Canada: Ontario’s Anti-Bullying Legislation Is Now In Effect

Last Updated: October 9 2012
Article by Kate Dearden

Most Read Contributor in Canada, November 2017

Effective September 1, 2012, Ontario became the third province in Canada to implement anti-bullying legislation. After intense debate in the Ontario legislature and discussion among the public, the Accepting Schools Act, 2012 was passed on June 5, 2012 and received Royal Assent on June 19, 2012. These most recent amendments to the Education Act will shape how principals, supervisory officers, and teachers identify, prevent, investigate and respond to bullying behaviour in Ontario schools.

The Accepting Schools Act, 2012, was developed in response to the growing concern about bullying behaviours, and several tragic suicides of bullied students. A recent study of the Public Health Agency of Canada1 reveals that nearly 20% of students report being bullied, while 40% of students report being both victims and bullies. The study's authors concluded that young people involved in bullying tend to have elevated levels of emotional and behavioural problems. Ontario's legislation is intended to identify and prevent bullying, and provide resources and support for educators and students as they deal with bullying incidents.


Underpinning the new responsibilities and programs in the Education Act relative to bullying is a definition of the term "bullying". Subsection 1(1) Education Act now defines "bullying" as follows:

"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.

The Accepting Schools Act, 2012, is intended to address the complexity of bullying among students and refers specifically to the context of bullying behaviour in schools. Bullying behaviour is, for the first time in Ontario, defined as including psychological, social or academic harm and harm to an individual's reputation. The definition refers broadly to bullying dynamics such as a power imbalance based on size, age, intelligence, peer group power, economic status, social status, family circumstances, gender expression and the receipt of special education, among others. These terms are not defined in the new legislation.

Moving the new definition of bullying from Ministry policy into the Education Act will give it enhanced legal authority. In this regard, it is hoped that there will be a greater awareness among all stakeholders, including students, teachers, school administration and parents as to what constitutes bullying and confirming that such behaviour is not acceptable in Ontario schools.

This definition of bullying pertains to repeated and aggressive behaviour "by a pupil". The previous definition in PPM 144 applied where bullying behaviour was initiated by any member of the school community. In this regard, the new definition only applies to bullying behavour that is initiated by a student.

The definition of bullying also refers to "typically repeated behaviour". In using this term, it is apparent that one serious and egregious incident could constitute bullying.

Recognizing that bullying in modern society can take many forms, including the use of technology such as the internet and social media, the Education Act now includes a specific reference to electronic and cyber-bullying concepts. The definition of bullying in the Education Act includes "the use of any physical, verbal, electronic, written or other means". Further, the concept of "cyber-bullying" is expressly included in the new definition of bullying:

... bullying by electronic means (commonly known as cyber-bullying), including,

(a) creating a web page or a blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person;

(b) impersonating another person as the author of content or messages posted on the internet; and

(c) communicating material electronically to more than one individual or posting material on a website that may be accessed by one or more individuals.

Further, Ontario's student code of conduct will now include as one of its purposes "to prevent bullying in schools."

These extensive definitions signal the types of behaviours that are unacceptable in Ontario schools, and provide guidance and support to teachers, principals and supervisory officers as they carry out their responsibilities under the Education Act.



One of the powers of the Minister of Education under section 8 of the Education Act requires boards to develop and implement an "ethnocultural equity and anti-racism" policy. That requirement is now replaced by an "equity and inclusive education" policy.

This broad policy requirement is fleshed out by an amendment to school board responsibilities under subsection 169.1(1) of the Education Act. Effective September 1, 2012, school boards are required to address specific "equity and inclusiveness" goals as set out in two new paragraphs of subsection 169.1(1):

169.1(1)(a.1) promote a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils, including pupils of any race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability;

169.1(1)(a.2) promote the prevention of bullying;

School boards have a general duty to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of policies, including the new equity and inclusiveness policy. To that end, school boards are required by subsection 169(2.1) to undertake "school climate surveys" to collect information from its pupils and staff, and parents and guardians of students at least once every two years.

The Minister of Education is now required to establish policies and guidelines on student discipline that address specific bullying and equity matters. For example, the policies must identify inappropriate student behaviour including bullying, gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia, transphobia or biphobia. The Minister's policies must also provide a disciplinary framework that provides for appropriate and progressive consequences, support and resources for affected students, prevention strategies, and opportunities for members of the school community to increase understanding and awareness of inappropriate behaviour.

The Minister must also establish policies with respect to bullying prevention and intervention, including such matters as training, resources to students who have been bullied or have engaged in bullying, strategies to support witnesses of bullying, reporting procedures that minimize possibility of reprisal, and the use of timely and appropriate disciplinary measures.

Further, the Minister will develop a "model bullying prevention and intervention plan".

In turn, school boards must establish, implement and post the following:

  • policies and guidelines with respect to student discipline that are consistent with the Minister's discipline and bullying policies, and
  • a bullying prevention and intervention plan, after having solicited the views of the school community and the public.

Professional Development

Intervention and support is considered essential to dealing with bullying in schools. In this regard, the Education Act now contains specific duties of school boards under section 170 to provide professional development programs "to educate teachers and other staff of the board about bullying prevention and strategies for promoting positive school climates."

