parks evacuated and events ignored by the mainstream media that the population's discontent about corruption will vanish.

On May 5, 2005, Ed Broadbent, former leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, academic and long-time politician, declared in his farewell speech to Parliament:

"It is a terrible thing to be both a politician and an academic, two terrible professions for wanting to give advice to others. I conclude with this thought. Those who will remain after the next election . . . should give some serious thought to the decline in civility in the debate that has occurred in the House of Commons and which occurs daily in Question Period. If I were a teacher, I would not want to bring high school students into Question Period any longer."

I see, through the wise words of Ed Broadbent, a link between the behaviour of our children in school and those of our politicians. Never before have I felt such a strong and clear connection between bullying and corruption.

Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. She campaigned tirelessly for his release. Mazigh holds a PhD in finance from McGill University. In 2008, she published a memoir, Hope and Despair, about her pursuit of justice, and in 2011, a novel in French, Miroirs et mirages.

Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: John Steven Fernandez, cleanzor, clickykbd

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