A man who recently received an apology from the North Vancouver school district for a homophobic slur printed in a 1970 school annual says he's shocked by the recent suicide of a Port Coquitlam teenager after she was also bullied at school and online.
"I'm totally shocked," said Robin Tomlin, who recently went public with his own story of bullying that happened in North Vancouver 42 years ago.
"My first thought was 'We've got to stop this,'" said Tomlin. "As Canadians, we should all hang our heads in shame."
Tomlin was voicing his shock on Friday along with others from around North America about the tragic story of 15-yearold Amanda Todd.
Todd was found dead on Wednesday of an apparent suicide. That was just five weeks after she posted a wrenching video on YouTube that told the story of how she endured years of bullying.
In the video, Todd didn't speak but held up pieces of paper with written phrases describing how she was harassed through Facebook and how an embarrassing photo was continually circulated online. She switched schools to try to escape the bullying, but she continued to be targeted. In the video, she wrote of being suicidal.
Tomlin said the fact the video had been posted for weeks and was viewed by her peers without anyone succeeding in helping the teen is shameful. "Everybody that knew her" is partly responsible for her death, he said. "They didn't do anything."
Tomlin said despite the passage of time since his own trauma at the hands of bullies, "she fell through some of the same cracks I went through . . . the school system failed her."
Tomlin said he thinks bullying is even worse for kids these days, because so much of the behaviour takes place online where it's difficult to track perpetrators and slurs never go away.
Since he went public with his own story this month, "I've had mothers email me saying it happened to their kids," he said.
Tomlin said he believes the province should set up a task force on bullying and enact stronger rules and guidelines for school districts to follow.
In a case like Todd's, direct intervention is needed, said Tomlin.
Cari Wilson, a digital literacy teacher for elementary school students in West Vancouver, said Todd's tragic story has got a lot of teachers talking about issues of bullying and online behaviour with their students.
"It's really hit a lot of us," she said. "A lot of us are really thinking that could have been one of our students."
Teachers are also grappling with the question of whether social media is to blame for situations like Todd's or whether that just makes it easier for bullies to victimize teens.
Wilson said Todd's story illustrates the way that posting photos or information online can come back to haunt kids if they don't understand the repercussions of their actions. But "no person deserves to be treated that way," said Wilson.
Wilson said she's seen the video and shocked by the kinds of taunts Todd endured.
She said she'd like to see laws changed so that those who post hateful comments online can be tracked and criminally prosecuted.
Wilson stressed there is help for kids who are being bullied in local school districts.
She said she'd also like to see adults and kids start to use social media to combat bullying.