On the third annual Spirit Day, or Day of Purple, the youth of Jer’s Vision gathered on Parliament Hill to share their stories of bullying and discuss the organization’s national suicide prevention strategy with senators, members of Parliament and their staff.
founder Jeremy Dias says the Oct 18 Spirit Day luncheon is an opportunity to explore the strategy with Canada’s policymakers.
“We need something that would look at this very complex issue,” Dias says. “We want to set and establish care and from there determine a course of action that would support and invest in community-based local engagement programs and activities.”
Working as part of the Rainbow Health Ontario Public Policy Institute, Jer’s Vision’s strategy is in the early stages, although Dias says it could be joined with existing suicide prevention programs and anti-bullying motions.
“We hope the strategy will be a national perspective on what is going on with suicide in this country,” he says. “We need to have a national standard to understand the issue.”
Hosted by NDP MP Craig Scott and Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger and sponsored by former Ottawa police chief Senator Vern White, members of each political party attended the Spirit Day luncheon. Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau also made a brief appearance.
Founded in 2010 in response to the surge of bullying-related suicides across Canada, youth wear purple on Spirit Day – the colour that represents spirit in the rainbow pride flag.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May invited bullied youth to contact their MPs.
“We need to stand together and we do in this room as all parties are represented. We stand with every young person in this room and any young person in any high school in Canada, and if you’re having trouble and you’re being bullied, contact your MP,” May said. “I think we should make ourselves available across the country to say we will stand with you if you are being bullied.”
David Couturier, parliamentary affairs advisor to Senator Claude Carignan, says Carignan is concerned about teen suicide.
“I think we should do whatever we can to make sure that youth are comfortable. It’s not just about making sure that they do not commit suicide,” Couturier says. “Of course that’s important, but it’s about being comfortable with who you are as young as possible.”
Scott encouraged a non-partisan approach to bullying prevention and said there are too many ways social and political discourse create a perfect environment for bullying to take place.
“Much bullying, however abhorrent and disgusting it is, much of it is done by people under the age of 18,” Scott says. “Even though the youth criminal justice act would apply to anybody under the age of 18, it’s still a criminal record.”
Fry’s Bill C-273, entitled An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cyberbullying), would push for Parliament to consider legislation to prosecute bullies, while Morin’s motion encourages prevention rather than criminalization.
“It’s a very ineffective social tool to use criminal law to try and correct the behaviour of youth,” Scott says. “There’s nothing in the code that is fully in keeping with what technology is capable of doing. That I would agree with, but to the extent that Hedy’s bill just talks about criminal law in general and relies on the youth criminal justice act, I still have real concerns.”
For her part, Fry told the House bullying has changed.
“With the rise of electronic media, bullying follows you everywhere,” she said.
Morin first tabled his motion in June and says the second hour of debate will likely take place in November, with the vote held the following week. Morin says Conservatives have confirmed they will vote in favour of his motion.
“Several conservatives thanked me for bringing this issue forward,” Morin says. “[Conservative MP] Candice Bergen and I will have several behind-the-scenes discussions because the two of us want to put partisanship aside for the sake of Canadian kids.”