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Bullying can be criminal

Amanda Todd’s suicide has raised  the profile of cyber-bullying among youth. -
Amanda Todd’s suicide has raised the profile of cyber-bullying among youth.
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The tragic bullying-related suicide of Port Coquitlam teen Amanda Todd has resonated with millions of people around the globe, and here in Richmond there are efforts underway to raise awareness among youth about the topic.

And the message from local leaders is that bullying can be criminal, it won’t be tolerated, and local youth are doing their part to empower their peers to deal with these types of situations.

Todd took her own life on Oct. 10. Earlier this year she filmed a video detailing the harassment she suffered from an online predator and school bullies, how she descended into drug and alcohol abuse, as well as self harm.

Clayton Tang, community engagement coordinator for CHIMO Crisis Services, said there are regular workshops delivered annually in high schools to deal with issues such as bullying, assertiveness, friendship, diversity, stress management and coping.

Working in partnership with Hugh McRoberts and R.A. McMath secondary schools, as well as local elementary schools, Grade 11 and Grade 12 leadership students are trained by CHIMO to work in teams to deliver the workshops to youth in Grades 6 and 7.

The program, called Stepping Out, aims to provide young children transitioning between elementary school and high school with positive role models, teach them strategies for dealing with important social issues, help them feel more comfortable as they enter high school, and give Grade 11 and Grade 12 students leadership opportunities.

But a lack of funding means the program is only delivered to a handful of local elementary schools, rather than all 40.

With perhaps another $40,000 in funding for another full-time CHIMO employee, more high school students could receive the workshop training, and deliver those meaningful messages to a majority of elementary school-aged kids.

Student leaders from Cambie Secondary have expressed an interesting in being part of the Stepping Out program, but Tang said he doesn’t think there are enough resources at CHIMO to make the necessary training for program delivery a reality.

Donna Sargent, chair of the Richmond Board of Education, said it was difficult for her to watch Todd’s YouTube video—which has more than five million views—where she tells her own story through flash cards. Todd took her own life a few weeks afterward.

“I still haven’t gotten it out of my mind,” said Sargent, adding she felt such sadness and just wished she could have hugged her.

“As a board, we spoke about it at the last board meeting...Bullying is something that has to be addressed and is an ongoing issue,” she said.

Many strategies have been put in place to come at the issue from different angles.

Sargent said Todd’s death “re-emphasizes that this work has to keep going, with vigor.”

Cyber-bullying is a relatively new issue, but one the district’s been working on for years.

The district realizes that it needs to educate parents about the technology their children are using, through social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

And youth themselves need to be enlightened about the ramifications of what they do online, Sargent said.

In one case, The Richmond Review encountered a local teen who threatened to burn down his school in a message posted on his Twitter account. That information was passed along to the district, and soon after the teen was identified, a brought into the school office to discuss the inappropriate nature of the comment with the principal.

Sargent said youth often don’t realize that what they are saying online is rarely if ever private, and those statements once uttered, are virtually impossible to take back.

And making an anonymous comment is very difficult these days, with the tracking software that’s available.

The district is currently exploring the possibility of having cyber-bullying expert Jesse Miller speak to the entire Richmond school district, including students and parents, about the issue during the current school year.

Sargent said with the advent of smart phones, digital cameras, and social media search engines, means bullying is different today than it was even a decade ago.

“You can’t hide behind your tweet. I don’t think kids really realize that,” she said.

The aftermath of the Stanley Cup riot in 2011 was a great lesson about accountability and wreckless behaviour.

Those people who smashed windows, looted stores, burned cars, and generally rioted through the streets, following the Vancouver Canucks Game 7 loss versus Boston, are being sentenced to jail for their actions after being identified through images from iPhones, TV cameras, security surveillance footage, and other digital cameras.

“Everybody has a phone, everybody has a camera. Yes, it’s easy to say bad things, but now it’s easy to find out who said it.”

Sargent said the school district oftens works with police on issues inside schools.

RCMP Cpl. Sherrdean Turley said most young people don’t realize that in some instances, bullying is criminal in nature, and under the right circumstances, can lead to criminal charges being laid, such as harassment or extortion.

“Bullying is something that no one should have to experience and it’s something that we won’t tolerate,” Turley said. “We encourage young people to please give us a call if they find themselves in this situation and we’ll do everything we can to help.”

The Kids Help Phone operates 24 hours per day, and is available for youth seeking help at 1-800-668-6868. In Richmond, CHIMO also provides support to kids from 8 a.m. to midnight at 604-279-7070.

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