Plans to present a petition to government on tougher anti-bullying measures within provincial schools and the courts are gathering momentum, according to Whistler parents behind the proposals.
Petition organizer Leanne Du Four says she distributed the petition among the 200 attendees at a special anti-bullying symposium in Surrey held on March 11. The forum was organized by Nasima Nastoh to mark the one year anniversary of her son Hameds death. The 14 year old jumped off Pattullo Bridge because of incessant bullying at school.
Du Four was one of the speakers at the Surrey symposium, as a result of her own daughters experience of being harassed by fellow students while attending Whistler secondary. Du Four says support for the petition is growing fast, as more people realize how widespread and serious the problem of bullying is.
"Many parents and kids there shared their own experiences of bullying and the devastating effect it can have, including one woman who spoke for the first time about her 10 year old bullied son who jumped out of a 10 storey building," Du Four says. "Within two days of the forum I was telephoned by a woman in Vancouver who said she has already gathered 750 signatures on the petition."
Du Four says West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Ted Nebbeling believes collecting around 100 signatures from each community will make the petition strong enough to take before caucus.
"I will be working with volunteers from Pemberton and Squamish to circulate the petition throughout those communities, as well as organizing a special forum in Whistler."
The Whistler anti-bullying forum was originally scheduled prior to the Surrey event but was postponed because of a funeral for a local youth. It is planned to be held soon after spring break.
Du Four says a spokesperson from Surrey Community Services Suicide Prevention Program told the forum that suicide may be the number one killer of teens in Canada.
"Currently suicide is held to be the second leading killer of youth but experts believe many young people who die from accidents could have been committing suicide but just didnt leave a note," Du Four said.
The petition organized by Du Four calls for a mandatory, standarized violence and harassment policy in all B.C schools and changes to how the courts deal with bullying. In summary, the petition calls for:
Documentation, communication and records of all violence and harassment, Grades 1 to 12
Bully relocation and counselling plan
Comprehensive communication plan between all schools, RCMP, and probation for monitoring students involved in serious violent or criminal incidents
Every school to be staffed with a full-time trained professional to deal with bullying
A victim support plan
A safety drill plan in response to weapon threats
An accredited citizenship course in grades 1 through 12. Citizenship, morals, ethics and respect to be part of daily curriculum
Criminal charges for serious bullying i.e. assault, harassment, threats
Tougher sentences for violent juvenile offenders
Public disclosure of juvenile offenders names and convictions
Parents to be held accountable by law
Tougher Government restrictions over violent music, movies, television and video games exposed to children
Delegates at the Surrey forum also formed the Hamed Nastoh Anti-Bullying Coalition with the aim of raising awareness about the effects of bullying. Du Four says she and other directors of the coalition board plan to put anti-bullying programs under the spotlight within provincial schools and Canada-wide if possible. She says Nasima Nastoh also hopes to visit schools, including Whistler secondary, to share her own story and a new anti-bullying video.
"The video is an incredibly powerful message about the repercussions of bullying and shows footage of Hamed in his casket," she says. "I think kids really listen when someone shares their own life experience."
Meanwhile skiers and boarders on Whistler Mountain Saturday, March 24 are asked to participate in the Youth Citizenship Day race and fund-raiser. Organizers of the annual event include local parents, the RCMP, the Whistler Secondary youth action team and Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE. Du Four says last year the event raised $800 and they hope this year will be as successful.
"Well be handing out loads of spot prizes for people in the gates at certain times of the day and its always lots of fun."
She says each race costs $3 to enter, with a family rate of $10. The fund-raiser will run between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Saturday.