Anti-Bullying Campaigns Get Higher Profile But Few Funds

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ANTI BULLYING CAMPAIGNS
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Despite growing awareness about the potentially devastating consequences of bullying, advocates working to combat the problem say they're badly in need of financial support.

The issue of bullying has been thrust back into the spotlight by Port Coquitlam, B.C., teen Amanda Todd who took her own life Wednesday, weeks after posting a YouTube video about the unrelenting harassment she had been suffering.

Todd doesn't speak in the video, but explains via flashcards that her troubles began in Grade 7, after she was convinced by an unknown man over the internet to "flash" her breasts via webcam.

By the time she turned 15, Todd said she had transferred schools twice in an effort to evade her tormenters. But they continued to hound her online and in the real world.

Experts like Wendy Craig, who helps run a national anti-bullying coalition and leads a research lab on the subject at Queen's University, say online bullying can be particularly hard to deal with.

On the web, bullies are more removed from the human impact of their actions, Craig said by phone from Kingston, Ont. Evidence of bullying can remain on the internet forever and victims can be harassed wherever they go online, so that it's difficult to escape.

Online outreach

According to a large study from 2010, about one in five Canadian students say they have been bullied. To more effectively reach them, a number of groups are turning to the online world, where young people are spending more of their time.

But finding money to fund their work can be difficult.

One of the earliest and most popular websites to tackle the problem, bullying.org, was created by Alberta teacher Bill Belsey, who says his years of international education and awareness campaigning have been paid for largely out of his own pocket.

"We've created pretty much the world's most visited, and some people would say, trusted website about bullying," Belsey said in a phone interview from his classroom in Airdrie, Alta.

"We helped to define and make known the term 'cyberbullying.' We started the national awareness week. We've got Canada's only online courses for teachers and parents. And yet I rarely receive any money from anybody."

Belsey has received government money in the past, but says he finds the bureaucracy too time-consuming for a small organization to navigate, and grant funding too unreliable from year to year.

"This work is a labour of love," he said. "Thankfully my wife loves me enough not to get mad at me for saying 'we need to take some money of our own and keep all this going.'"

High-profile deaths

Todd's suicide is just the latest in a string of teen suicides that have helped galvanize public awareness on the harm that can be inflicted through bullying.

- Jamie Hubley's family continues fight against suicide

Other recent cases include Jamie Hubley, a 15-year-old who took his own life in October 2011 after being taunted at his Ottawa high school for being openly gay.

There was Mitchell Wilson, an 11-year-old boy from Pickering, Ont., who had muscular dystrophy and committed suicide 10 months after being viciously attacked by another boy over an iPhone Mitchell had borrowed from his dad.

Such tragic events have drawn big names like Justin Bieber to the anti-bullying crusade and have spurred some Canadian legislatures to act.

In September, the Nova Scotia government appointed its first anti-bullying coordinator, and a new Ontario law came into force that allows schools to expel bullies and forces school boards to accept gay-straight alliance clubs.

And on Monday, MPs are expected to debate an NDP motion on the subject that advocates, among other things, providing support to groups that work with youth "to promote positive and safe environments."

Some grassroots anti-bullying groups say that government support is badly needed to help support their work. BullyingCanada, a national charity that handles 10,000 calls and deals with about 5,000 yong people online each month, issued a public plea for donations last week, saying a resource shortage threatens its operations.

"We've checked with all three levels of government. They tells us that there is no government funding for us," Rob Frenette, the group's co-executive director, said in an email. "If we don't get donations soon we will have to look at cutting services."

Queen's University's Wendy Craig agrees that more public funds need to go to "community-based efforts," as part of a national government-led campaign to deal with the problem.

But she added that any public money should be tied to a charity's performance, so that taxpayers know their dollars are making a difference.

"All of the other countries in the world that have low rates of bullying and victimization are countries that have a national campaign that drives this," Craig said.

"That's the kind of stance we need to move to in Canada."

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