Bullying's rising toll of suicides has political leaders taking action

MONTREAL AND TORONTO — The Globe and Mail

Marjorie Raymond of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, in Quebec's Gaspé region, committed suicide after leaving a note about the bullying she endured.

Bullies at school had made Marjorie Raymond’s life unbearable. There were taunts in her classes and jabs on Facebook when she got home.

Recently, the 15-year-old had started skipping class. She cried a lot. On Friday, her mother found her rolled up in a ball on the couch, saying she couldn’t take it any more.

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Then on Monday, Marjorie Raymond killed herself. She left her mother a note.

“It’s hard to leave this world but I think it will be for a better world elsewhere,” she wrote. “I blame it on life, on jealous people who want to ruin our happiness.”

As Marjorie’s suicide reverberated across Quebec, schoolyard bullying was exploding into the political spotlight, with Ontario on Wednesday unveiling tough legislation that could lead to expulsion for students who send classmates hateful text messages or shove them in the hallways at school.

Quebec on Wednesday said it would review its school anti-violence programs, and Edmonton’s school board on Tuesday evening joined the Canadian school districts that have voted to adopt an anti-bullying policy for sexual minorities.

“We want our schools to be warm, welcoming, safe, secure and accepting,” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said when the new law was introduced. “We want all our kids to feel free to be who they are.”

The worst fate currently facing students in Ontario caught bullying is a temporary suspension.

The political efforts follow a grim tally of adolescent suicides. Jamie Hubley, an openly gay Ottawa teen, killed himself in October after becoming a target of bullying because of his sexual orientation. Mitchell Wilson, an 11-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy, killed himself in September after he was attacked by a 12-year-old boy he knew from his elementary school in Pickering, east of Toronto. Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, a 15-year-old aspiring songwriter from Truro, N.S., killed herself last January after months of bullying at school and online.

It’s impossible to know whether legislation such as Ontario’s might have saved Marjorie, who complained of bullying after she switched to a new high school three years ago in the Gaspé community of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. Her mother believes her daughter’s tormentors were mainly girls.

Quebec set up a program in 2008 to counter schoolyard violence, and about 80 per cent of schools have implemented it. Premier Jean Charest, calling Marjorie’s suicide a “terrible tragedy,” said his government would look at “what more we can do that could be more effective.”

Marjorie and her family turned to school authorities after the teenager complained. Some students were suspended for a few days, her mother said. But the bullying continued through text messages and on Facebook.

“I told her to build a shell, not to listen, to focus,” her mother, Chantal Larose, said in an interview.

But the problem became too big for her daughter to handle. “I can’t take it any more,” Marjorie said recently.

In the end, school authorities didn’t take the problem seriously enough, Marjorie’s mother said.

“They didn’t listen. They judged the situation poorly,” Ms. Larose said. “They trivialized it, like it was a little teenage quarrel between girls. But it had become more than that.”

Although rates of adolescent suicide in Canada have declined since the early 1980s, it remains the second-leading cause of death among teenagers, after car accidents. In 2007, the most recent year with available data, 218 people between 10 and 19 committed suicide.

Bullying, meanwhile, remains a pervasive problem. A 2009 survey of Ontario students in Grades 7 through 12 by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that almost one in three students has been bullied.

Ms. Larose said she decided to publicize her daughter’s case so that she won’t have died in vain. In her last words, Marjorie tried to be consoling to her mother.

“Mom, I’m sorry for what I did. You are the best mom in the world,” she wrote. “I will be your guardian angel. My place is in heaven.”

With reports from Kate Hammer and Rhéal Séguin

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