Calgary

Refugee family says school ignored bullying that caused daughter, 9, to take own life

Parents of a nine-year-old girl who took her own life say the Calgary school system failed their daughter by ignoring how severely she was being bullied by classmates.

Parents say they just want 'justice' for their little girl

Amal Alshteiwi, 9, died by suicide after months of bullying, her mother says. (Submitted)

Parents of a nine-year-old girl who took her own life say the Calgary school system failed their daughter by ignoring how severely she was being bullied by classmates.

"I told them there is something bothering my kid, people are mocking her, intimidating her, and bullying her, but nobody was really listening to me," said Nasra Abdulrahman, the girl's mother, speaking through an Arabic interpreter.

Amal Alshteiwi took her own life after her mother says bullying at her northeast school went unchecked for months.

Friends of the family say that could be because concerns raised with the school were lost in translation, and much of the bullying was done in Arabic, so went unnoticed by English-speaking staff.

"When I told her [teacher] my daughter is not really feeling well, something is wrong with my daughter … [the] teacher said maybe she has some problems at home but not here at the school," Abdulrahman said.

She said instead of supporting her daughter, the teacher applied more pressure on the girl and that bullying ramped up in the two weeks before her death.

Amal's brother Abedalla, who is in Grade 5, said the bullies targeted his sister's looks and the fact that she wore the hijab.

She left behind five brothers and sisters, as well as her mother and father. The family came to Alberta three years ago as refugees after fleeing war-torn Syria.

The Calgary Board of Education has said an investigation following Amal's death found no evidence of bullying, and on Sunday the board's chief superintendent would not say if the CBE has plans to change any policies or launch an internal investigation following Amal's death.

I'm tired of treating pediatrics with mental health issues because of bullying.- Unati Makiwane, Calgary doctor

"This is a terrible tragedy, for this family, for any family, and our hearts are breaking," said chief superintendent Christopher Usih.

"We are taking this matter extremely seriously."

Dr. UnatiMakiwane, a family physician in Calgary, was one of those in attendance at the superintendent's media availability.

"Mostly I came because I'm tired of treating pediatrics with mental health issues because of bullying," she said.

"I would love to see something different."

Usih said the board has processes in place to deal with reports of bullying, and that steps are taken to ensure concerns are addressed appropriately.

He said privacy concerns prevent him from speaking to the specifics of Amal's case and how it was handled.

Nasra Abdulrahman and Aref Alshteiwi say processes in place at their daughter Amal's school failed her. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The family said the processes in place just aren't enough.

"We just want justice for our daughter," said Amal's father Aref Alshteiwi.

"She was a very good girl. I accept this is our fate … but I'm still in shock what happened to my daughter."

The Calgary Police Service said multiple interviews were conducted immediately following Amal's death, but found no evidence of foul play.


Where to get help:

  • The Calgary Distress Centre has a 24-hour crisis line: 403-266-HELP (4357)
  • The AHS Mental Health Help Line is also available 24 hours: 1-877-303-2642
  • Call the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at: 1-833-456-4566

With files from Elissa Carpenter, Dan McGarvey