Cumberland workshop steals the spotlight from bullies

Cumberland workshop steals the spotlight from bullies

Cumberland workshop steals the spotlight from bullies


Bullies abound in the Comox Valley, and they come in many disguises, such as mayors or other elected officials, nonprofit board members, popular high school students or managers of businesses large and small.

There are so many bullies these days, especially lurking around social media sites, that studies report more than 60 percent of high school students have been bullied and more than 70 percent of Canadians fear for their psychological safety at work.

At a workshop in Cumberland this week, organized by Village Mayor Leslie Baird, a mixed-gender panel of six Comox Valley residents shared their experiences of being bullied.

The panelists, who wished to remain anonymous, represented a wide spectrum of people in business, nonprofits and schools. And although their experiences revolved around a variety of circumstances — poverty, race, power differentials, gender — a number of common threads wove their stories together.

Bullying behavior feels like “the new normal,” according to the panelists.

One panel member suggested it was a “rough and tumble part of life” because humans have evolved as pack animals that prey on those who don’t belong, or fit in or who present a threat to conformity.

Another panelist said this pack mentality was evident in the cyber world where personal attacks and degrading comments are now so common they have become accepted.

“It’s got to the point where, if I don’t have to read a negative comment, it’s a good day,” she said. “There’s something wrong about that.”

While individual panelists said they had been bullied for a variety of different reasons — for example, racism and poverty — the underlying motivation was similar: People whose power comes from defending the pack’s standards are uncomfortable with those who don’t conform or fit in.

Simply wearing the wrong clothes in high school, perhaps because a student can’t afford the latest styles, can be seen as a threat that needs to be attacked.

The panelists also touched the issues of how to recognize when you or someone else is being bullied, and the moral dilemma of how to respond or intervene.
“I pick up signs when bullying is going on. I get uncomfortable. My hair starts to stand up,” said one panelist. “Bullying can sneak up on you.”

Another panelist said, “You know when you’re being bullied.”

And when a person is bullied, some people shut down. They can’t think fast enough to react in the moment. Only later do they think of all the things they should have said.

That’s why the panel agreed that bystanders to bullying play an important role in shutting down the bully and supporting the bully’s target.

Even showing non-verbal availability of support, such as making eye contact with the bully, or standing near the target, can diffuse the situation, panelists said.

One panelist, who has expertise in this area, offered an acronym for action in bullying situations: STAC.

“Steal the show by taking the limelight off the bully and creating a distraction. Tell someone that you have been bullied to affirm that it happened and to push out your self-doubt. Accompany the target by showing support. Coach and have Compassion for the bully by helping them see the consequences of their behavior, and how the other person felt,” she said.

Mayor Baird thanked the panel for sharing their personal stories, some of which brought tears, and the audience of about 40 for their interest. Baird organized a similar workshop last year.



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Cumberland mayor to shine light on bullying in local politics, nonprofits

Cumberland mayor to shine light on bullying in local politics, nonprofits

George Le Masurier photo

Cumberland mayor to shine light on bullying in local politics, nonprofits


Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird knows what it’s like to be bullied as an adult woman in the Comox Valley. She entered politics in the early 1990s, when the Village Council table was more the province of men than it is today. And she has sat on enough nonprofit boards to experience dictatorial board chairs and intimidating fellow board members.

So she knows that bullying in local politics and nonprofits has nothing to do with the #metoo era, social media or overreaching political correctness.

And the mayor is determined to shine a spotlight on the problem.

Baird has invited 80 local women, and some men, to a second workshop that will feature local citizens talking about their experiences with bullying in politics, nonprofits and business workplaces. More than 40 women attended her first workshop last spring.

“We’re broadening our perspective this time,” she told Decafnation. “And including a focus on nonprofits and other organizations, not just politics.”

Baird and her committee have assembled a panel that includes professionals to help define bullying, how to recognize it and what to do what it happens.

“One of the goals of this workshop is not just to learn how to defend yourself against bullying, but also how to recognize it when it’s happening to someone else,” she said.

The last time Baird was bullied herself occurred at a Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce meeting, and the perpetrator was a male elected official.

“No one stopped him,” she said. “His behavior changed the whole atmosphere for everyone, made us all uncomfortable. Very negative.”

Baird said people who don’t stop or call out bullying are accessories to the crime. So she hopes the workshop will help people recognize bullying and find the courage to step in when it’s appropriate.

“I know that would be easier for some people to do than others,” she said. “But I think you would feel good that you did something that needed to be done.”

Bullying in nonprofits

According to a 2014 University of Windsor study more than half of Canadians reported at least one act of workplace harassment every week for the previous six months. A 2014 Angus Reid survey found that 43 percent of women have been sexually harassed on the job. And a Great West Life study reported that 71 percent of Canadian employees report concern over their psychological safety at work.

And nonprofits are not immune.

The Canadian online resource for nonprofits, Charity Village, reports that 78 percent of workplace bullies outrank their targets. And that includes donors or board members who threaten or intimidate nonprofit employees.

Board bullying is common and, according to one article on Charity Village, may be “more prevalent in the nonprofit sector than in the business sector.”

