Nearly ten years ago, Airdrie's City Council made amendments to its Public behaviour bylaw, in which bullying was specifically enumerated on.

According to the bylaw (B-09/2007), bullying is defined as "repeated and hostile or demeaning behaviour by an individual in the municipality, either directly or through any medium whatsoever, where the behaviour results in harm, fear or distress to one or more individuals in the municipality including, but not limited to, physical harm, psychological harm or harm to an individual's reputation."

If a person is found guilty of bullying under the bylaw, there is a fine of $500. This fine could potentially be reduced to $125, "if the offender successfully completes an approved anti-bullying counselling session(s) or educational program." A second or subsequent offence(s) carries a fine of $1,000.

However, when Discover Airdrie previously asked the City of Airdrie, how many times the anti-bullying bylaw was enforced between the time it was enacted and 2023, The City (Municipal Enforcement), in a previously written reply stated that no charges had been filed under the bylaw by Municipal Enforcement.  

"In most cases, the RCMP investigates these allegations and relies primarily on the Criminal Code (e.g. harassment, assault)," the city previously wrote. 

This has some Airdrie parents voicing their increasing frustration and feelings of helplessness that not nearly enough is being done to combat bullying.

'If my child is going through this, how many other kids are going through it?'

C., whose full name is not being published for privacy reasons, said that her child has been bullied for several years, by what she believes is the same group of individuals. According to C., the bullying her child has experienced has had detrimental consequences on not only their mental health but their body image and physical health.

"I realized this last year - They won't eat or drink in the morning or at school, then they come home famished," she said. "They're just so withdrawn."

However, the bullying turned physical in a recent incident. C., said her child called her saying that a group of individuals was circling them outside the school building. She underlined that the majority of bullying incidents have occurred inside the school building, especially during class transition time. 

C., said that her child was allegedly physically assaulted when the group of individuals threw rocks at them and were prodding them with sticks while verbally harassing them. Though her child had said that they clearly warned the individuals to stop, the individuals continues didn't and things came to a head when C., said that her child used physical force to defend themselves.

C., alerted the school to the incident and by the time she came to pick up her child, the school administration had intervened. C., said that at least two of the individuals that participated in the incident received a one-week out-of-school suspension, while another received a two-week out-of-school suspension, though her child also received a suspension in school. The school relayed to C., that they were taking this incident very seriously. 

She has not reported the incident to the RCMP, though she did say that if this continues she would consider filing a report.

"What I fear is, it's going to get worse - a lot worse, a lot faster. That is my biggest fear. These are kids, they don't understand what they're doing; they'll understand when they're adults, how much they ruin people's lives. But right now, they're not getting it," she said.

Since the incident occurred, C. has relayed to Discover Airdrie that several of the individuals involved in the physical altercation with her child have returned to school and had once again bullied her child. She wrote that the school administration was working to get the details of the most recent incidents.

C., like other parents who are speaking out about their children being bullied in school, expressed exasperation at what they see as a lack of concrete consequences for those who participate in alleged bullying behaviour.

"An [out-of-school suspension] that's a holiday for them? I definitely don't think that's a harsh enough punishment. They should be doing community service."

'If you send me to school, I might not come back from school.'

E. said that her child began getting bullied in kindergarten. 

"We did move school[s] at the end of Grade two. It was two months before the end of school because there were death threats."

Though she had contacted the police, there was no legal remedy because the individual[s] in question was too young for there to be any ramifications applied. E., also petitioned the school administration.

"I asked to talk to the kids' parents, and they said they wouldn't bring us in together to have a discussion."

Although E., underlined that between grades one and three, things seemed to be improving in a different school, with school administration doling out what she saw as appropriate consequences for bullying behaviour, she said that things took a turn for the worst once her child began Grade five a different school.

"All hell broke loose. My child was pushed and name-called. My kid was the one that constantly [had to say] say sorry, to these kids," she said. "One kid dropped their hat and my kid went and picked it up and the bully said, 'If you ever touch my, hat again, I'm going to break your arm.' My child would call me from the bathroom during school hours. I would have to make an excuse to call to pick them up from school."

E., said she feels consequences for bullying that are handed down by the schools are not resolute enough to enact behavioural change. 

"They don't do anything. It's a slap on the wrist," she said. "With junior high kids - where's the bullying law that comes into effect there?"

Although her child's mental health has improved, looking back at the previous years, E., said it has had a definitive impact on her child.

"Back then it was unbearable. They [were] depressed; didn't want to wake up, didn't want to do schoolwork. They'd say to me, 'If you send me to school, I might not come back from school," she said. "[The decision for online schooling] was because of the bullying."

'It takes all of us: parents, police, and community to address any type of behavioural issue'

According to Cpl. James McConnell of the Airdrie RCMP Community Policing Unit, while the anti-bullying bylaw is used in presentations by school resource officers as a way to raise awareness of the potential consequences of bullying, he confirmed that the Airdrie RCMP has never issued a ticket under the bylaw.

