In November 2011, Glen Canning’s daughter, Rehtaeh, was sexually assaulted by four males at a house party near Halifax. The assault was photographed and shared on social media. Rehtaeh was subsequently harassed and bullied for months. In 2013, suffering from depression, she took her own life.
Canning is now an advocate for victims of sexual assault and bullying, and continues to push for changes to the Criminal Code of Canada. Next week, he will provide the keynote address at a conference dedicated to promoting healthy relationships among youth, in the hopes stories like Rehtaeh’s never happen again.
The conference, hosted by the Faculty of Education’s Centre for School Mental Health and Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women & Children (CREVAWC), takes place Feb. 15-17 at the London Convention Centre. It brings together experts and practitioners from the fields of children’s mental health and the fields of violence and bullying prevention, working together to find a better way forward.
The state of children’s mental health, and the incidence of bullying and violence among students, are the two major concerns that exist in today’s school system. The subjects have been analyzed, discussed and problem-solved for years but, typically, in isolation from each other.
“The subjects are, however, quite interrelated,” said CREVAWC Academic Director Peter Jaffe. “Poor mental health can often stem from being victimized by bullying, and bullying behaviours can stem from problems with poor mental health.”
Jaffe and Claire Crooks, Director of the Faculty of Education’s Centre for School Mental Health, decided to co-host the conference in order to take a more inclusive approach.
The key to it all, said Crooks, is developing solid, respectful relationships.
“Both of these areas of concern, poor mental health and bullying, exist in the realm of unhealthy relationships,” she said. “We want to fill the room with people from academics, educators, experts in mental health and justice, policy makers and legislators, to combine what they know and work together to promote productive, healthy relationships for youth so these types of issues are less likely to occur.”
The conference features a number of sessions and workshops, in addition to several keynote speakers, including Canning.
“Mr. Canning can speak with authority to the key role of educators, as well as health and justice professionals, in responding to youth who are bullied because of his first-hand experience with trying to get help for his daughter,” said Jaffe. “Rehtaeh’s story offers critical lessons to be learned to prevent tragedies in similar circumstances in the future. Her father is an important voice for us all to hear.”
Jaffe and Crooks hope to see the conference have an impact on the school system as soon as possible. As such, they’ve specifically invited every public and Catholic school board trustee and director of education in Ontario.
To date, they have more than 400 people registered to attend.
“Based on the registration alone this conference is already a success in my mind,” said Jaffe. “We’re overwhelmed by the response and can’t wait to gather everyone together.”
And while the conference is aimed at professionals in the field, parents and community members are also welcome to attend.
“We’d love to see anyone concerned about youth social and emotional wellbeing attend,” said Jaffe. “The whole idea behind this conference is to get as many people doing work in this area to connect with each other.”