Pink Shirt Day rally at legislature targets cyberbullying

A simple act of kindness in 2007 continues to inspire people around the world to wear pink.

It led to establishment of the annual Pink Shirt Day, which evolved from two Nova Scotia high-school students urging their peers to put on some pink in support of a student who was being picked on for wearing a pink shirt. The grassroots campaign nipped the problem in the bud while generating considerable media attention.

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Now in its 11th year, Pink Shirt Day has gone on to become a rallying point for anti-bullying, with this year’s activities having an emphasis on cyberbullying. Politicians, students and teachers — some wearing pink shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Nice Needs No Filter” — joined together on the steps of the legislature Wednesday to spread a message of friendliness and tolerance.

Reynolds Secondary School and Cedar Hill Middle School were represented.

Victoria Croder, a Grade 12 student at Reynolds, said Pink Shirt Day serves a useful purpose in helping to deal with bullying.

“It’s definitely to raise awareness and to educate people more about the problem.”

She said some people seem to regard online comments they make as giving an opinion rather than being rude “and I think that’s something that definitely needs to change.”

Taking action can make a difference, Croder said.

“It’s like a rain droplet in an ocean and it will make a ripple effect.”

On hand to speak to the crowd was Carol Todd, whose 15-year-old daughter Amanda committed suicide in 2012 after being victimized by online sexual exploitation. Carol Todd has gone on to share her story and to talk about ways to avoid further tragedy.

“In this 21st century, technology has been added to make the world of parenting a bit more complex,” she said.

She said parents want to know what they can do about cyberbullying. “They want to be able to prevent it and they also want to be able to react to it in the chance that their child is being targeted.”

Issues of concern are not confined to older children, she said.

“Children as young as nine years old are asking for devices and permission to be on social-media applications,” she said.

“As parents it is important to understand how to set the rules surrounding the use of technology and to keep their children safe.

“Empowering our parents with knowledge is a safety measure.”

Premier John Horgan, a Reynolds graduate, said the young people at Wednesday’s event are an example to politicians — who sometimes act in an “aggressive” manner with one an other while inside the legislature.

“We’re reminded by youth about how we should act toward each other in the interest of fostering goodwill between people and in the interest of fostering goodwill between different perspectives.”

It is important to remember that people are all the same inside, Horgan said.

“We weep together, we laugh together, we celebrate together.”

He said focusing on cyberbullying this year is a response to “a critical problem.”

Education Minister Rob Fleming announced the creation of program aimed at cyberbullying, with the provincial government putting $100,000 into a fund for social-media education sessions for parents on cyberbullying issues.

“The sessions are called Raising Digitally Responsible Youth,” Fleming said. “And they’ll be delivered in school districts across the province, giving parents the tools they need to help their children use the Internet and social media safely.”

Merchandise sales and donations through the years to Pink Shirt Day have raised money for anti-bullying programs, with $1.8 million distributed since 2008 in western Canada.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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