© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Country music star Donny Parenteau speaks to students about bullying at City Hall on Tuesday during a pep rally that marked the official start of Victims of Crime Awareness Week as well as the conference “Free From Fear” -- Standing Up To Bullying, which ties the week’s events together with an anti-bullying theme.
Students, teachers and local dignitaries assembled in the City Hall foyer on Tuesday for a pep rally that marked the official start of Victims of Crime Awareness Week.
Anti-bullying is the central focus of local events planned throughout the week, which this year is being organized nationally around the theme “Taking Action.”
In partnership with the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division (SRPSD) and with the support of the Prince Albert Catholic School Division (PACSD), Prince Albert Victim Services and the Compassionate Community Response Team (CCRT) have planned multiple events as part of a multi-day conference entitled “Free From Fear” -- Standing Up To Bullying.
Tuesday’s pep rally marked the start of the conference and began with the official declaration of Victims of Crime Awareness Week courtesy of CCRT member Dennis Serfas, who also introduced several guest speakers.
“The goal for the week and this conference that we are introducing with this kickoff rally is to raise awareness around the issues facing victims of crime as well as the services and programs available to help victims and their families,” Serfas said.
“The national theme this year is ‘Taking Action,’ and locally, we decided to take action by focusing on the issue of bullying in our community and surrounding areas.”
Following an opening prayer delivered by elder Rhoda Peekeekoot, Serfas read a statement by Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback -- who is currently in Ottawa -- welcoming participants.
Emphasizing the federal government’s commitment to addressing the rights of crime victims, such as through its recently announced legislation to create a Canadian Victims’ Bill of Rights, Hoback’s statement took a partisan tone by criticizing previous Liberal governments “who for 13 years put the rights of offenders ahead of the rights of victims.”
Following the statement, the first guest speaker was Coun. Don Cody, who offered greetings on behalf of Mayor Greg Dionne and city council and thanked organizers for their work.
“I can think of nothing worse than being a victim of a crime,” Cody said. “That’s got to be awfully hard on your heart.
“Victims of crime is a very serious, serious thing -- just like being a victim of bullying, and I have to congratulate the community for taking on this project.”
Offering greetings on behalf of Minister of Justice and Attorney General Gordan Wyant was victim services branch northern program manager Trisha Hourie, who listed a variety of programs and services available to victims and their families in the Prince Albert area.
She noted that the Victim Services unit at the Prince Albert Police Service includes an aboriginal resource officer, missing persons liaison divisions and Prince Albert regional victim services for surrounding RCMP detachments.
Other options include a program for children exposed to violence, an aboriginal family violence program at the Indian-Métis Friendship Centre and Prince Albert Grand Council Women’s Commission and programs for vulnerable witnesses offering testimony in court.
Thanking local volunteer victim support workers, Hourie cast an optimistic eye to the future.
“This is an exciting time in Canada in terms of the growing awareness of the needs of victims and the growth of services,” she said. “It is also an exciting time right here in Saskatchewan as we observe much change and growth in the responses to victims of crime.
“We are currently working to expand police-based victim services across Saskatchewan and in the last year we saw services expand to 10 new regions of the province. Victims services will be available in every community later this year.”
The next four speakers represented the law enforcement and education sectors, respectively, with the former including Insp. Jeff Rowden of the Prince Albert Police Service and Cpl. Conal Lerat of the RCMP.
Rowden suggested to the audience that everyone, regardless of age, had at some point in their lives been a victim of bullying -- which might include mental as well as physical trauma -- but that they may also have bullied others.
He implored his audience to remember a person who had bullied them or who they had seen bully others and write down on a card three qualities of that person that they would have changed.
It all starts like throwing a rock into a lake. It starts as a ripple. I want that ripple to become a wave. Donny Parenteau
“A month down the road or a week down the road or whenever you feel you have time in your busy lives, I want you to look in the mirror and look at that card and see what you wrote down and see if you’re displaying any of those things that you hate and some of those things that you dislike about bullying -- and if you are, then change it,” Rowden said.
Representatives of the two area school divisions reaffirmed their commitment to the fight against bullying and described related initiatives at local schools.
With the SRPSD playing a major role in financing the conference, chair Barry Hollick noted the public school division’s strong support of activities and programs planned for the week.
“This week’s theme is expressed in just three words -- free from fear -- but just think of the impact this will have on our young people when this is achieved,” Hollick said. “Every child in our schools, in our neighbourhoods and at home and on the Internet on the computer, every child should be able to experience freedom from fear.
“In our Sask. Rivers public schools, we strive to achieve this goal. We have instructional programs being presented, we have law enforcement officers who join with our teachers to deliver anti-bullying messages to our students, we have our Carlton high school drama group the Mad Hatters going out to elementary schools and presenting anti-bullying themes through their dramatic performances.”
Meanwhile, PACSD chair George Bolduc noted that all Catholic schools in the area will be participating in Pink Shirt Day activities to illustrate their concern and awareness of bullying.
He also pointed to the March launch across the division of a 15-month anti-bullying social skills development program called Love One Another As God Has Loved You.
“At each grade level, students will develop an understanding of each child is a child of God and that every child has the right to be treated with respect,” Bolduc said.
Wrapping up the guest speakers was country music star and local icon Donny Parenteau, who has been speaking out against bullying across Saskatchewan for the last eight years.
Echoing some of his favourite themes, Parenteau urged the younger generation to turn off technology (as a means of “starving” cyberbullies) and communicating more with their parents.
He also noted that bullying does not necessarily end when one completes school.
“Bullying and cyberbullying continues on into the workplace … Right now in the workplace, you may be being bullied and may not even be aware of it,” Parenteau said.
Asked whether he believed his anti-bullying talks had had an effect over the years, the singer replied, “The way I look at it, it’s like if you have an effect even on one or two in an entire room -- you're at least starting. You’re starting the wave.
“It all starts like throwing a rock into a lake,” he added. “It starts as a ripple. I want that ripple to become a wave, to become a tidal wave and to go right for the bullies and knock ’em out. That’s what I want to see happen.”
Following his remarks, Parenteau performed a solo acoustic rendition of his original anti-bullying song, Imagine A World.
Aside from a Tuesday evening presentation for parents by the Internet Child Exploitation Unit at Vincent Massey Community Public School, other events planned for the week include Day of Pink celebrations on Wednesday at Carlton Comprehensive Public High School and a Thursday morning workshop on conflict resolution and mediation at Cooke Municipal Golf Course.
Members of the public interested in registering for the Thursday workshop, which runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., should contact Victim Services at 306-953-4357.