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How bullying became the crisis of a generation

Kids are committing suicide, parents are in a panic, and schools that neglect to protect students are lawsuit targets

The Bully Mob

Mitchell Wilson had a short life. He was born in March 2000 at Markham-Stouffville Hospital to Craig and Shelley Wilson. From the age of three, he had trouble running and jumping. He climbed stairs slowly, putting both feet on each step before moving up. He fell often, and sometimes he couldn’t get up on his own. His doctors thought he had hypermobility syndrome—joints that extend and bend more than normal.

When Mitchell was seven, his mother was diagnosed with an aggressive melanoma. Her treatments left her distant, sometimes testy and mean, and in so much pain that she rarely left her bedroom. “I sort of kept Mitchell away,” Craig Wilson told me.

“He basically didn’t talk to his mother during the last four months of her life.” Wilson often left his son to his own devices while he took care of his dying wife and ran his family’s industrial knife business. Mitchell spent most of his time in his bedroom, playing video games. He comforted himself with food, and by the time he was four feet tall he weighed 167 pounds. Once, in a Walmart, he fell to the ground and his grandmother had to ask store employees to help her lift him.

In 2010, Craig Wilson remarried, to a woman named Tiffany Usher. After a campy Las Vegas ceremony during which they both wore flip-flops, the couple moved with Mitchell and Usher’s two preteen daughters into a four-bedroom house just east of Rouge Park. Usher had worked as a special education teacher, and she suspected that Mitchell’s hypermobility syndrome diagnosis wasn’t right. She took him to SickKids, where doctors determined he had a type of muscular dystrophy called limb girdle, a genetic disease that eats away at the muscle tissue in the shoulders and hips. Mitchell’s parents didn’t tell him that he’d probably die in his mid-20s, and that he’d spend his last couple of years in bed, breathing with the help of a respirator.

Muscular dystrophy usually brings with it cognitive limitations. Mitchell was labelled gifted in math but severely learning disabled in languages. This, along with his weight and his bright red hair, made him a target for teasing at Pickering’s William Dunbar P.S. Mitchell was ridiculed when he fell, and he was sometimes knocked down to be laughed at as he struggled to his feet. Other students would step on him, then give each other high-fives.

The Wilsons transferred Mitchell to Westcreek P.S. for Grade 5, and he seemed happier. He became known as a goof, even a ­troublemaker—he was regularly kicked out of French class for encouraging other students to tease the teacher by making silly sounds and faces. He found a group of friends, including a skateboarder named Max, who was in Grade 8. Having an older friend gave him confidence. Once, Max taught Mitchell how to jam the school elevator so that he’d have an excuse to skip his second-floor classes.

  • Unknown

    If kids are getting bullied I blame the parents. Parents have to teach there kids to be confident and have self esteem. If they can’t do let others do it. Enroll them in a sport that teaches discipline , confidence, and physical strength such as boxing, karate, and wrestling. We live in a spoiled and babied generation. Bullying wasn’t a issue when I was growing up. Don’t blame bullying but bad parenting.

  • Joe Tory

    “The CBC comedian Rick Mercer, commenting on Hubley’s death, implored prominent Canadians to lead by example by coming out of the closet.”

    John Baird and Jason Kenney have yet to come out of the closet, and as a proud Conservative, I am thankful. Bullying, like “Unknown” says, is an integral part of life. If you’re not a bully, you’re just not a Conservative. The problem is these NDP-voting parents who spoil and baby their kids instead of voting for Daddy Harper to protect us all by building prisons everywhere.

  • Joe Tory

    “Bullying wasn’t a issue when I was growing up.”

    It never is when you pick on the weak. That’s the trick – to avoid being a bully, become one.

  • Joe Tory

    “Bullying wasn’t a issue when I was growing up.”

    It never is when you pick on the weak. That’s the trick – to avoid being bullied, become one.

  • SB

    Oh please! Bullying has been around as long as humans have
    existed. I was bulled in grade school almost 50 years ago
    and the school did nothing then (it was somehow my fault!)
    so I’m not surprised that it’s now a crisis.

    What is almost never mentioned is that the school bullies grow up and move into the workplace where, surprise, surprise,
    companies do nothing – sound familiar?

    The action required is back in school – the minute it starts
    expel the bullies and let their parents who raised these lovely darlings, deal with them!

  • Liz

    Bullying has always existed. To say it didn’t exist when you were a child is ludicrious!

    Bullying is a complicated issue and has little to do with teaching your child sports. Teachers who tell children to stop tattling, who play favourites, who label children that are difficult and then pass their judgments onto their colleagues.