Programs for Students

School boards now have a duty under section 170 of the Education Act to provide programs, interventions or other supports for students affected by bullying, whether having been bullied, engaged in bullying, or witnessing bullying behaviour.


While public debate around the Accepting Schools Act, 2012 may have focused on equity and inclusiveness and the prevention of bullying, a significant portion of the amendments to the Education Act relate to a principal's authority to discipline students arising from incidents of bullying.

Duty to Report and Investigate Bullying

There are now several aspects to the duty to report and investigate bullying, all of which can be found under Part XII of the Education Act. Any school board employee who becomes aware that a student may have engaged in bullying, or the presence of a student previously suspended for bullying creates an unacceptable risk to the safety of others, is required to report the matter to the principal. Upon receiving such a report, a principal has a duty to investigate the matter.

After the principal investigates a matter, he or she is then required to communicate the results of the investigation back to the teacher or other school employee unless the principal is of the opinion that it would not be appropriate. In the course of communicating the results of the investigation, a principal must disclose only such personal information as is reasonably necessary. The requirement to communicate the results of an investigation places discretion in the principal's hands, and the details disclosed will necessarily depend on the facts of each matter.

Suspensions and Expulsions

Amendments to subsections 306(1) and 310(1) of the Education Act now include bullying as one of the activities affecting school climate that can lead to suspension. "Bullying" is listed under subsection 306(1) as an activity leading to possible suspension. It should be noted that two new paragraphs on bullying have been added under subsection 310(1) as activities requiring suspension and possible expulsion:


i. the pupil has previously been suspended for engaging in bullying, and

ii. the pupil's continuing presence in the school creates an unacceptable risk to the safety of another person.

7.2 Any activity listed in subsection 306 (1) that is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or any other similar factor.

Persistent or ongoing bullying is now included among the serious activities requiring a suspension, and possible expulsion. In effect, repeat offenders and students whose suspension-worthy behaviour involving bullying has persisted will now face an elevated level of discipline. In addition, the "catch-all" provision in paragraph 7.2 gives the principal additional tools needed to suspend a student in a situation where inappropriate behaviour was motivated by hateful intentions.

Principal's Notice to Parents and Guardians

Section 303.3 of the Education Act deals extensively with a principal's interaction with parents and guardians in bullying matters. Where a principal believes that a student has been harmed as a result of bullying, the parent or guardian of the victim must be notified by the principal as soon as reasonably possible. With the passage of the Accepting Schools Act, 2012, principals are also required to notify the parent or guardian of the student believed to have engaged in the bullying activity that caused the harm.

There are exceptions to this notice requirement as follows:

  • where students are 18 years or older, or 16 and 17 year old students who have withdrawn from parental control; and
  • where the principal is of the opinion that notice would put the student at risk of harm from a parent or guardian, such that the notification would not be in the student's best interests.

The Accepting Schools Act, 2012 has changed the content of the notice a principal must provide to a parent or guardian relative to bullying incidents.

The Education Act previously required telling a parent of the nature of the activity causing harm, the nature of the harm and the steps taken to protect a student's safety, including the nature of disciplinary activities taken in response. As of September 1, 2012, a principal must also tell a parent or guardian the supports that will be provided for the student in response to the harm caused by bullying.

Similar to the amendments regarding communication to the school board employee who reports a bullying matter, the principal's notice to a parent or guardian does not require disclosure of every detail. A principal must not disclose the name or other identifying information about a student who engaged in the bullying activity, except as necessary to identify the bullying activity, the harm caused, steps taken and supports provided in response. For example, a principal might disclose the activity of a particular student against another, but not provide his or her address or parent contact information.

Rounding out the process for giving notice to parents of an incident of bullying, the Education Act requires a principal to invite the parent or guardian of a student who has been harmed by bullying to "have a discussion" about the supports that will be provided. In this regard, the Education Act provides that a parent has a right to provide comments.


An aspect of the Accepting Schools Act, 2012, that received extensive debate and media attention is the amendment respecting student organizations. Under subsection 303.1 of the Education Act, school boards are required to support students who want to establish and lead activities and organizations that promote a safe and inclusive learning environment, acceptance and respect.

This includes activities and organizations that promote gender equity, anti-racism, acceptance and understanding of people with disabilities, awareness, understanding and respect for people of "all sexual orientations and gender identities." For clarity, the Education Act now requires a principal to permit a student to use the name "gay-straight alliance", or another name, in establishing a student organization.


The amendments to the Education Act arising from the Accepting Schools Act, 2012, will change the way principals, supervisory officers, teachers and students approach and deal with bullying and cyber-bullying. They provide administrators with the legislative framework to establish policies to promote positive behaviour, and to identify and address inappropriate student behaviour. The particular issue of equity and inclusiveness continues to be at the forefront of the dialogue on bullying in Ontario schools. The new legislation is meant to create policies and practices that allow every student to feel accepted and supported.

As school boards develop and implement policies to address bullying, we will have a better understanding of the resources and supports for students that best address different bullying situations. Further developments on bullying and equity and inclusiveness in Ontario schools are expected in the coming school year, including expanded mental health services, professional development around bullying prevention, new programs to support students and revised Ministry policies.

About BLG

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions