It’s something most of us have witnessed when we were younger: classmates fighting in the schoolyard.
In recent years, these battles have gone beyond the playground and onto the Internet. Thanks to the popularity of cell phone cameras, kids have been capturing videos of juvenile violence and uploading them to the web.
That’s exactly what one 13-year-old Ontario boy did. He – and others – shot video of two girls fighting outside of a Mississauga school, and posted it to his Facebook profile.
He claims the bully in the video went to Twitter, and pressured him to do it. “Every time my phone would vibrate, and it would be her telling me to post the video because people were asking (about it).”
He says he removed the video the next day. “She told me to delete it because people were making fun of her.”
The police got involved, and the girl throwing the punches was hit with assault charges.
Then came a twist – the boy, who cannot be identified under young offender legislation, was charged with criminal mischief and criminal harassment. Police made the arrest at his school.
“The cops… I Just basically got a heart attack when I had seen the police. I didn’t know what it was for. I asked why the police was here, and they said (it was about) ‘the video you posted on Facebook.’ I just realized how stupid I was,” he told Global News.
While other children captured video of the fight, they didn’t post it to the Internet, so no charges were filed against them.
The boy’s mother is outraged at the charges.
“They called him into the office and the police officer was waiting for him in the principal’s office and he was arrested, and handcuffed…for taking a video, and posting it on his Facebook (profile).” He was then taken to a Peel police jail cell.
While she disagrees with her son’s actions, she says he shouldn’t have been arrested. “(Some kids) think it’s a normal thing to do this kind of behavior… It’s a nasty thing to do – not a pretty thing to do – there’s no justification to it. But it…could have been a learning process and could have been handled in a different manner.”
“(The police) don’t need to go to this extent and cause this kind of trauma… My son has been traumatized. My family has been traumatized.”
She adds that police have been “excessive and malicious.”
It is the policy of Peel Police to cuff and detain anyone who is being charged with a crime. Children are no different.
Peel Regional Police Cst. Chris Christidis says, “The misuse of technology is having some very serious consequences on victims. And sometimes it has tragic consequences, such as death. So yes, we have to look at each case very seriously.”
He acknowledges though, this is new territory for police “in terms of applying the criminal code to online behaviour.”
Police say if a video, text message or tweet could hurt someone, it is subject to the same criminal punishment as a real-life action.
In this case, the victim in the video found it impossible to return to classes.
“If you’re on Twitter or on Facebook, and you’re posting messages that are inappropriate, that might make someone who’s a student at the school or a staff member feel unsafe, that would have a negative impact and such may illicit a response from the school,” says Peel District School Board communications specialist Carla Pereira.
“For us, digital responsibility is key. It’s a life lesson and certainly, it should be an important part of what students learn in school every day.”
School officials notified police about the video, but Pereira clarifies that what happens after is all up to the officers. “From our perspective, what the police chose to do and what charges they choose to lay is completely beyond our control. From a school response, we always ask our parents to be vigilant, to monitor what our children are doing online, not just to protect their own child, but also what others online might be doing inappropriately.”
Christidis agrees that parental involvement is vital.
“If we’re talking about a very young person, say under 14 years of age, the question I would have to ask of the parents is, ‘Where are you in this picture? Why are you as a parent not aware of your child’s actions?'”
He believes parents should be having discussions with their children about how to use cell phones and computers appropriately.
The boy’s mother says if police wanted to make an example out of her son, they chose the wrong case.
“There are incidents of cyberbullying and all those things, but this doesn’t even fit that definition.”
“It’s a selective punishment. There’s no clear rule indicating that this was wrong. And anybody that I talk to – they didn’t know it was wrong. ”
But Christidis counters that good judgment has to come into play. “You can’t say ‘I didn’t know about this, I didn’t know it was illegal to do this.’ … They may be pleading ignorance of the law, but they can’t plead ignorance of… moral responsibility.”
The boy now says he’s learned his lesson, but is sad he also had to switch schools.
“I just still wish I went to that school… I wanted to graduate with my friends,” he said.
It will now be up to the court to decide if the charges were warranted and if the boy is guilty of a crime. The boy’s mother is adamant about fighting the case.
The boy has since deactivated his Facebook account.