Calgary

Newcomer parents seek education on bullying following high profile Calgary cases

Families new to Canada say they want to be better informed about bullying following several high-profile cases in the city involving immigrants and refugees.

Dozens of parents gathered in northeast Calgary for a special workshop on cyberbullying

Ekene Balogun with the Centre for Newcomers says many immigrant parents are distracted with just trying to survive and adapt to life in a new country to notice their kids suffering at the hands of bullies. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Parents new to Canada say they want to be better informed about bullying after several high-profile cases in Calgary involving immigrant and refugee families.

Around 40 parents gathered at the Centre for Newcomers on Tuesday for a special workshop on cyberbullying, including how to spot the signs that a child is being bullied, how to protect kids online and how to report bullying problems at schools.

It's estimated that over one million Canadians, mostly those between the ages of 15 to 29, have been victims of cyberbullying, according to a 2016 Statistics Canada study. But even younger kids can be exposed too, especially if they have a phone.

Many attending the workshop say recent bullying cases in the news, including the suicide of nine-year-old Syrian newcomer Amal Alshteiwi in March 2019, have them concerned about their own kids.

Amal took her own life at home after her parents say she was bullied verbally and physically for months at her elementary school. They say they tried to raise the alarm with the school involved but struggled to clearly communicate what was happening and say the school didn't address their concerns.

Raheal Bokru who came to Calgary from Eritrea says she wants to learn about bullying to help protect her son. She, along with many others at the event, had heard about Amal Alshteiwi’s tragic story. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

While Amal's case didn't involve cyberbullying specifically, parents taking part in Tuesday's event say they want to learn as much as possible about all forms of bullying so they can be prepared should the same thing happen to their kids.

"She killed herself. It is bad and that's why I'm learning to be careful of this," said Raheal Bokru, a newcomer from Eritrea.

"We learn about cyberbullying to protect my son," said Bokru. "I'm worried because it's not good. If a kid is stressed then it's not good," she said.

Bokru was one of around 35 parents packed into a classroom at the Centre for Newcomers in northeast Calgary to learn about how bullying effects kids, how they can protect their kids from bullies, legal aspects and how to report problems.

"I came to learn more. I have four children," said Elizabeth Roy, who is originally from South Sudan and came to Calgary in 2017.

Elizabeth Roy wants to know what her kids are doing online and how to protect them from bullying in all forms. (Dan Mcgarvey/CBC)

"I want to learn about what happens on the internet. I want to know what's happening," said Roy, who had also heard about Amal Alshtewi's story. 

"It's about them leaving here feeling empowered," said Ekene Balogun with the Centre for Newcomers.

Balogun says many newcomer parents simply don't have the time to focus on their kids' wellbeing as they struggle to adapt and build a new life for their families in a new country.

The workshop is designed to help parents become better informed.

"Sometimes parents have so many things to think about in settlement that watching out for what your young person does online, or the emotions they might be going through, may not be a priority for now so they may miss a lot of things," said Balogun.

It's "shed light on what's going on"

Balogun says even just having a conversation with children about school and what's happening in their lives is important. She says the case of Amal Alshteiwi has people talking, which she sees as something positive coming from a tragedy.

"It's a sad situation that could have possibly been prevented. Ask questions to your kids, see the mood changes, see what's happening. I think it helped in a sad way but sometimes unfortunate circumstances have to happen in order to shed light on what's going on," said Balogun.

Tuesday's workshop comes after dozens of newcomer organizations, including the Centre for Newcomers, got together for the first of several town halls in May to address the issue of bullying. 

They are due to meet again in the near future to come up with solutions and identify gaps in the system to prevent another bullying death in the city. 

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist covering all kinds of stories from northeast Calgary for web, radio, TV and social media, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey