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Law on bullying divides

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I know what it feels like to be depressed, bitter, hopeless. At age 17 I was in a car hit by a semi-trailer truck. I was found with no pulse, not breathing.

When I woke from a coma weeks later, a large part of my skull rebuilt with metal, I went through the emotions typical of trauma. I was angry. Then I realized, we're all going to have bad days. What you do with it matters. I could stay bitter about the life I'd lost, or use the experience to help others.

I started writing and playing music I formed the Robb Nash Project. I had four Top 10 Canadian radio singles when I decided to cancel my record deal and instead tour and tell my story in prisons, youth detention centres, native reserves and schools. You don't have to get hit by a truck to learn to make every day count. We've shared stories of tragedy and inspiration with more than 800,000 students in Canada.

When I saw Bill 18, the anti-bullying law, I got excited. Then I read it. While the intention behind it is great, I don't believe it's the answer.

Online debates and discussions seem to be focusing on politics and religion, rather than on the kids we're trying to help. At the centre of the debate is the gay-straight alliance, to be mandated in all schools.

When I first heard about the alliance, I was impressed with its pure intentions. But while on tour, I met a young girl who was depressed and suicidal. I asked what started it. She said it began the day after she joined the gay-straight alliance. Someone carved an anti-gay slur into her locker door. Someone defended her by writing an equally awful response in the other person's locker. The war began.

There were tears in her eyes as she begged me. "If you meet someone looking to join this alliance, make them think twice." She said it was the worst mistake she had ever made. What was to be the first day of newfound freedom became her nightmare. I promised I would tell her story.

I'm not denying there are stories of young people finding friends and support through this group. If it works in your school for your students, keep going. But it works because those students have found acceptance. Do we have to be part of an alliance to find it?

I keep hearing the young girl's story over and over, from other kids. It's common. Neither parents nor teachers nor politicians would know this. Bullying originates from the differences between us. Naming and highlighting the difference can be fuel for the fire.

I'm 6-5. I can see over the kids' heads to the students at risk. They're alone, segregated, and not necessarily gay. There are a lot of things that make us different and a potential target. Do we need a tall/short group, or a skinny/overweight one?

I've spoken with too many families who have lost sons and daughters to suicide. Something needs to be done.

We need to treat each other well, no matter our differences. We should look for common ground, celebrate our sameness, the things that make us all human. We should teach empathy and compassion and tolerance. We can't legislate this problem away. Laws forcing us to join this group or that, identifying us with what makes us different will most likely result in more stories like the one above.

Teachers, principals and parents face a huge challenge. There's no consistency from school to school, city to city or province to province on guidelines related to bullying. That should be the focus of our government through this bill. Define the nature of bullying and let school staff, parents and students know if you're caught doing these things, there are clearly spelled out consequences.

I'm not claiming to have all the answers. I'm simply trying to keep our kids alive and let them know they have the strength to get through their worst days. I wish someone had told me that as I lay in recovery after my accident.

Bill 18, as written, is not the answer.


Robb Nash is the founder of the Robb Nash Project, an award-winning program that engages young people through the power of music and words, encouraging them to make positive life choices and lead lives of purpose.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2013 A11

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