Government funded anti-bullying program cuts to the root of problem

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
Excerpt of announcement for funding the training of 2,400 youths to hold anti-bullying workshops

A $250,000 funding announcement made by the federal government on Monday may not seem to address the issue of schoolyard bullying as directly as recent Ontario laws, but it could help cut bullying at its roots by giving students a leadership role.

Heritage Minister James Moore announced support for a Red Cross anti-bullying campaign at Ontario’s A.Y. Jackson Secondary School – the former school of 15-year-old Jamie Hubley, whose 2011 suicide amid bullying was a catalyst for new provincial laws.

"If we do nothing, it will lead to the death of children," Moore said while announcing the funding, according to CBC News.

The $250,000 promised by the government will help fund the Red Cross's Stand Up to Bullying and Discrimination in Canadian Communities project.

The project will train 2,400 Canadian youths between the ages of 13 and 17, who will then give workshops and presentations in their areas on the effects of bullying and cyberbullying. The project also includes three youth-led public forums.

According to a press release, students involved in the workshops will commit to “reaching at least 20 people in their communities.” The Stand Up to Bullying campaign should be commended for giving students a leadership positions, even if it does sound an awful lot like the beginning of a pyramid scheme.

[ Related: Feds pledge $250K to youth-led anti-bullying project ]

Hubley’s death is one of several recent teen suicides that have come amid bullying at the hands of their peers. Names like Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd immediately come to mind.

Glen Canning is the father of Parsons, who committed suicide earlier this year while being cyberbullied. He said he supported the national anti-bullying strategy.

He wrote in a blog post:

Something that has always bothered me and Rehtaeh’s mother was the lack of support from other kids. Kids who knew Rehtaeh since she was in kindergarden didn’t help her or come forward and report what had happened because they were afraid or they didn’t know what to do. I deeply hope this is something that can make it easier for others to stand up and offer help to those in need.

Hubley, the only openly-gay student at his Ottawa-area school, was terrorized while trying to establish a gay-straight alliance club at his school in 2011. His death helped spur the Ontario government into introducing anti-bullying laws the following year.

[ More Brew: Calgary teen a ‘hero’ after tackling student with knife ]

Ontario’s Accepting Schools Act introduced tougher punishment for bullying, launched a province-wide awareness and prevention campaign and required school boards to establish bullying guidelines and policies.

Much of that was overshadowed at the time by a debate over the bill's support for gay-straight alliance clubs in any school, including those in the Catholic school board, where such clubs were taboo.

While Ontario’s introduction of stricter laws and more support in schools is a more direct approach in addressing bullying, the Red Cross’s strategy to make students the leaders could very well do a better job at addressing the root cause of bullying.

As the Red Cross states, half of all bullying incidents would stop if other students intervened. Stricter punishment and stronger awareness may discourage bullying, but empowering students to address the root causes of bullying can only help.

After all, the more people standing up against bullying the better.