Now Or Never

Give bullies more status - and other unexpected ways to address bullying

From climbing towers to handing out tickets, these Canadians are standing up to bullies in surprising - and sometimes counterintuitive - ways.

For our first episode of Now or Never, we are talking back to our bullies. If you have your own ways to add to our list, email us.

All the people featured on this week's episode who have come up with creative ways to take a stand against bullies.

Put the bully in charge

A teenage girl is overcome with emotion during a rally in Woodstock, Ont. About 300 students left their classes to join a rally against teen suicide. (June 2016.) (John Rieti/CBC)
Brock University psychology professor Anthony Volk has spent a lot of time figuring out what makes bullies tick. "Most bullies aren't actually sadistic," he stated. "They're not interested in causing harm to other kids. They're just callously goal-oriented."

Volk started thinking that instead of trying to punish bullies or change their behaviour, we might instead find a way to give them that status that they're aiming for in a way that doesn't involve hurting others.

One method they've used is making the bully a door greeter.  "For an adolescent, if you greet everybody who comes in, everybody gets to see you," he explained.

"Everybody has to say hi to you. For somebody who is arrogant and looking for attention, that's a really good way of meeting that need."

After a pilot project in Arizona, according to Volk, "incidences of violence, injuries, truancy and missed days dropped dramatically – from 30 to 80 per cent." 

Reclaim what bullies took away

Mary Smith with her 16-year-old son Kyle, Cape Breton, N.S. (Courtesy K. Smith)
Mary Smith is living proof that it's never too late to stand up to your bullies. She and her siblings were badly bullied decades ago, while attending elementary and junior high school. Other students would call her names and throw things at her.

At 16, Smith decided she had had enough, and dropped out. Today she wishes she'd stood up to her bullies and stayed in school, but "at that time, being a young teenager, I just couldn't deal with it then."

She eventually married and had four children, but she says her self esteem remained low, and she knew without her Grade 12 diploma, her job options were limited.

"I had a lot of dreams," she recalled. "I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher."

A few years ago, at the age of 53, Smith decided to reclaim the education that bullying had taken away from her. She went back to school, sometimes doing homework with her youngest son, Kyle.

In June 2016, she graduated with her Grade 12 diploma. Kyle is now 16, the same age his mother was when she quit school. He says she supported him in his own encounters with bullies.

"Every time I was bullied, she sat with me and let me talk 'til I felt better, and she told me  'Keep your head up,' and that's what I did."

Empower the victim

Yolanda Benita Peters helped a student deal with bullying by empowering her (Courtesy Y. Peters)
 Yoland Benita Peters of Alberta shared her bullying experience with us after she heard Mary Smith's story on Now or Never.

"I was bullied in elementary school and then turned into a bully myself in high school. So I know what it feels like from both perspectives.

When I started to work as a grade 1 teacher, a precious, beautiful little girl stormed into my classroom one day. She was beside herself. Some older boys had just told her she was ugly. She had such a spark and light in her eyes. When I saw how quickly that light was turned off by some bullies, it just broke my heart. 

I knew that if I went over to the bullies and tried to deal with them it might make matters worse. So instead I chose to empower the little girl. 

I knew how much my grade one girls adored me. So I asked them all if they thought I was beautiful. And they all agreed, of course I was beautiful.

I then asked them if someone told me that I was ugly, could that make my appearance change to ugly? They giggled and said 'of course not!'

I made the little girl who was bullied look into our classroom mirror. I asked her if her appearance had changed since the boys told her she was ugly. She said 'no.' And so I said 'See? They are just words. Bullies say words to hurt you, but you know they are not true. Words can't make me ugly and they can't make you ugly. You are very beautiful and very precious, and no bully can change that.'

Later on, I saw that same little girl stand up to a bully. She actually got physically hurt this time. (It broke my heart.) But she didn't move an inch -- she stood her ground. I never witnessed anyone bullying her again. I felt so proud for having empowered her."

Be as loud as your bully

Now or Never host Trevor Dineen and Diego Saul Reyna standing on the roof of Vancouver's Trump Tower. (Andrew Friesen/CBC)
Diego Saul Reyna is a Mexican-Canadian construction worker who decided to stand up to Donald Trump, by planting a Mexican flag on top of Vancouver's Trump tower for everyone to see.

Reyna considers Donald Trump to be the ultimate bully.

"He grabs everybody in my country and puts them in a punching bag and then every morning he hits it 50 times," he declared.

"This includes everybody that I grew up with – my teachers that I admire,my parents,my grandparents,my children, everyone I have loved in my country." 

Reyna wanted everyone to know that people of many different backgrounds — including Mexicans and Muslims built that tower — from the steel beams to the drywall to the concrete finish.

"I felt like I was putting the last nail on something huge, symbolically," he said of hanging the flag.

After he hung the flag, he spontaneously posted it online. It was the first time Reyna had used social media to make a political statement. He is glad he did.

"Remember one thing. When somebody talks trash about someone, he doesn't say anything about you.  He says everything about himself. You are not the problem. The bully is the problem," he emphasized.

"There's always something you can do, by peaceful means. In my case the only thing I could do was post that Mexican flag at the top of the Trump Tower. "

Hold authorities accountable

Winston and Vania Karam took their School Board in Ottawa to court over bullying. (Courtesy V. Karam)
When Winston Karam was in Grade 7, two of his classmates turned against him. They harassed him, called him names and at one point, smashed his head into a water fountain. When he complained to school officials, they blamed him.

The bullying continued so his mom Vania tried to enlist the help of school officials. But they denied that he had been bullied and implied he was the problem. So she and Winston took their school board to court.  

The school board was found negligent in responding to Winston's complaints of school bullying.  Now, all schools there are required to respond to complaints of bullying, take action and protect students from harm that happens as a result of bullying.

Vania Karam has advice for other parents.

"I think you should always believe your kids," she offered.

"Try to get them out of that negative head space and help them to look forward."

Her son Winston also has advice for students.

"When it first happens, confront the person who is bullying you and try to solve it yourself," he suggested. "If it continues, go to someone you really trust. It could be a teacher, a friend or a parent. Tell them what's happening right away."

Throw the book at them

Derek Onysko is a school resource officer in Edmonton. (Andrew Friesen/CBC)
The city of Edmonton was the first city in Canada to outlaw schoolyard bullying.  It targets students under 18.  If they don't abide by the law, they may have to pay a $250 fine. 

"It's a great tool in our toolbox," school resources officer Derek Onysko explained. "In the past six years, there have been very few anti-bullying tickets that I've handed out."

According to Onysko, just knowing they might get fined seems to curb students from bullying.

"Usually when I'm dealing with a bullying issue and I bring up the bullying bylaw to kids, they're not always aware of the consequences," he explained.

"Their eyes open real wide when they hear they can be charged and fined $250 if they're not abiding by the law."

Since then, Regina, Port Coquitlam and small towns in Alberta have been inspired to adopt a similar bylaw.