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Bullying Awareness Week

Honourable senators, I rise today to call attention to the ninth annual Bullying Awareness Week, taking place this year from November 13 to 19.

Created by Bill Belsey, an acclaimed Canadian educator, Bullying Awareness Week aims to prevent bullying through awareness and education in a positive and proactive manner. Schools in the country and around the world take part in activities throughout the week to “Stand Up!” to bullying, which is this year’s theme. Children are encouraged to get involved and “be the change,” learning that 85 per cent of bullying occurs in the context of a peer group and that a bully will stop his or her behaviour 10 seconds after their peers speak up.

Honourable senators, bullying is not a rite of passage or a normal part of life. It is a universal problem that affects children directly or indirectly regardless of age, gender, culture, religion or nationality. Children who are bullied face severe anxiety, depression and contemplation of suicide. It is often referred to as a “prison sentence,” where children are tormented daily inside the school, a place that should be a safe and supportive environment.

Nowadays, bullying continues beyond the schoolyard, even following children into their own homes. With the rising use of devices such as cellphones and computers among youth, cyber-bullying is the new frontier of abuse.

Bullying is a real concern to Canadians. Canadian high schools experience 282,000 incidents of bullying per month, much of it unreported. A 2001-02 survey of the World Health Organization ranked Canada twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh out of 35 countries on measures of bullying and victimization.

We need look no further than the recent string of suicides in the country. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among Canadian youth, where four youths under the age of 19 are known to commit suicide every week. James Hubley, the 15-year-old son of Ottawa city councillor Allan Hubley, committed suicide last month after enduring bullying and vicious taunts in school.

In September, Mitchell Wilson, an 11-year-old boy from Pickering, Ontario, who suffered from muscular dystrophy, took his own life after being brutally mugged and attacked by a bully. The bullying in his case did not stop even after his death, but continued online.

Bullying and cyber-bullying are not solely a “school” problem, but a community issue. It is a national issue that requires a response at all levels. As a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, I can assure you that this is at the forefront of our interests. I also commend the cities of Calgary and North Bay for officially proclaiming this as Bullying Awareness Week and hope that many more will do the same.