3 min

Heritage minister launches anti-bullying project

Jeremy Dias says project doesn't do enough to combat homophobia

Heritage Minister James Moore announces funding for the Canadian Red Cross's Stand Up to Bullying and Discrimination in Canadian Communities project, June 3 at AY Jackson Secondary School. Credit: Bradley Turcotte
The new national anti-bullying campaign announced June 3 by Heritage Minister James Moore and Laureen Harper will not do enough to address homophobia, says the founder of an Ottawa youth initiative.

Announced at Kanata’s AY Jackson Secondary School – the school gay student Jamie Hubley attended before dying by suicide in 2011 – the project will train 2,400 youth, aged 13 to 17, to deliver anti-bullying workshops in their communities. Each facilitator will commit to reaching another 20 young people, according to Moore.

“That’s 48,000 young Canadians helping each other to deliver special events – educational opportunities in their communities to take action against bullying,” says Moore, who represents Port Coquitlam, the hometown of Amanda Todd, who died by suicide in 2012 after relentless cyberbullying.

Titled Stand Up to Bullying and Discrimination in Canadian Communities, the Red Cross-led initiative will receive $250,000 from Heritage Canada’s Youth Take Charge program.

“This project will also support three youth-led forums across the country that will empower young people by bringing them together to take action,” Moore says.

Jer’s Vision founder Jeremy Dias says it “misses the mark” when it comes to challenges that teens like Hubley face.

“For someone who is trying to start up a rainbow alliance and then having posters ripped down, that is not just bullying. It’s also homophobia,” Dias says.

“When we’re talking about bullying, often the experiences of queer youth are over-simplified or reduced into general disrespect. When really, homophobic and transphobic bullying is in and of itself its own experience,” he says. “To address homophobia and transphobia, we need specific education and prevention work.”
When asked if the project will specifically address homophobia, Moore’s office referred Xtra to the Canadian Red Cross.

Judi Fairholm, national director of the Canadian Red Cross’s RespectED Violence and Abuse Prevention program, says the Red Cross has looked to queer organizations in New Brunswick and Alberta for guidance. Combating homophobia will be highlighted in the new project, she says.

“[Homophobia] is one of the really big issues that we deal with in the training and working through the youth facilitators,” Fairholm says. “We look at all aspects of discrimination, of which that is a huge one. Obviously, this is a critical issue and one that is definitely in all our literature and is highlighted, and we are addressing it with our kids.”

The specific program the Red Cross will use to combat homophobia within Stand Up to Bullying and Discrimination in Canadian Communities is one developed by AIDS New Brunswick: “bullying and peer harassment prevention supporting LGBTQ youth and strengthening their ability to live, learn and love safely.”

Additionally, Fairholm says the Red Cross engaged in informal surveying and testing with Alberta’s Camp fYrefly for queer youth, and with Youth Understanding Youth, an Alberta support group.

“When we were developing our activities, we reviewed closely the findings of a University of Winnipeg climate study of homophobia. We also accessed the Alberta Teachers’ Association website, looking at diversity, equity and human rights, and used some materials [on] understanding the term LGBTQ,” Fairholm says.

Gay NDP MP Dany Morin’s private member’s motion, M-385, sought to establish a standing committee tasked with studying the issue of bullying and would have eventually proposed a comprehensive national strategy to prevent it. His motion was defeated by a vote of 149 to 134 on Nov 21.

Morin says Monday’s announcement did not give “concrete details regarding how this program will prevent the different forms of bullying, including homophobia.”

The project is a step in the right direction, but it is “clearly not enough,” he says.

The Conservatives are simply allotting funds to an organization, rather than tackling the issue of bullying themselves, Morin contends.

Morin also questions how national the Conservative program really is. The youth-led forums will take place in British Columbia, Atlantic Canada and Ontario, something Morin says signals the project is not a “national strategy.”

“Every country that has enacted a national bullying prevention strategy has seen bullying, including homophobic bullying, go down,” Morin says. “When they had the chance last fall to vote in favour of my national bullying-prevention strategy, the Conservative government voted against it. This is not a national bullying-prevention strategy. This is a young leadership program in three provinces.
“If the Conservative government believes that they are doing all they can to protect our kids from bullying, they are sorely mistaken,” he says. “Calling it a national strategy is dishonest. This program is not going to help kids facing bullying in Quebec nor in the Prairies or in the territories.”
Fairholm says that although Monday’s announcement detailed the youth forums that will run in only three areas of the country, the project will build on existing anti-bullying work the Red Cross has in place nationwide, including its Beyond the Hurt program.
“Part of this money is to help us expand our reach,” Fairholm says. “This last year we have 3,300 youth facilitators and this last year we educated over 250,000 kids in bullying prevention. So that part of this new project is adding on to that work that is already happening.”
Youth from areas outside of where the forums take place can still attend the events, Fairholm adds.

When questioned about Morin’s private member’s motion following Monday’s press conference, Moore said M-385 was simply a study, and it is “time to act and support projects like this. This is a non-partisan issue.”