Jamie Hubley wasn’t the first kid to face the taunts of bullies as he walked the halls of his high school. He wasn’t the first to be taunted online. And he wasn’t the first to decide he could no longer live with the torment.
But the death of the 10th grader from Ottawa in October, 2011, and the decision of his family to talk openly about the aggression that pushed their kind-hearted but severely depressed son to a final act of desperation gave urgency to a national dialogue about bullying and its devastating effects.
Allan Hubley, Jamie’s father – who is also an Ottawa city councillor – says he has seen some change in attitude in the year and a half since his son took his own life.
“I get to go around to different schools and talk to kids, and also with the work I do in the community, and I am hearing that things are getting better,” Mr. Hubley said after the federal government announced Monday that it was giving $250,000 to a Red Cross project called Stand Up to Bullying and Discrimination in Canadian Communities.
But more needs to be done, especially with regard to social media, Mr. Hubley said.
“We, as a society, are tolerating what’s going on on Twitter and Facebook, and quite frankly it bothers me a lot. We need to find a solution to that,” he said. “We need to start holding these Web outfits accountable for what they are doing. And the people who are doing these attacks need help and we need to get it to them.”
Jamie Hubley was the only openly gay kid at A.Y. Jackson High School, the site of the funding announcement. But kids had been marking him as different for several years. The online attacks started in Grade 7, and his father says they were a major contributor to Jamie’s fragile mental state.
Like Jamie, Amanda Todd of Port Coquitlam, B.C., was 15 when she died by suicide in October, 2012. She said she had been hounded by cyberbullies. So had Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S., who killed herself in April of this year.
Laureen Harper, the wife of the Prime Minister, told those attending the announcement that she too is concerned about cyberbullying.
“Our kids now face pressure that really didn’t exist when I was growing up in Turner Valley, Alta. So I think sometimes, as parents, it’s very hard to help our children because their experiences are so different to anything we had,” Ms. Harper said. “As a mother, I think that’s very scary.”
Kids occasionally still pick on other kids at A.Y. Jackson, where the wound created by the death of Jamie Hubley has not healed for many of the students and staff. But there are some signs of changes for the better.
“There is nothing positive coming out of the loss of Jamie,” said Mark Harris, the school’s principal. “But it did create dialogue … it creates that conversation among people. And you can’t help but avoid that and say, ‘I need to reflect on my own choice of words, I need to reflect on my own behaviour.’ And that has been happening.”
The aim of the Red Cross program is to convince young people they should not sit by silently while someone else is being bullied. It is “to engage the bystander in the issue of bullying so people will know what to do safely to stop bullying,” Mr. Hubley said.
That’s part of what Jamie was trying to do by forming the Rainbow Club, because he believed in safety in numbers, Mr. Hubley added.
“If we learn how to respect each other, then we will learn how to stand up for each other,” he said. “In the case of bullying, the bystander can get engaged. And not just one bystander but several, and say, ‘No, we don’t want that in our schools and in our communities.’”
One reporter asked Mr. Hubley how he would measure the success of a program like the one offered by the Red Cross. “When we stop losing kids,” he replied. “That’s when I would say we have been successful.”