Calgary’s ‘hero’ teen a cause célèbre after tackling student with knife

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
The Calgary Police Service is hiring 75 new police officers.

The exploits of Briar MacLean, a Calgary teen reportedly reprimanded after protecting a student from a knife-wielding bully, have garnered massive interest lately with national newspapers and U.S. websites running with the story of the "punished hero."

But MacLean's principal says the story isn't as cut-and-dry as the media is making it out to be, adding that the school's primary concern was the safety of three students involved in the altercation.

The story of MacLean being punished for his actions by a school that doesn't condone students "playing hero" first appeared on the front page of the Calgary Sun on Friday and has since been reported on by the National Post and the U.S. news site Gawker.

According to the National Post, a bully began harassing a student in a Grade 7 classroom in Calgary's Sir John A. Macdonald School last week.

The bully put the other student in a headlock and, Briar told the newspaper, students said they saw him pull a knife. That's when Briar jumped into the fray, pushing the knife-wielding boy to the side.

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He was called to the principal's office and his mother was reportedly told he was involved in an incident where he "decided to play hero." Apparently the school does not "condone heroics." And apparently MacLean's mother doesn't suffer fools.

"We are helping them to grow up to be soft individuals and not stick up for what is right," Leah O'Donnell told the Calgary Sun. "Who is going to be our firemen and policemen and army guys, or girls, in the future? We can't teach them to grow up to be weaklings."

The school board is not discussing the incident, but Principal Michael Bester published an open letter refuting claims made in the media.

"It is not recommended that students intervene in incidents such as this to ensure their own safety. There was a teacher nearby who could have been asked to assist before the third student became involved," Bester wrote.

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The letter also clarifies that:

  • The student that reportedly intervened was called to the principal's office but was not disciplined in any way.
  • Two students were suspended due to their actions in the incident.

Much can be read into that letter which, while not addressing allegations directly, seems to suggest that it wasn't a simple case of "bully and bullied."

Considering Calgary police have confirmed a knife was involved, MacLean’s intervention should be at the very least celebrated for managing to stop the incident from becoming more deadly.

O'Donnell argues that someone could have been stabbed in the time it would have taken her son to alert the teacher. Was tackling a student with a knife the safe thing to do? No, the knife could have gone anywhere, stabbed into anything. There are reasons the school can’t pat MacLean on the back for getting involved.

But as the principal says in his letter, the student who reportedly intervened was “in no way disciplined.” And that speaks volumes as well.