Nova Scotia has concluded its first anti-bullying leadership conference, which saw nearly 500 participants of all stripes come together to tackle what is being increasingly recognized as a widespread and complicated issue.
"Bullying behaviour is a complex societal problem," said Kathleen Richard, Nova Scotia's anti-bullying co-ordinator.
"(It) does not exist just in schools — it is a community issue, and to have all us together for this event, to learn with and among and for each other is fabulous."
The conference came amid the recent public attention on the death of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons, a case that has generated national interest.
Parsons died after a suicide attempt in April at the age of 17 — her family says she was bullied after a photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted was circulated over social media.
Root causes, cyberbullying on the agenda
Richard was one of the organizers for the anti-bullying conference, which brought together youth, parents, educators, government officials and representatives from community organizations.
Richard was appointed the province's first anti-bullying co-ordinator in September 2012, as Nova Scotia took steps to address how new technology was affecting the growth and expansion of modern-day bullying.
"Our primary objective was to bring collections and groups of people together for the first time to have conversations with each other," Richard said on Saturday. "So we're not talking adults in a silo, or youth in a silo."
The two-day conference — called Speak Up! — included workshops such as the root causes of bullying and cyberbullying and parenting in a digital age.
The event also served as a platform for the Nova Scotia government's announcement of new resources released for parents coping with bullying and cyberbullying, and teens dealing with sexual violence.
Website to be launched by province
The province also announced it will be launching a website in September for students to report cases of bullying in schools.
Young people who are either involved in or witness to bullying incidents will be able to make an anonymous report online. That information would then be sent to the school's principal.
Since the tragic death of Parsons, Nova Scotia passed the Cyber-Safety Act, which allows people to sue or seek a protection order from the courts if they or their children are being cyberbullied.
The act also paved the way for the creation of an investigative unit dedicated to pursuing and penalizing cyberbullies, which the government expets to be in operation this fall.
Introduction of the Cyber-Safety Act was one of the recommendations made in the February 2012 report of the Nova Scotia Task Force on Bullying and Cyberbullying.
'A small start'
This week's anti-bullying conference was another such recommendation.
The conference was co-hosted by Ramona Jennex, minister of education, and Marilyn More, the minister responsible for the action team on sexual violence and bullying.
"We wanted to raise awareness and understanding about the issues around bullying and cyberbullying and also to help people to understand there are resources out there and to enable them to work together," said More. "And also to help people connect with one another who have a shared interest in taking action on these issues."
She said she hopes the anti-bullying leadership conference will become an annual event.
"I think it's like many things in Nova Scotia," More told the Canadian Press. "A small start, then it gains momentum and more and more people get engaged and it spreads throughout the province."