    Children who are reactive when confronted with bullying and then get blamed for standing up for themselves or another child.

    A system and parents who don’t want to acknowledge the difficulties their child may be having in socially.

    All these can create an atmosphere where our children don’t know what is expected of them.

    It’s time to look at the role adults — both educators and parents — play in allowing our children to be bullied or to bully.

    And lets stop minimizing the seriousness of the issue with silly solutions and blame.

  • Tom Purcell

    Yes,bullying has been around for a long,long time.I have been an educator for over 35 years and the only change to this issue is an awareness and acceptance that it exists.When I was a kid I remember that we had a recent immigrant girl in our class who had ‘cooties”.She was not included in any of the schoolyard in- groups.Being mean to her was acceptable.Our teachers silence on the issue was seen as tacit approval.Today “uncool” kids are labeled with a number of hurtful names.Prejudice is taught.Bullying is acting on these learned prejudices.Anti-bullying is a good place to start.

  • nt

    well …….in my opinion Simon Cowell is a bully and is paid $Ms and now everybody wants to be him

  • Luis

    It won’t be too long Canada has it’s own Columbine. Then maybe the schoolboards and government will start getting off their fat lazy asses and do something about the bullying.

    I was bullied all through elementary school and I still feel the rage from it after reading these kids’ stories. I hope those bullies rot in hell.

  • singer

    Joe Tory said: “It never is when you pick on the weak. That’s the trick – to avoid being a bully, become one.”

    Say what?

    Meanwhile, “Unknown” who grew up in a magical time and place with no bullies says, “don’t blame bullying, but bad parenting.”

    Don’t blame bullying, for what? Bullying? Sensible!

    Honestly, I thought Toronto Life was aiming for a bit of a more, shall I say, eloquent demographic!

  • stella

    Don’t want to be bullied than become one? I agree what kind of BS is that. Bullying has been around for centuries started wars we all know that.

    Myself I had bullies at home and at school so any kind of defence was fruitless. My only relief was to be kicked out of my home by my bullying parents and out of my bad neighborhood. It did stop for a while until I reached adulthood in the working world bullies still exist aided by the gov’t as it is your word against theirs and those bullies were strictly male in mgmt and co-workers. I work for myself now refusing to allow this to continue.

    I feel terrible for all those poor kids mentioned here and all of those who aren’t and hope they will survive grade schools, high schools as working parents ignore their kids we have to look after ourselves either way and be our own parent.

    My advice is look after yourself talk to someone if you are being bullied don’t keep it to yourself even if you think no one is listening.
    Love yourself enough to fight back even if it means walking away don’t put up with it. You are better than them and they will end up alone not you. It does get better eventually but you have to want it for yourself. Find your own strategies for coping take part in school activities around school try to make friends with bigger kids as bullies can’t get you if you have someone their size around you as they say strength in numbers.

    Lastly be strong and know you are the better person and have your own goals in life don’t let anything or anyone stop you.

  • paulyboy

    I was bullied from Grade 4 though 6. The teachers and the school didn’t care, and my parents aways said that I must have provoked it. This went on until my uncle got wind of what I was going though at school. I was sent off one summer
    to live with him and his family. Uncle Eddie was a SAS
    Camando during the war and for a few years after as well.
    He showed me how to stand up and defend myself by teaching me combat self-defence.He aways told me not to throw the first punch and let the bully start it. I trained every day
    with him. I went back to school in the fall and all was
    ok for week or two. The first time I was confronted at
    school on the way home my bully wanted to fight, I told him I didn’t. He shoved me and I told him I didn’t want to fight. He them went to punch me and blocked him and put him on the ground. He had a look of rage on this face and came at me again. I blocked him and put him on the ground once more. He looked at me this time with a confused look. I steped up to him and told him that if he got up one more time to hit me ,he’d be sorry. He got up and was quickly knock down with a bloody nose. I picked up my books and coat and told him and the group of kids who had stopped to watch the fight that I was going home. He left me alone for a while , but tried again a month or so later. The same thing happened to him once again but more bloody this time around and I was left alone for the rest of my time at that school. The kids these days need to be shown how to stand up for themselves.

