Former Roughrider tackling cyberbullying, 1 in 5 young Canadians affected

With the help of the Canadian Red Cross, a former Saskatchewan Roughrider is trying to help tackle bullies — both those that attack in-person and online.

Scott McHenry works with the Red Cross' anti-bullying education program

Scott McHenry of the Red Cross holds up one of the Pink Day 2017 shirts. Proceeds will go towards helping prevent bullying through education. (CBC)

With the help of the Canadian Red Cross, a former Saskatchewan Roughrider is trying to help tackle bullies — both those that attack in-person and online.

Scott McHenry spent six years as a Roughrider and now travels with players both past and present spreading positive messages to students across the province as part of the Red Cross' anti-bullying education program.

A recent report from Statistics Canada shows that 1.1 million young Canadians — or one in five — have experienced cyberbullying or cyberstalking.

Within that group of 15- to 29-year-olds, about one-third said they were victims of cyberbullying. It is the first time Statistics Canada has addressed the issue of cyberbullying.

Cellphones, social media are factors

McHenry said cyberbullying is just like other forms of bullying but it's harder to see and it follows you home after school or work.

It's becoming an increasing issue, said McHenry, as kids spend more time on cellphones and social media. That means bullying is no longer an in-person and at-school experience. 

With that in mind, McHenry's message to students has expanded into the online world, "telling them we have to treat each other online like we treat each other in person. We can't hide behind masks or different names or whatever it is and be able to say what we want because we have to understand that they're still being harmful. There's still hurt there." 

Saskatchewan Roughriders' Scott McHenry celebrates a touchdown against the Edmonton Eskimos in 2013. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

McHenry added: "One thing we talk about in schools is being a positive digital citizen. To tell our kids they can't go on the Internet or on their phones, that's not OK either. This is something they use to connect."

McHenry said the practice of "see something, say something" applies to bullying in every form.

Not just an issue for young people

McHenry, who grew up in Saskatoon, said anti-bullying education is valuable for all ages. He said the focus on youth is meant to prevent bullies from continuing their behaviour unchecked as adults.

"If you haven't been stood up to at an early age, if no one has ever told you that what you're doing is not OK, there's a pretty good chance as we get into adulthood we're still going to use some of those behaviours."

This February, the Red Cross' Pink Day rallies will hit three Saskatchewan cities, engaging with hundreds of students in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert.

With files from The Canadian Press