A teenager who bullied a classmate into committing suicide has been found guilty of uttering threats and criminal harassment in a case the victim's mother is calling a ruling "for every child."
A second accused was found not guilty at the landmark trial in British Columbia on Monday.
In November 2000, Dawn-Marie Wesley, 14, of Mission, B.C. hanged herself shortly after three teenage girls called her. Wesley's suicide note said that she had been threatened by bullies and she believed death was her only escape.
Two girls from her school were charged with uttering threats. One of them was also accused of criminal harassment. Their identities are protected because they were prosecuted under Canada's Young Offenders Act.
The 16-year-old who was found guilty of both charges Monday will undergo four to six weeks of assessments before a judge imposes a sentence.
In her ruling, B.C. Provincial Court Judge Jill Rounthwaite said that it was clear that one of the accused had bullied Wesley repeatedly, giving the victim reason to fear for her life.
Although the second accused had taken part in the phone call, the judge said there was no evidence the girl had broken the law.
Rounthwaite noted that bystanders added "to the power of the bully" by letting the harassment go on without intervening.
"None of those people had the moral strength to tell the bully to stop or go away," the judge said.
FROM NATIONAL: Bullying
During the trial, one of the accused testified that she had beaten up Dawn-Marie Wesley. The other accused teen admitted calling the victim and saying, "You're dead."
The defence argued that it was normal schoolyard behaviour, and insisted the teens never planned to kill Dawn-Marie.
A breakdown in a group of friends caused one young woman to become a bully and encouraged other teenaged girls to join in the taunting and verbal torture of Dawn-Marie, court was told.
Prosecutors conceded that the girls may not have intended to kill. But they said the accused did intend to terrorize, which itself is criminal. The Crown also argued that society can no longer accept this type of behaviour.
The trial drew widespread attention to the role of the courts in dealing with school bullying cases across the country.
Wake-up call for authorities
"Bullying is widespread in Canada, as it is in other countries, and now you're seeing this is the type of behaviour that's going to be monitored potentially by the court system," said criminologist Ray Corrado of Simon Fraser University.
Corrado said he hoped the case is a wake-up call for authorities to step up their efforts to stop school bullying.
Dawn-Marie's mother, Cindy, cried in court when the verdicts were read. She then hugged the other mothers. Wesley said the ruling could go a long way to stop this kind of bullying in the future.
"This wasn't just for Dawn-Marie today. This ruling goes for every child in this country that's been bullied," she told reporters.
"I think you need to acknowledge that although our family is the major victim in all of this, our community was a victim, the high school was a victim, the family of these girls are victims of their own children," Cindy Wesley added.
The mother said she hopes the case will help bullies understand how their words and actions can harm by their victims.
Cindy Wesley said she was pleased with Monday's decision, including the second girl's acquittal. She said it was clear that the second teen was also a victim of the first girl's bullying.
"The judge definitely restored my faith in the judicial system," Cindy Wesley said.
A third girl who was charged with threatening Dawn-Marie still faces a trial.