Amanda Todd’s legacy and Pink Shirt Day: Bullied youth empower others to choose kindness

On February 27, I’ll be wearing pink in solidarity with the tens of thousands of courageous young Canadians who are standing up to bullying — both online and in our physical world — every day.

Pink Shirt Day is an important reminder of the amazing work underway across this country to empower kids and adults alike to choose kindness, sincerity and compassion in our hyper-connected world. That effort has never been more critical as our relationship with digital technology, including smartphones and smart devices like watches, appliances and even cars, continues to deepen.

All these innovations are quickly becoming an integral part of our children’s lives and education. But, in the wrong hands, they’ve also made it easier than ever to send and share hurtful and harmful photos, videos and texts. The impact on the mental and physical health of those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of cyber abuse is often devastating. I know this firsthand, as do countless other families who’ve tragically had to witness our loved ones suffer through depression, anxiety, shame and despair as a direct result of these kinds of needless attacks.

My daughter, Amanda Todd, died by suicide in 2012, after suffering relentless bullying, cyberbullying and sextortion. Since her death, I’ve embarked on a journey to help put an end to bullying and raise awareness of mental health issues. Through these efforts, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet so many young people who’ve dedicated themselves to bringing positive change into the world — people like Justin Preston and Brooke Boutilier, who have turned their own terrible bullying encounters into transformative stories of hope and strength. It fills me with pride to see them bringing to life my daughter’s dream of encouraging kindness to those around her.

I first met Justin at a Tim Horton’s near his home in Fort Erie a few years ago and immediately recognized him as a champion in this movement. Justin endured unthinkable abuse, both online and off, at the hands of former friends and schoolmates after coming out as gay in his early teens. His tormentors took him to a very dark place that nearly cost him his life. Despite this, he exudes an irrepressible energy and sunshine that is a joy to encounter. Now in his 20s, he has gone on to found Rise Against Bullying, a global organization that supports mental health and the LGBTQ + community by promoting love and acceptance of oneself and others. Justin wants to help others who are experiencing bullying know that they matter, their feelings matter, and their life matters. He encourages bullied youth to reach out to an adult they trust, like a teacher, parent or counselor, for help.    I recommend you go to Justin’s YouTube channel to hear for yourself his encouraging message.

Brooke is an equally inspiring young person. At just 18 years old, this Saskatoon teen is already well on her way to becoming a leader in a collective effort to make the Internet a safer, kinder place. Like Justin, Brooke is a survivor of severe bullying and cyberbullying during her high school years. Even now, she doesn’t know what she did to instigate the harsh — and, often, hateful — treatment she received from girls and boys she thought were her friends. In Grade 10, she attempted to overdose in a bid, she says, “to fall asleep and never wake up.” It was only thoughts of her younger sister that made Brooke change her mind and seek help — and I am so very grateful she did. It’s what helped her get through Grade 11, where the bullying continued and escalated from rumours, mean texts, calls in the middle of the night, to anonymous notes left on her car, urging her to kill herself.

Today, Brooke chooses to share her story with teens in and around her community as an ambassador with the Saskatchewan Red Cross. She is particularly keen to encourage kids to speak up when they witness cyberbullying, sharing that there is ‘no innocent bystander’.  Like Justin, Brooke and her mother, Tennille, strongly recommend that other teens and families going through similar situations enlist the support of others, be it school officials, counsellors and/or the police. As Tennille says: “Tell someone, tell everyone; you have to advocate for your children because bullying is not ok.”

The good news is, Brooke and Justin are but two of a growing global chorus of voices committed to rise above bullying in all its forms. Through my ongoing work with the Amanda Todd Legacy Society, I continue to meet with many, many people in Canada and around the world — from tweens and teens to parents, teachers, police officers and professors — who are eager to do their part to banish this devastating societal issue. And there is no time like the present to start.

No one deserves to be bullied, and no one should have to suffer alone.

Importantly, this is why I continue to partner with TELUS to educate and empower our children and teens on their roles and responsibilities as they navigate a highly connected world. One example of that work is the TELUS Wise Digital Pledge, which encourages all Canadians to take an active role in making the digital space safer for everyone.

Parents and young people alike can also access free educational material available through TELUS Wise to learn how to better manage their privacy, security and reputation online.  More supports — and specifically resources to help empower youth, parents, teachers and coaches rise above cyberbullying — are available at telus.com/endbullying.

I am filled with so much hope that we can, over time, make cyberbullying a thing of the past. Together, with Justin, Brooke and all those who inspire compassion, we can do anything. I urge you to show your support for this life-saving work by proudly displaying your pinkest shirts, hats, bracelets and more on Pink Shirt Day. You can also help share the message on social media, using hashtags #PinkShirtDay, #EndBullying and #TELUSWise.

In memory of my daughter, I further encourage you to take the passion, enthusiasm and support for Pink Shirt Day and extend it beyond. With continued conversation and ongoing efforts, I am confident that, together, we can #EndBullying.