Hamilton

'Stop bullying for good': What you can do if someone you know is being bullied

It's not yet clear how big of a role bullying played in Devan's death, but police say that aspect of their investigation is "growing" and the teen's mother has tearfully shared some details of what her son suffered through. Meanwhile, a powerful anti-bullying message has started to spread.

A powerful anti-bullying message is being shared after Devan Bracci-Selvey's death

Mourners gather during a candlelight vigil for murdered 14-year-old Devan Bracci-Selvey, at his high school, Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, in Hamilton, Ont., Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Stand up. Speak out. Stop bullying for good.

T-shirts with those three lines, written in big block letters on a bright red stop sign, were handed out during a vigil for Devan Bracci-Selvey Wednesday night — a striking visual of the powerful anti-bullying message that's being shared after the 14-year-old was fatally stabbed outside Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School Monday.

An 18-year-old and 14-year-old are charged with first-degree murder.

It's not yet clear how big of a role bullying played in Devan's death, but police say that aspect of their investigation is "growing" and the teen's mother has tearfully shared some of what her son suffered through.

Shari-Ann Selvey said the abuse started on the second day of school and that Devan had been harassed every day since.

"For a month, we've been trying to get this dealt with," said Selvey. "All schools have the same policies, zero tolerance and zero bullying, and everyone belongs. And it's not true, and no one is held accountable for it, and then stuff like this happens."

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) has confirmed bullying incidents that targeted Devan were reported to school administrators and that the board would be handing that information over to police.

Tracy Vaillancourt, a professor at the University of Ottawa whose specialities include bullying in schools and children's mental health, said what happened to Devan underlines the fact bullying must be taken seriously and acted on early.

"I think that here there's obviously a system failure when we think about the fact that we have a young man who was murdered," she said.

When asked whether he felt the HWDSB had failed Devan, education director Manny Figueiredo said it's premature for him to say for sure, but he doesn't believe that's the case.

"I don't believe the school had failed him based on what what I know. Once we do our inquiry  … then we'll know … did the board fail? Or is there something else we're going to learn through this police investigation that we just don't know right now?"

The mother of the Hamilton teenager who was stabbed outside his school, told reporters that Devan Bracci-Selvey was targeted by bullies and “everyone failed" him. 2:47

So what should a person do if they're being bullied or see it happening to someone else?

Here's what Vaillancourt suggests.

What can students do?

The professor said it's important that kids speak up about what's happening and report it to a trusted adult.

"Students need to tell us and a lot of times they suffer in silence," she added. "We cannot change what we are not privilege to knowing. They need to tell us and trust us that we'll do right by them."

During a media update Wednesday Det.-Sgt. Steve Bereziuk also shared some advice for any kids who are being bullied.

"You gotta tell somebody absolutely, tell school staff, tell someone you trust. If it warrants calling police, call police," he said. "Don't bottle that up, don't hide that."

Photos of Devan Bracci-Selvey sit among stuffed animals, flowers and messages of support at a makeshift memorial outside the 14-year-old's Hamilton home. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

What can parents do?

Parents need to listen, work with the school and always try to keep a level head, according to Vaillancourt.

"A lot of times they want to do it alone and they think the school isn't going to do anything … and that's not typically the case."

Her advice is similar to the HWDSB's policy, which say parents and students shouldn't feel alone and must contact a principal or vice-principal immediately if bullying has occurred.

The board encourages parents to be proactive and call with any questions or concerns, rather than reacting after several incidents have happened. It also says parents should value differences and promote sensitivity toward others, as well as monitor children's behaviour and moods for changes.

There is a stereotype that going to a parent or teacher to report bullying will only make things worse — sure, the bully might get punished, but eventually they'll be back and things will be worse than ever.

But Vaillancourt said research shows that's not the case. In fact, most research suggests if a kid tells an adult about bullying and some action is taken the torment tends to end immediately.

Of course there are exceptions that kids can cling to as a reason not to tell someone about what's going on.

"The problem is that kids don't trust us," she explained. "They think we're going to screw it up and they'll always find an example … of when it did get screwed up."

A memorial, complete with candles and flowers has been started in front of Bracci-Selvey's home. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

What can schools do?

The key for schools is to react quickly. Vaillancourt said based on what she's read about what happened with Devan, she believes it's possible his reports about bullying should have been taken more seriously.

"It sounds like there might have been a few lapses here and there with respect to this young man who eventually lost his life," the professor added.

The HWDSB says it will conduct its own investigation into what happened and a formal review of its practices following the teen's death. A critical incident response team is also working to reassure students and staff at the school.

Vaillancourt pointed out schools have disciplinary tools like suspensions and expulsions they can use to confront bullies. The main thing is to do something, early, so the abuse doesn't evolve.

"We don't need to tolerate this … bullying is a slippery slope. It starts off with little incivilities and then it grows and it grows and it grows."