Bullying on nonprofit boards comes in five main forms, according to Charity Village: internal board interactions (such as ostracism and peer pressure), board to staff, board self-dealing (such as pressure to deliver inappropriate favors or benefits), sexual harassment and enabling bullying among staff (such as failing to take action, or willful ignorance of bullying at the staff level).

Bullying in politics

Bullying in politics is not a new concept. Men have historically dominated public office and the pioneering women who dared to enter this domain have almost all experienced some form of bullying.

Baird says she has noticed that political culture is slowly evolving, but holding public office is still harder today for women than for men.

“Some men don’t realize they are doing it, because they’ve been doing it for so long,” she said. “If you’ve been bullied for years, it’s hard to get out of that situation.”

Baird said local politics is a prime hotbed for bullying.

“People think they have the right to say anything they want to, especially during election campaigns. It can be very hurtful,” she said.

As a mayor, Baird tries to avoid using her position in a way that intimidates other council members.

“Every councillor has the right to speak uninterrupted and to voice their opinion,” she said. “The mayor’s job is not to argue or criticize another councillor’s thoughts. We get a better product if we all listen to what other people are saying.”

There have been various and serious allegations of bullying against several different trustees on the Union Bay Improvement District for years.

Men also experience bullying, though perhaps not as frequently as women.

Former BC Liberal Party cabinet minister Bill Bennett called Premier Gordon Campbell a bully who was vocally abusive, sometimes reducing caucus members to tears.

“You have almost a battered wife syndrome inside our caucus today,” Bennett was quoted as saying at the time.

Positive outcomes

Bullying in politics or in nonprofits isn’t something that people feel comfortable talking about, according to Baird. Women, for example, just learn to deal with it.

So the Cumberland mayor hopes her workshop can break through that barrier.

“I want to make it (bullying) visible,” she said. “And when it does happen, not to sit back and allow it to continue, that people will stand up and stop it.”




Bullying happens when there is an imbalance of power; where someone purposely and repeatedly says or does hurtful things to someone else. Bullying can occur one on one or in a group(s) of people. There are many different forms of bullying:

Physical bullying (using your body or objects to cause harm): includes hitting, punching, kicking, spitting or breaking someone else’s belongings.
Verbal bullying (using words to hurt someone): includes name calling, put-downs, threats and teasing.
Social bullying (using your friends and relationships to hurt someone): includes spreading rumours, gossiping, excluding others from a group or making others look foolish or unintelligent. This form of bullying is most common among girls.

— Children who bully are 37% more likely than children who do not bully to commit criminal offences as adults. (Public Safety)

Cyberbullying involves the use of communication technologies such as the Internet, social networking sites, websites, email, text messaging and instant messaging to repeatedly intimidate or harass others.

Cyberbullying includes:

— Sending mean or threatening emails or text/instant messages.
— Posting embarrassing photos of someone online.
— Creating a website to make fun of others.
— Pretending to be someone by using their name.
— Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and sending it to others.
— Cyberbullying affects victims in different ways than traditional bullying. It can follow a victim everywhere 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from school, to the mall and all the way into the comfort of their home – usually safe from traditional forms of bullying.

— Source, RCMP



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Comox Valley mother seeks info about vicious attack on girl

Comox Valley mother seeks info about vicious attack on girl

The attack took place on the commonly-used trail to Valley View Elementary and Mark Isfeld High School

Comox Valley mother seeks info about vicious attack on girl


UPDATE: RCMP are investigating the incident and have a lead to one possible suspect. According to an RCMP statement, one of the attackers had long blonde hair and wore black and white checkered shoes and black and white pants. Another wore baggy blue jeans with Vans shoes. One of the attackers wore a purple toque. The victim heard both boy and girl voices.

The mother o the girl confirmed for Decafnation that her daughter had been bullied throughout the school year and had received multiple threatening texts, most recently from a number that was unknown at the time, but that RCMP may have now identified. At one point during the year, the texts became so threatening, that the Meszaros changed their daughters cell phone number.

Read a statement by the Comox Valley School board of trustees here


A fifteen-year-old girl was beaten unconscious by a group of four other teenagers, while walking to school Tuesday morning.

Cheryl Meszaros posted a plea for information on her Facebook page. She’s seeking anyone who witnessed something “suspicious in any way or form between 8:30-8:45am on April 23,” on the trail from Valley View Drive through to Valley View Elementary school between the BlackBerry bushes.

The young woman was attacked from behind and did not see her assailants.

Students who go to the elementary school and Mark Isfeld High School use the trail regularly.

Meszaros plea on social media brought an outpouring of support, and several stories of similar incidents at or near Comox Valley schools.

One poster said their granddaughter was “bullied and tortured almost daily” at Highland High School. But complaints to the principal resulted in no action. “The school board and the school won’t (solve) the problem.” the person wrote.

Another poster said “It’s the biggest lie that schools tell all parents : We will NOT tolerate bullying!” They said they had called “countless times” to the school and the school district office, complaining about bullying of their child, but got no help from either source.

Meszaros told Decafnation that anyone with information about this latest attack can message her via Facebook.



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