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The painful and personal memories of Nova Scotia's new health minister is motivating him to carry on the cause of bullied teens, a campaign sparked by the tragedy of Rehtaeh Parsons.
Leo Glavine – and his cabinet colleagues in the Liberal government – are actively taking up Rehtaeh's cause from the previous NDP government, which before its defeat last fall began to put in place reforms dealing with cyberbullying and other issues from the fallout of her death last April.
Mr. Glavine, who has spent the past 10 years in opposition, did not hesitate to embrace the 14 recommendations of an independent review of the teen mental health programs at the IWK, the provincial children's hospital.
The review was released earlier this month by Jana Davidson, a Vancouver children's mental health expert, and it recommends hiring more child and adolescent psychiatrists.
It was prompted by concerns over Rehtaeh's treatment at a Halifax hospital, when she sought help there a year before she died – but just five months after she was allegedly sexually assaulted and a digital picture of the assault was shown around her school.
In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Glavine explains how he has been personally affected by Rehtaeh and other teens like her – and what he hopes to do about it.
An educator for almost 30 years before entering politics, Mr. Glavine taught at a high school in the Annapolis Valley and also coached hockey.
"I coached 28 hockey teams and I can remember all of them … my real claim to fame is losing not one but two provincial championships to Cole Harbour and Sidney Crosby," he joked.
He is very serious, however, when he remembers teens he knew who took their own lives. Nearly 20 years ago, a 17-year-old boy killed himself – an event that Mr. Glavine has never forgotten.
"That really sets in motion a whole lot of what ifs. What more could we have done in our school community and in our larger community to pick up the signals or signs that such a tragedy was going to unfold," he said.
Mr. Glavine said dealing with the outcome – and knowing the child and their family – are "those moments that are part of why I'm probably doing some of the things now that I feel a need to do to improve."
With that in mind, Mr. Glavine said he wants to see substantial progress building on the recommendations in the Davidson report that also include co-ordinated care with other departments, including education, justice and community services.
In her report, Dr. Davidson was concerned, too, with older teenagers being moved between adult and children's hospitals and recommended an integrated health system for children up until 19 years of age.
"Dr. Jana's [Davidson] recommendations are able to move us to what I hope will be some lead areas across the country," Mr. Glavine said. "Creating concepts of wellness and well-being have to be prominent in our work throughout our schools. This is a piece that Dr. Jana supports and sees us moving away from a child dealing with one clinician to rather being embraced by a team by those who are personally and professionally able to support."
He and his cabinet colleagues are working together to push reforms, he said.
For example, he said, Education Minister Karen Casey is poised to roll out a new curriculum piece on prescription drug abuse among teens. A working group has been formed to figure out the new curriculum, which will be targeted at "middle-year students" and their parents. The first wave will be in schools in September.
This is another issue that has affected him.
Several years ago there were a series of prescription-drug related deaths in the Annapolis Valley. Mr. Glavine knew one of the young people, who died from a deliberate overdose.
"I had numerous conversations with him," Mr. Glavine said. "He was a bright, very likeable student in our community, had musical talent … what really propelled me is that he had been in detox on seven occasions … medically detoxed but never been able to get into long-term rehabilitation."
The system failed, he said, adding that "in political life I need to make this more public."
So far, the Parsons family is satisfied with the progress into the reforms following their daughter's death. A change in government can sometimes slow down what previous governments had put in place.
"I think the new government is committed," Glen Canning, Rehtaeh's father, told The Globe. "We met with them [earlier this month] and were happy with what they want to do. No concerns yet."
Jane Taber is The Globe's Atlantic bureau chief.