"The bylaw provided by council is for municipal enforcement and police to have another tool. Having said that, the tools that we have, in terms of a criminal investigation[s], already encompass it. It's dealt with through the criminal investigative process. What the criminal charges do is give us a little bit more room to work. In laying a charge we can put in no contact conditions - which the bylaw doesn't allow for," he stated. 

Cpl. McConnell said throughout the current school year, police have in fact laid various criminal charges that stemmed from bullying in schools, though he was not at liberty to go into any details as those cases are still before the courts. 

When asked if the Airdrie RCMP believes bullying is a pervasive issue in Airdrie schools, McConnell cited statistics provided by the Alberta Teacher's Association (ATA).

He said that according to the ATA, 88 per cent of schools are reporting complex needs in their students and 86 per cent of teachers are reporting complexity issues in their student populations.

"We know now more than ever, that there are issues and complexities within classrooms and schools, and that's 100 per cent why we have our community policing unit/school resource officers to support them."

McConnell also addressed the fact that while some parents may feel consequences are not going far enough when it comes to bullying, he said that it's important to remember that there may be extenuating circumstances in which harsh[er] consequences may in fact not address underlying issues.

He pointed to a 2019 American study from the National Library of Medicine, which in its conclusions found that:

"Suspensions may incite adverse long-term outcomes extending into adulthood. When interpreted through the life-course perspective, these findings suggest that suspensions may serve as important antisocial turning points that reshape trajectories and usher youth toward incarceration later in life."

However, McConnell did underline that there are consequences nonetheless, but they are on a case-by-case basis which also takes into account what the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) says:

"Extrajudicial measures are often the most appropriate and effective way to address youth crime; extrajudicial measures are presumed to be adequate to hold a young person accountable for his or her offending behaviour if the young person has committed a non-violent offence and has not previously been found guilty of an offence."

When asked if the Airdrie RCMP has enough resources, especially school resources officers, he said more could be done with more officers.

"Increasing the capacity of our School Resource Program is a priority for the detachment. My understanding is that it's also a priority for The City and council. I'd like to add that the two officers we have - are exceptional."

'Rocky View Schools is committed to offering safe and positive environments'

Although Rocky View Schools has previously stated that they would not comment on individuals and specific incidents in their schools, they did provide a written statement.

"Our schools are carefully cultivated as safe places to learn and to work. In support of this, our students must follow RVS’ Student Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct sets out our expectations of students’ behaviour, outlines examples of behaviours that are prohibited such as bullying, and describes what is considered in reviewing student behaviour and some of the possible consequences of unacceptable behaviour," RVS stated.

They added that school administrators are committed to addressing situations that are concerning to students and families as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

"Each situation is unique and our response and the support offered are based on meeting the needs of the student(s) involved. Ongoing communication between the school and families is essential and we strongly encourage all students and parents/guardians to bring any concerns they have to their teacher or administrator as they happen." 

RVS said that school administration works with the school community, the division and partners such as RCMP as part of preventative and restorative strategies to help address behaviours and support a positive learning environment for all students.

"This includes a wide range of approaches like presentations, mediation, training, meetings and investigations. RVS highly values the strong partnership we have with RCMP and the support they provide for our schools and our students."

The school division also added that any student who feels unsafe at school should talk to their school administration or an adult they trust who can bring their concerns to the administration.

"There are supports, protocols and safety plans that can be put into place based on the unique needs of that student and the situation."

'This is an extremely complicated matter that needs many voices at the table to come up with a solution.'

In a written response, City Councillor Tina Petrow stated that the council is aware of some of the incidents that have occurred in the community.

"Members of Council have been contacted by concerned residents and parents in the community and understand the concerns," Councillor Petrow wrote. She pointed to a motion put forward by Councillor Spearman and herself on November 2, 2021:

"Airdrie City Council directs administration to bring back information on actions taken to date to combat bullying and investigate options to create a community stakeholder committee/ working group for the purpose of information sharing and strategy building to help tackle this community issue. This committee could include stakeholders such as (but not limited to) the City of Airdrie, RCMP, all school divisions private and public, school administrations and social service agencies."

Councillor Petrow added that since the motion was made, the city has been working with various stakeholders to understand the complexities of the issue and who all needs to be at the table.

"We will be bringing forward more details and options when they are available."

According to statistics provided by Public Safety Canada, nearly 50 per cent of Canadian parents have at least one child that has been a victim of bullying, while around one-third of teenagers have been bullied recently.

A 2018 study found that "Students who experienced bullying or cyberbullying are nearly two times more likely to attempt suicide."

If you or someone you know is experiencing bullying or a mental health crisis there are resources available:

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