My Response to the Minister on Pink Shirt Day

In 2007, two grade 12 students in Nova Scotia saw a new student being bullied with homophobic slurs because he had worn a pink shirt to school. Instead of looking the other way, David Shepherd and Travis Price decided to act. They organized a school protest, buying and distributing 50 pink T-shirts to their friends and encouraging others to wear pink the next day.

That simple act of kindness and solidarity 10 years ago unleashed a sea of pink that has washed to 25 countries and engaged students, schools, communities, law enforcement and Legislatures in standing up to bullying. Anyone who has ever been bullied, whose child has been bullied, understands the pain and devastation that bullying can cause.

But the impact reaches beyond the victim and the bully. Bullying can be just as harmful to the bystander, especially those who feel powerless to intervene. Pink Shirt Day gives bystanders a tool to respond to bullying. By wearing pink, we are signalling that we will not tolerate bullying anywhere.

I want to recognize the amazing work that is being done in schools to empower bystanders and to engage students in initiatives like Pink Shirt Day. Schools are doing this work in the face of provincial underfunding that is challenging the capacity of education workers to manage the increasingly complex behavioural and mental health needs of students. The effective implementation of anti-bullying programs requires resources. It requires more educational assistants in our schools, more child and youth workers, behavioural counsellors, psychologists and social workers.

At the same time, the pervasiveness of bullying in schools, homes, workplaces and online requires a whole-community response, which is why programs like, in my community, the city of London, The Pledge to End Bullying are so important.

But meaningful bullying prevention must be more than a one-time event, more than wearing pink one day or reciting a pledge. Creating a community where everyone feels safe, valued and included requires an ongoing commitment to treat others with kindness and respect, and to speak out against bullying whenever and wherever we see it.