A quarter of a million schoolchildren and tens of thousands of teachers across Toronto stopped for a moment of silence Friday morning to remember the victims of bullying.
The short vigil was one of many scheduled nationwide after last week’s suicide of a British Columbia teenager sent out shock waves, and came on the heels of nine arrests for alleged bullying and sexual blackmail in separate incidents in southern Ontario.
“No one should go through bullying,” said 13-year-old Kiara Watson, a Grade 8 student at Bowmore Junior and Senior Public School, in Toronto’s east end. “We shouldn’t have to do these anti-bullying [events] because it shouldn’t happen at all.”
Kiara said that she’d been bullied starting in Grade 4 but finally got up the nerve last year to confront the person and say they should make a fresh start. The gambit worked and they became friends. But such situations often deteriorate.
Police in London said late Thursday that eight female minors were arrested for an alleged campaign of “physical, emotional and cyber bullying” of a fellow high school student. Their investigation is continuing and more charges are possible.
Bill Tucker, director of education for the Thames Valley District School Board, said that they were offering support to students, as well as to the families of the bullies, who have been suspended from school.
“You know, in a group of eight, we’re not sure if anyone was bullied to become a bully,” he said in a phone interview. “The principal is conducting her own investigation.”
He could not go into detail on the bullying allegedly suffered. Nor would London police, though spokesman Constable Dennis Rivest noted by phone that a criminal harassment charge typically indicates repeated instances of a behaviour.
Also Thursday, Toronto police said they had arrested a teenage boy alleged to have tried to blackmail a girl with photos she had given him. When she refused to put on a show for him, police say, he accessed her email and used it to send the photos to people she knew. The boy, who cannot be identified, is facing charges of extortion, threatening death and child pornography.
The spate of incidents is raising the question of whether there is more bullying now or whether society simply is more aware of it, a query Mr. Tucker said he is regularly asked.
“I’m not sure the problem of bullying is worse, it’s more complex,” he said. “Now with the advent of the Internet and social media, bullying occurs 24/7.
Toronto’s vigils were among several planned for across the country; others were scheduled to be held in Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia.
Most Bowmore students had their moment of silence in the classroom but about 20 gathered at an event organized by the school. Administrators spoke, students decried bullying and many donated money for services that help children. Most had worn pink, which has become the colour of bullying critics.
“I still believe we are moving in the right direction,” said Toronto District School Board Director Chris Spence. “People need reminders, and we had a painful reminder just last week.”
Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old Port Coquitlam, B.C., student, killed herself after enduring what she described as a prolonged campaign of bullying. In a powerful video, she described being convinced to show her breasts on a webcam and then having the image used to mock her. She tried to escape by changing schools, but her situation worsened. She began cutting herself and made at least two suicide attempts. She was found dead in her home last week.