On December 31st 2010 the The Chief newspaper in Squamish published an article on a recent school bullying incident where a 14 year old girl retaliated with further acts of violence, and was suspended. The writer, Meagan Robertson, and others in the community, actually came out in support of this young girl and were more angry at her suspension, than her violent acts of retaliation. When you also consider that many local parents previously initiated a petition which was presented to the local school district to instigate a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying where ALL incidents are treated as criminal, it is a shocking and embarrassing contradiction for some in the community, including at least one journalist from the Chief, to come out in support of violent retaliation in this case. Squamish will never be taken seriously if this is the best we can do when trying to deal with, or respond to, the serious issue of violence in our schools.

Revenge… is like a rolling stone, which, when a man hath forced up a hill, will return upon him with a greater violence, and break those bones whose sinews gave it motion.” (Albert Schweitzer)

Based on the media coverage, the 14 year old girl was punched from behind by a boy and so she turned around and punched him back. Last week there was a previous article on the same incident which indicated that this boy later started throwing things at her and that she then “walked over and  slapped him”, which led to the suspension. Allow me to make this perfectly clear. BOTH the boy AND the girl acted aggressively and BOTH are equally guilty of a violent and inappropriate act. Nobody should be trying to defend either of their conduct. If we were to follow through with the previous demands of some parents for immediate RCMP intervention on ALL cases of bullying, treating them as criminal acts, both the girl and the boy are EQUALLY wrong and should be held EQUALLY responsible for their violent conduct. Admittedly the girl was attacked first.  And yes, the Charter, self-preservation and common sense does support the right for one to defend themselves. But violent retaliation and self-defense are NOT THE SAME THING. This girl had the choice to walk away. She also had the choice to go straight to the office or RCMP and report the assault. Instead she choose to retaliate with the same violence which was perpetrated against her. This was NOT the only option of self-defense for the 14 year old and should be condemned equally, and as vigorously as the boy’s first attack. Also, if we were to reverse the genders here, and this time it was the girl who slapped or punched the boy first, and the boy returned fire with punching or slapping the girl, I would bet you the community would have been outraged at his violent response and would not be so quick to come to his defense or excuse his violent conduct in the name of “self-defense”.

Ms Robertson has covered this incident more than once. In the first article, she states that “If a boy hit a girl from behind on the street – purposely – one would expect some sort of retaliation”. I must admit, my heart and sympathy goes out to Ms Robertson since she must have grown up in a world where violence appeared to be the norm. Ms Robertson appears to see the world as a place filled with violent, retaliatory and aggressive people. She states that we need to look at these situations “realistically” and when someone is attacked we should “expect some sort of retaliation”. Although there is most certainly a great deal of violence taking place every day in the world, no reasonable (or better informed person) would then take the giant leap into implying this is some sort of general rule and behavior we should “expect” all the time. Or, that violent retaliation is the only “realistic” response. This is an absurd claim which exposes Ms Roberton’s lack of understanding, experience and naivete with regards to the world. She also fails to recognize the potential damage caused by coming out publicly in support of violent retaliation as an acceptable response to bullying. These sorts of irresponsible and ill-informed opinions do not serve the community, or the youth trying to grow up in a safe and violence-free school system. We need to set our sights, and the quality/validity of our information/advise, much higher than this if we ever hope to realistically address the serious issue of violence in our schools.

Ms Robertson tries to cover her butt by prefacing her statements with “Not to condone violence as the answer, but situations should be looked at realistically”. However, what Ms. Robertson has done is claim she does not want to condone violence on the one hand, but then goes on to say that this girl had the right to retaliate violently and imply that this is a “realistic” response and to be “expected”. Is Ms Robertson incapable of recognizing this transparent and blatant contradiction? Also, the parents who came out against the 14 year old girl getting suspended for slapping the boy, and supporting her violent retaliation as “self-defense”, cant have it both ways either. They want some sort of zero-tolerance RCMP/criminal involvement in all cases of bullying and/or assault. Yet, some parents (and the Chief) appear to support girls retaliating violently towards boys, and not holding them accountable to the same standard of zero-tolerance. Once again, a clear and embarrassing contradiction, gender-bias and unequal application of a proposed policy of zero-tolerance.

If we are going to propose/implement policies to deal with violence and bullying, or take a stand against such behavior, we must hold all perpetrators EQUALLY responsible and policies must be applied equally to everyone. If we hope to address the issue of bullying in our schools we most certainly can’t propose or implement a zero-tolerance policy involving the RCMP and treating all incidents as criminal, and then turn around and come out publicly in support of violent retaliation. Also, self-defense does not equate with violent retaliation. To imply this is to come out in support of violence as a solution to some situations and to reinforce the view of many outside of Squamish that we are an uniformed “backwoods” or “redneck” community. We will never be able to improve the bullying situation, or how we as a community are viewed, until we begin to expand our knowledge-base and how we form our opinions and responses to important issues. When the media comes out in support of violent retaliation and writes glaring contradictions, we all suffer as a community and will continue to struggle as we try to improve our image. But first and foremost, if we are going to have any hope whatsoever in resolving, or at least improving the bullying situation in our schools, we must ensure we are looking at these issues realistically, rationally, objectively and with evidence-based solutions and “expert” opinions. We most certainly cant take a stand or propose a zero-tolerance policy AGAINST violence in some situations or for some students, and then come out in defense of violent retaliation for others. Nobody will ever take us seriously as a community if this is the best we can do. Nor can we ever expect to come up with a successful, long-term solution to bullying if we cant even show consistency in our stand against violence.

Yes, the impassioned and emotional opinions of outraged parents, the media and the community are useful and serve a purpose. However, they should never be used to formulate policies or to support violence as a solution. We have many knowledgeable, and most certainly motivated people in our community concerned about the issue of bullying, and with a desire to improve things. This is a great start so lets try to move forward, rather than backwards, starting with a consistent and equal application of policy and equal expectation of non-violent behavior from all of our students. The media’s role is to inform the public so maybe the Chief can also begin to provide some helpful suggestions, or better informed articles, beyond coming out in support of violent retaliation to bullying and writing articles containing blatant and embarrassing contradictions.