Standing Up to Bullying

They say we live in a much more diverse culture these days. Unfortunately, bullying has become just as diverse.

While traditional schoolyard bullying still goes on, we’re also seeing bullies in cyberspace, on the playing fields, even in the office.

Const. Jason Curtis and Const. Morley Statchuk are community resource officers with Airdrie’s RCMP detachment. Much of their work involves going into schools (Curtis focuses on elementary schools, Statchuk the high schools), educating youngsters about bullying, and where to turn if they experience it.

“The definition of bullying is a very evolving term,” says Curtis. “Our generation didn’t have a lot of the circumstances that are present now. As youths, [for us] bullying used to be when you were walking home from school and a local bully would chase you down and take your lunch money. Now, we’re in the authority role and having to deal with different types of bullying.”

And attitudes towards bullying have changed, Curtis adds. “My parents always told me to toughen up and fight my battles … I don’t think we do that with this generation,” he says.

Cyberbullying – “keyboard courage,” Curtis calls it – is the new kid on the block. “Bullies back in our day had some personal risk attached – if they were going to beat up somebody, there was the risk they’d pick the kid who’d taken judo,” he says. “Now any youth or person in an office can sit behind a keyboard and be free of personal injury – or even guilt – because they don’t have to see the look of pain on the person’s face.”

Curtis and Statchuk focus on education, on letting the younger generation know that police aren’t to be feared, while also teaching the children about healthy decision-making.

The Airdrie Bullying Awareness Program, formed in 2013, also exists to raise awareness that bullying has an impact on not only young people, but adults, too. “I have two daughters … I want my girls to stand up and use their voices like I never did,” says Sarah Hissett, vice-president, secretary and treasurer for the group that includes Alderman Darrell Belyk as a member-at-large. “I still remember friends of mine being bullied and not saying anything about it or doing anything. I want my girls to stand up and know it’s not right.”

The Airdrie Bullying Awareness Program is “about education and discussion and opening up communication lines,” Hissett says, adding that the program hosts guest speakers every other month at the Good Earth Coffeehouse to discuss bullying and generate discussion.

While childhood and teen bullying is well-known, as is cyberbullying, the program also strives to raise awareness that bullying crosses all levels of society, Hissett says. “The workplace is a forgotten segment, as well as seniors – where do seniors get help for bullying?” she says.

People who are perceived as different by others often bear the brunt of bullying, whether it’s because of race, physical looks, religion in some cases, or sexual orientation and gender identity. And it can be hard to know where to turn.

“It’s certainly not gone away,” says Kayla Jessen, president of the Airdrie Pride Society. “The society is about raising awareness and promoting equality. We don’t do any direct anti-bullying initiatives, but we’re happy to support any program.”

The key is the society can refer lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals – including those who may be experiencing bullying – to support and resources, Jessen says.

The Boys & Girls Club of Airdrie focuses a lot of its anti-bullying programming on preparing young people on how to deal with bullying. “And we put a spin on it – positive relationship-building,” says Cassandra Clem, director of programs and services for the local organization. “It’s about recognizing when relationships are a bit more toxic.”

In partnership with Community Links and the Red Cross, and with a grant from the City of Airdrie, club staff have been trained through a program called Beyond the Hurt.

“Our staff facilitates this program in the schools and on a community basis within the club,” says Clem. “It’s got the focus that … in an ideal world you would stop bullying, but in real life how do you handle it? We take a preventative spin, an intervention spin. It gives [young people] self-awareness and identifies their strengths … so they can handle a bully positively and come out feeling good about themselves.”

The club also hosts Pink Shirt Day every February, an anti-bullying-awareness campaign inspired by a boy in Nova Scotia who was bullied for wearing a pink shirt.

“Our program encompasses so many different pieces … there are so many ways for [bullying] to happen,” says Clem. “At the end of the day, kids need coping strategies to deal with it and have that self-esteem.”

In September 2013, city council amended Airdrie’s Public Behaviour Bylaw to add an anti-bullying provision. The bylaw defines bullying as “repeated and hostile or demeaning behaviour by an individual … either directly or through any medium whatsoever, where the behaviour results in harm, fear or distress to one or more individuals in the municipality including, but not limited to, physical harm, psychological harm or harm to an individual’s reputation.”

The bylaw prohibits bullying anyone in a public place. The penalty is a $500 fine for a first offence, though this drops to $125 if the offender completes an anti-bullying program. The fine, however, jumps to $1,000 for repeat offences.

Mayor Peter Brown, who signed the bylaw after bringing it to council in 2011, admits it’s a tough thing to enforce because, as he says, there are different levels of bullying at different age groups. Rather, Brown says, the bylaw is more intended to send a message “from the hockey coaches to the mayor’s office to business leaders in Airdrie that we don’t tolerate bullying.”

He says programs such as those run by the RCMP are helping get that message across.

“If we can get more information out and educate people about it, so [they] understand the significance of [bullying], and how it’s affecting people of all ages – not just youth, but seniors and everyone in the middle – I’m very passionate about it that, hopefully, there’ll be a day when we don’t have this type of bylaw,” Brown says.

 

For more information about the Airdrie Bullying Awareness Program, visit airdriebullyingawarenessprogram.ca or facebook.com/airdriebullyingawarenessprogram. For information on the Airdrie Pride Society, visit facebook.com/airdriepridesociety. Information on Boys & Girls Club programming can be found at bgcairdrie.com or call 403-948-3331.

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