Sometimes, the people in charge of anti-bullying efforts give us pause.
In British Columbia, an Education Ministry official explained to Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd, that her presence at an anti-bullying conference would be potentially harmful. The conference was sparked by last month’s suicide of 15-year-old Amanda. Education Minister Don McRae gave a public explanation why the mother’s presence was to be avoided: Experts had advised the ministry that fragile teens might commit suicide if she attended the conference, even simply as an observer.
This is nonsense. If the dangers of suicide contagion related to the conference were so rife, if the conference truly were being held on eggshells, it should have been cancelled. We would then return to the days when silence was thought to be less risky than talking about bullying, depression and suicide.
In Cobourg, Ont., a teenage boy who had begun life as a girl but had undergone a sex change was told by his high school not to use the boys’ washroom. This is a teenager who had left his previous school to escape bullies. And then the administration at his new school showed little understanding of who he is or how to treat him with dignity.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who sponsored Tuesday’s anti-bullying conference and spoke at it, believes the perils of bullying and suicide should be talked about in the open. With that as the guiding principle, it was strikingly inconsistent to shunt Ms. Todd aside, even with the best of intentions. It was hurtful and unnecessary to exclude her. For a government to add hurt, even unintentionally, to the mother of a dead bullying victim is bitterly ironic. It makes the government appear incapable of exactly that which it insists must be inculcated in students – empathy.
At the very least, Ms. Todd should have been an honoured guest, and treated with compassion in front of everyone. Maybe given a hug. Or did the experts advise against compassion?
Mr. McRae should tap into his own heart, and listen less to the supposed experts. The exclusion of a grieving mother and the hyper-exaggerated fear of talking about problems in the open send exactly the wrong message about how to respond to bullying.