London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
With the recent suicide of B.C. teen Amanda Todd fresh on people’s mind, the arrest of eight young girls on charges related to the criminal harassment of a classmate has once again made London a focal point of the anti-bullying crusade.
Corina Morrison knows this battle all too well. Morrison, executive director of the London Anti-Bullying Coalition (LABC), said the arrest Thursday (Oct. 18) of eight female students from London South Collegiate Institute, was a “sad” event, but something that shows standing up against bullying is the best way to deal with it.
“Thank God we didn’t lose another life. I get frustrated in the fact we have been speaking the same language for seven and a half years,” Morrison said. “These girls did not get the message. Will they get it now that criminal charges have been laid? Is that what it takes? I think it is.”
London Police Service arrested the eight girls on charges of criminal harassment after an investigation revealed a South student was the target of “physical, emotional and cyber bulling.”
Morrison said LABC has always said it would take not just awareness and education to stop bullying, but the threat of real consequences for people’s actions.
“We have seen the awareness, we have seen the education, and now, we are seeing the enforcement of existing law,” Morrison said. “I am very torn today, my emotions are all over the place because I feel for everyone involved. But I am glad to see our community is taking this seriously.”
Information about the bullying behaviour allegedly displayed by the eight students came from direct disclosures and an anonymous reporting portal on the school’s website. South Cares allows individuals to come forward and anonymously report bullying behaviour.
The availability of that tool and the strength of those willing to use it to speak out against bullying are two things the director of education for the Thames Valley District School Board said he is proud of, even in light of the arrests.
Bill Tucker said he was “really disappointed and shocked” upon learning of the arrests, but he was also quick to shift focus to how the entire South school community handled the incident.
“I was proud of the staff at South Collegiate, who did exactly what should be done. I was proud of the community in which the school is situated because they were upstanders in this,” Tucker said. “What I am saying, provincially, this is a model for the country to follow. We often tell kids they have to report to people they trust and this shows the results is worth that reporting.”
London Police Service Const. Dennis Rivest agreed with Tucker that those who stepped up and reported the bullying are to be commended. Rivest said the investigation was “pretty quick,” taking about a week, and that the response was necessary because of the “overwhelming evidence” presented to London police.
“I think it is sad we are still seeing this kind of behaviour; that is really what is reprehensible about this,” Rivest said. “On the other side, in this case, people stood up and said this is what is happening, this is what I have seen, this is what I have to report. They stood up. They are perfect examples of upstanders.”
Although he called the incident “a set back,” Tucker said there are reasons to be encouraged that attitudes are slowly changing. To back up his encouragement, Tucker pointed to results from the board’s recently released Safe School Survey, which shows “awareness, education, and even enforcement,” are starting to pay off.
“We have hard data that the trends show the amount of bullying, the type of bullying, is on the decrease,” Tucker said. “And we have an increasing percentage of kids who are feeling safer and accepted in school. So we have hard data our prevention programs and intervention strategies are producing positive results.”
Rivest called Thursday’s action “a big arrest, there is no doubt about it,” adding police don’t typically see eight people being arrested in situations such as this. However, Rivest said he wasn’t surprised to see the bullies in this case were a group of girls.
“Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, it isn’t gender specific,” Rivest said. “A bully can be anybody, a victim can be anybody, and we need to know there are processes in place to protect victims, to assist victims, of this type of behaviour.”
Rivest said the police investigation is continuing. Tucker said the students also face an internal investigation as well. The consequences of the internal investigation, Tucker said, aren’t dependent on what might happen in court.
“We can conduct our own investigation, we can initiate our own consequences. That might range, in this kind of severity, anything from suspension to expulsion,” Tucker said. “If they are of age for mandatory education, we will find alternatives sites, in other words, send them to other high schools within our system. We have that authority.”
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