Sunday, May 27, 2012

My name is Karen Sebben, and together with my son, we are the co-founders of the York Region Anti-Bullying Coalition. I will get straight to the point. Aggression between our students takes place because adults allow it to. Whether it is a child’s parent, teacher or school administrator, the job of keeping youth safe is ours. On that first day of kindergarden, we drop them off at school and entrust the emotional, academic, and physical well-being of our children to complete strangers. We do this because giving our children an education falls within the natural order of things, and therefore we just trust. We also do this because the law says we must educate our youth. Raising a child does not come with an instruction manual. We use our best judgment and experiences from the past to do the best that we can. I taught my boys empathy, compassion, respect and manners, but when I was faced with a situation where the parents of other children did not do the same, I found myself in a dilemma. When my youngest was in grade 8, we found ourselves in a situation where the adults in control were non-reactive or receptive to a situation that my son found himself at the receiving end of. He was bullied by the same five peers for three school years. The reason this took place is because policy wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, policy was interpreted to protect our administrators, and the consequences chosen did not change the negative behaviour of his aggressors. My son who was fourteen at the time could not understand why adults did not feel he was worth protecting. He is 21 years old today and if you ask him what stands out the most during those three years he will tell you he doesn’t care about the five boys that pursued him so aggressively. He will tell you that he doesn’t trust adults. The very people I taught him to go to help for if I was not around. My son turned to cutting his skin and self-medication because adults didn’t do their job. There is no accountability built into our educational system. How can there be when tax -paying parents are up against the big business of unions. My son was not identified as an LGBT youth, yet he was suicidal. What explicit protections will be built into this legislation to protect a child like him? Would a child like him have the same benefits as a LGBT youth through an alliance? Is anyone suggesting that he was not at great risk for being bullied because he wasn’t LGBT? Yet he suffered terribly for three years, was diagnosed with post traumatic stress which ultimately lead to social development and mental health issues, the same issues that a child who identifies as being LGBT might have. Would he have received the same legal counsel that Mr. Elliott is providing this clearly defined group of youth? How dare anyone suggest that one child’s existence is more important than that of another child based on category? Do any of you on this committee actually know what it feels like to exist on a daily basis wondering if your child will take his life while you are at work? What’s even worse, as a parent you kept sending him into a battle zone without protection of any kind. If you did, only then would you really realize what any kind of anti-bullying legislation should look like. I have watched, read and listened to what has transpired in the House over the past few months, and I am ashamed to be an Ontarian. Unless you have been in our shoes, or the shoes of a parent who has lost a child to suicide because of being bullied, I respectfully submit you have no idea. My colleague, Corina Morrison, presented earlier today. We are like minded, on the same page, and I do not want to repeat here what Mrs. Morrison had to say. One thing must be understood. Families like mine in the Province of Ontario are finding each other. This is taking place because the system has failed us miserably. We are growing in numbers, our voices are growing stronger and we will no longer tolerate being marginalized tax payers. We are hard working, tax-paying citizens who have the absolute right to be heard and not brushed off by our Government. Just to recap, anti-bullying legislation must include supports for all involved, including readily available resources for those whom we entrust our children to, data collection to see what actually works and to ensure fiscal responsibility of spending our hard earned tax dollars, detailed prevention and safety plans, community education, a clear definition for bullying including duty of care, non-categorizing of our youth, because they are all at risk, and finally, supports for all involved, and accountability to those whom the system fails.