North Battleford was the first stop Monday in province-wide consultations to discuss anti-bullying strategies.
The consultations are being spearheaded by Jennifer Campeau, legislative secretary to the minister of education, with public consultations happening during the first two weeks of June 2013.
"We're hoping for good discussion and good crowds," said Campeau, and also "solutions as well as stories contributing to the anti-bullying action plan we will be drafting as a result of the consultations."
The first consultation session was held at Western Development Museum in North Battleford. In addition, consultation sessions were set for Prince Albert, La Ronge, Yorkton, Swift Current, Regina, Weyburn and Saskatoon. All the public consultations will be wrapped up by June13.
There was also an opportunity for people to participate online from June 3 to 21. Those online consultations are open to Saskatchewan residents over 16 years of age. Those under 16 can participate if they obtain and confirm they have parental consent. That website is set up at skantibullying.insightrix.com.
The government is also accepting written submissions that can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not only did Campeau want to hear about the problem of bullying, she also wanted to hear the success stories and find out what has been effective in addressing the issue.
Campeau said she was looking to hear "stories as well as solutions as to what has worked regarding any anti-bullying initiatives that are out there now, and looking at those gaps and finding ways to close them."
Campeau acknowledged one reason bullying has taken on prominence as an issue in recent years is high-profile cases - Rehtaeh Parsons in Halifax and Amanda Todd in British Columbia. In both cases teenagers have taken their lives over bullying. Just this past week, the story of 15-year-old Jamie Hubley's suicide in Ontario also came to light.
While we have not seen high profile bullying cases reported in Saskatchewan, there could be similar stories out there. Campeau said she wants to know what the extent of the bullying problem is in the province.
"This is why we are going out there doing the consultations, it's because we want to know to what extent bullying affects the communities, and help us come up with a solution and an action plan."
The issue is also markedly different than what it was several years ago, due to the advent of social media and cyber-bullying, meaning that bullying is no longer a school issue alone.
"With the introduction of cyber-bullying it's not like our kids can leave the playground and go home and have some sort of relief, if they're being bullied on the phones and in social media," said Campeau. "The bullying that I faced in my generation is very different from what kids face now."
Campeau's actual role Monday was as an observer of the process. Discussions were led by third-party representatives from Insightrix Research, who separated participants into two groups to provide thoughts and feedback on a number of topics.
Among the questions posed was to define bullying, which prompted lively feedback.
The range of answers provided at one table included "repetitive, bugging, comments, shoving, exclusion, taking advantage of other people, people picked on (continuously)" and several other responses, showing that a wide range of activities could be classified as bullying.
Aides at the meeting Monday said they are encouraged by the good local turnout, which included social workers, educators and those who work with children in the community. There were also a number of youth present to give their perspective.
After the provincial consultations are over, Campeau says they will disseminate the information gathered and put together a report and an action plan that will go to Minister of Education Russ Marchuk. Campeau says the minister will then decide on next steps.