Police, schools, students team up
Barely into his teenage years, the Collège Notre Dame Grade 9 student has been the victim of bullying for about 10 years. His life hasn't been an easy one.
His home problems – a father who has been in jail for most of his life, no real permanent location to call home, and having witnessed his cousin's brutal murder four years ago – combined with the bullying to which he has been a victim has led him to some extremely dark thoughts.
“It has been really tough, but it's getting better, and we've been in the same location for a long time now,” he said.
Bullying started in elementary school, although is was only “small things” here and there, he said, such as people making fun of the fact he is a vegetarian.
It was in high school that the situation got much worse.
“I was bullied about my size,” he said. “They think it's fun to pick on me because I'm very skinny. I tried to stand up for myself, but it didn't work.”
It got to the point that Paquette had even contemplated suicide on four separate occasions. He said the thought of how devastated his mother would be if he followed through on those plans was what stopped him the first three times, and it was common sense the fourth time.
“I thought, this has been happening to me for a very long time, and it's just going to continue unless I talk to someone about it,” he said. “That's when I went and talked to the vice-principal.”
His school has very strict rules against bullying, he said, and the situation immediately got better, even for other students who were being bullied. It was also around this time Paquette attended his first Chief's Youth Advisory Council.
The Greater Sudbury Police Service's CYAC has proclaimed April 20 as Courage to Stand day, with the idea to remind people of the importance of tolerance and treating each other with dignity and respect.
Even one victim of bullying can spark change by speaking out, Paquette said.
“(The CYAC) inspired me,” he said. “The members of this group are now my role models, they are so open, and I feel like I can tell them anything. They actually made me feel like I have a purpose to live.”
Paquette said he was heartened by the crowd that showed up at Tom Davies Square on April 20 for the proclamation, a crowd filled with his peers, “people who are against bullying” and who are willing to try and evoke change.
“It warms my heart to know so many people care about the victims of bullying,” he said. “I hope that, even if the bullying does stop, the legacy of this day will continue for years to come. It's a good message for students to hear. So many other people are going through what I'm going through, and it's nice to see that people are finally making a change in the community.”
Diana Salvador, a principal with Sudbury District Catholic School Board and a member of its Safe and Equitable Schools committee, said Courage to Stand day is a call to action “for each and every one of us to do what is right.”
It is a simple, yet powerful message, she said: to stand for positive relationships, stand for kindness, stand for empathy, for justice, for compassion, stand for respect, stand for inclusion, for dignity and for truth.
“Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you,” she said. “Opportunities to find the courage to put this rule to good use, and stand for what is just, are endless.”
There is a lot responsibility on educators to welcome every possibility to encourage behaviours and interactions that help create environments where positive and peaceful relationships are able to flourish, she said. Educators have the capacity to be creative and courageous and “to empower those who we come in contact with throughout our day.”
This type of attitude is at the heart of creating classrooms, schools and communities that are healthy places to be, to grow, to learn and to have the courage to stand up for what is right, “places where the seeds of bullying are less likely to grow.”
“Research has shown that bullying stops in less than 10 seconds when peers have the courage to stand and intervene on behalf of the victim,” she said. “Courage to Stand day is a solid stepping stone to challenging old patterns and habits.”
The CYAC is the direct result of the police service's desire to be responsible to every segment of society, “and we thought the youth voice was missing,” Police Chief Frank Elsner said.
“We started to see some youth-related issues in our community, and we wanted to come up with a solution to be able to address their needs as a police organization. That led to the CYAC, comprised of students who help us form policies related to youth issues, such as Courage to Stand day.”
Bullying is starting to take on many more different forms with advancements in technology, Elsner said. Police become involved when it meets a criminal threshold.
“We're seeing more and more Facebook bullying, and that crosses a threshold into criminality,” he said. “Bullying goes from one end of the spectrum to the other, and many wars have broken out due to bullies trying to take over a country.”
The idea is to stop bullying before it becomes criminal, and to ensure students have respect for all individuals, Elsner added. There is no charge under the Criminal Code for bullying, but there is for intimidation, for threats and assaults, and those are the primary types of events officers would investigate in bullying situations.
Courage to Stand day isn't an event to say don't be a bully, Elsner added. It's a day to say have respect for others, and if you do that, you won't become a bully in the first place.
“When you are able to tolerate other people's beliefs, their looks or their differences, instances of bullying and like-minded behaviour will start to decrease.”
Paquette said he's not one to hold a grudge.
“I'm very forgiving, and I don't think I could stand to see a person's past mistakes affect them in the future,” he said. “Everyone eventually grows up and matures, and bullies today might not be the same person 10 years from now.”
Posted by Arron Pickard