It was the start of something big when community leaders gathered at Rotary Park for a bullying rally on Saturday, November 10.
Organized by two local moms, Renee Savarie and Danielle Port, who wanted to mark the end of bullying in the community, the rally drew out supporters and local politicians to say once and for all that bullying is not allowed in B.C. Pink was the colour of choice for many attendees, who wore it to symbolize the colour that has been chosen to represent anti-bullying.
Members of Cranbrook City Council were among the speakers at the weekend event. Mayor Wayne Stetski said he believes the community is at the very beginning of an important movement.
“I think what we need to do collectively is to make bullying totally unacceptable from a social perspective. It’s an issue that of course is front and centre right now,” Stetski said.
Other speakers admitted they had experienced bullying. Savarie urged the attendees to stand up to preventable tragedies like suicides and bullying and start a change for the better.
Councillor Sharon Cross said she herself had seen bullying first hand, and that it sometimes extends beyond public school into adult life.
“Being a person who has taken a lot of stands in my life I’ve been subject to public criticism and subtle aggression so it’s something that I understand exists not only with children, but as we heard today, adults as well,” Cross said. “It’s really time to take a stand against that and be more inclusive and embrace diversity.”
Cross said when diversity is celebrated, great ideas can come forward to make the world a better place.
“It’s been my experience that through diversity of opinion and actions that the best solutions come forward and we need to embrace it and be more inclusive in our community instead of pushing back because it’s different,” she said.
MLA for Kootenay East and Minister for Community, Sport and Cultural Development Bill Bennett said he sometimes hears of serious instances of bullying in his office when all other options have been exhausted.
“It’s a really important issue and I have some files in my office right now involving bullying,” Bennett said, adding that he has a file each from Cranbrook and the Elk Valley that he’s working on. “What’s happening to these young people, I can’t even describe it.”
Jesse Jarvis of Cranbrook’s Young Life chapter, said support for bullying victims needs to be in place before the situation escalates and it can be done by providing leadership to students.
“As a last resort you can go to Mr. Bennett’s office or you can go to the RCMP but I think that’s too late,” he said.
Young Life sends leaders out into the community to get in touch with youth right where they are. Jarvis said it gives children leadership skills they need to spread the message to their peers.
“We don’t essentially need a centre for kids – we know where they are. So just go where they are and have the courage to introduce yourself,” Jarvis said.
Young Life leaders coach soccer or help out with drama clubs to provide youth with a role model they may not already have in their lives.
“It provides leadership to the kids on two levels: one is that we teach it to them but on the best level is that we exemplify it for them,” he said.
Bennett said as an MLA he wants to keep the issue of bullying top of mind, especially to those who don’t fully understand it.
“Anything that I can do in my role as an MLA to draw attention to bullying and how serious it is and the fact that it exists right under our nose,” he said. “Most people never get exposed to it – lucky for them – but they need to know it’s happening all around them.”
Stetski said it’s important that victims know where they can get help and that they report incidents when they are involved in or witness bullying. He also believes a campaign much like Mothers Against Drunk Driving or D.A.R.E. Canada would go a long way.
“In the end I think it has to be a consistent message and the examples I used were, ‘don’t drink and drive,’ ‘say no to drugs’ and the efforts that have gone into those over the years starts to eventually have an impact,” Stetski said. “What we need is the same kind of focus on bullying.”