The tragedy that befell 15-year-old Ashkan Sultani in 2010 was eerily similar to the fate of Port Coquitlam teenager Amanda Todd.
Like Amanda, Ashkan was bullied. As it had for Amanda, the bullying began in grade school and followed him into high school, no matter how often he switched schools.
Askhan, too, struggled with learning disabilities, and received counselling. But at the same age as Amanda, he put an end to the torment by taking his own life.
There was no heartrending video, however, to bring worldwide attention to Ashkan’s lonely death in the backyard of his parents’s home in Lantzville, near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
Instead, his family was left to cope and struggle on, pretty much by themselves.
Now, Ashkan’s still-grieving father, moved by what befell Amanda, is speaking out, pleading with school authorities to do more than simply improve existing anti-bullying policies. It’s a matter of the heart, Nader Sultani said Tuesday, in an interview.
“Just changing policies isn’t enough,” said the 54-year-old Mr. Sultani.
“You can have all the tools, all the policies, but if your heart is not behind what you are doing, then you are not doing justice to your job.”
Too often, he said, school officials become defensive when approached by parents with concerns their child is being bullied.
“They don’t want to admit there’s a problem. Or, the first thing they do is try to find out what is wrong with the the person getting bullied. How come he doesn’t fit in?”
He said Amanda’s fate renewed his depression over the loss of his son.
“It brought back all the memories, all the pain. It took me back, and I realized this is an ongoing thing. There are no easy solutions.”
He noted the learning disabilities experienced by both Ashkan and Amanda.
“When kids have any kind of disability, they are an easy target,” Mr. Sultani said. “They are vulnerable, often targeted by other kids with low self-esteem.”
According to a just-released coroner’s report into his suicide, Ashkan – described by his father as a likeable but ultrasensitive youth – was picked on and physically harassed in elementary school.
At his first high school, the intimidation and name-calling continued.
When he transferred to another secondary school in the district, one particular student poked him in the ribs and verbally abused him, making him feel “uncomfortable and humiliated,” the report said.
At one point, Ashkan thought he could befriend his tormentors by giving them chocolates. It didn’t work.
The coroner’s report, issued more than 2 1/2 years after Ashkan died, pointed to shortcomings in the sharing of information about the bullied student, as he moved from school to school.
Coroner Adele Lambert, the service’s child-death investigative specialist, was sufficiently troubled by the case to issue a rare recommendation that the Education Ministry review the circumstances of Ashkan’s death and learn from them.
“We don’t want to be prescriptive, but the coroner felt there were issues here … that really need addressing in our society,” said Barbara McLintock of the B.C. Coroners Service.
Education Ministry spokesman Scott Sutherland said the lack of a policy on sharing information when students transfer is being addressed by a provincial policy review committee.
Donna Reimer, communications director for the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District, said the district took “a good hard look” at its suicide and bullying intervention policies after Ashkan’s death.
A number of recommendations were issued, almost all of which have been implemented, Ms. Reimer said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sultani said his heart goes out to Amanda’s parents.
“All I can say, because I went through it, is that I really care for them. I want to urge them to be strong, and I encourage them to do what they can to help other kids, so that they can learn from this.”
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