  • Mike Neuts

    Very Good Article, simply because of the continued attention to the points of the behaviour. It is obvious already in the comments that the need for more education and attention is upon us. Why? The first two letters talk about the behaviour not existing in their lives. Isn’t that nice! They both just like all of us if we think about it can remember the kids who were victimized, the words, the actions, it has a lot to do with social status,health,colour of skin,religion,looks, sexism and of course the sexual preference of some – in todays world especially.By the way the events of the Coroners Inquest into the death of our son brought out that one of the so called accused regularly practised and trained in martial arts, as his father said “so he would not be victimized by bullies”, too bad we did not teach the young person to not use these skills to be a bully and further to that this young person was identified as a child with behaviour issues that was identified as inapropriate before the incident and day that killed our son Myles.
    The extra points on reporting and avoiding being a bystander were never discussed like they are today and you can tell that is a problem when we all continue to slow down and gawk at accidents and or tragedies on our highways and communities. Imagine being at 100 kms on a 400 series highway and seeing a accident going the opposite direction and we drop down to about 40-60 kms to see WHAT? Adults do that!
    Every young person wants to believe and know that- they are somebody and value added to our world and society. When that does not happen in a home, life, school , we seek to become somebody and bullying does that for quite a few.
    Just like someone before me in these comments most of us know this behaviour in all aspects and/or join, become a bully to avoid being a victim.
    Thanks for the article, maybe if we treat CHILDREN as a Natural Resource like GOLD and OIL we would all benefit in life.
    Mike Neuts,
    Child Advocate

  • Mike Neuts

    After reading this again, I am compelled to acknowledge the parents of this young boy Mitchell Wilson. At the end of the day, they recognized the incident with the i-pod as a crime not bullying. I agree. Police should lay charges and courts should decide innocent or guilty not the other way around.
    I also acknowledge their sons knowledge about his life and illness as a cause for suicide. WOW!! But again at the end of the day, we might not stop all of these acts and/or attempts at ending life, but with proper tools, with laws and empathy we will change culture. We will change life of CHILDREN, if we gather all our resources together, money, knowledge and support, thru schools,hospitals, laws and treating them as a wealth to be explored and invested in all aspects- socially, academically and knowledge as to health and well being we will win.

    I was one who tried because of the media reporting Michell’s death as Bullying, to find these parents to bring them the support of others who have been victimized by the behaviour called Bullying, but never did find them and now I read it was a multitude of reasoning maybe by their son to not go forward. I still offer my help to them and there community, but respect that Bullying alone maybe was not the only thing on young Mitchell’s plate. Exactly what many knowledgeable people suggest about Suicide. Many Factors, not all acknowledged.
    Again Good Article!
    Mike Neuts
    Child Advocate

  • oh

    It breaks my heart to read about these poor kids who suffer such ridicule for the most inane things. Unknown you are a complete fool BTW.
    I have nieces who are the sweetest little things and would never hurt a soul and when they tell me they are being bullied at school (they’re 6 and 8) I shudder to imagine what this world has come to. A lot of parents of victims are to blame in that they don’t do anything but tell their kids to turn a blind eye and “just ignore” their perpetrators, little do they realize that bullying has gotten way out of hand compared to what we grew up with!
    I was never bullied in fact I was the one who stood up for the kids who were picked on. A child can be fully functional and confident at home or outside of school in their extracurricular circles but it’s a whole other thing when they’re faced with bullying at school by several kids and there is no one around to stand up for them or to put an end to it. I have been told by one of my nieces that her teacher merely ignores her when she reports that she is being harassed by other kids! What is a child then supposed to do besides endure it and then become isolated (after all, what kid is going to want to hang out with the kid who’s being bullied??)?
    I don’t really have a point here, just that it really upsets me to read this article. I hope these little shits who hate and bully for every reason from being jealous or just plain being an asshole to coming from a shitty home where there’s no love, sometimes too much love, get their share at some point, not to continue to cycle of hate and cruelty but so that they will know what it’s like. The sad thing is that kids (even those in the adult world) bully for any and every reason whether the victim has some kind of disability (what kind of home does such a child come from that they could even do such a thing??) or maybe is prettier or smarter than them. It makes no sense and there is probably never going to be an end to all the bullying, sadly.

  • British

    @Unknown, pity you were not on that cruise ship in Italy.
    How dare you use a public domain to express your share ignorance.

    For the last six years, 4 years in primary and two year in high school, my child has suffered; no help from the school during the primary years, and only a little help from the high school, next month this individual will be changing high schools.

    I gave and continue to give love and teach enough self-esteem to light up a Christmas tree. The bullying is not some hidden disease; it is very real, and unless you have a child that has been through this you do not have the foggiest idea to what speak of.

    I won my legal with with the school board, which cost me $3K in legal fees again the school board and principal from the primary school. No parent should have to take an academic institution to court. Children are people too!

    Your mentality speaks volumes, as to why nothing will ever really be done.

  • M. Pickwick

    @Luis (and everyone else who read through the comment and had forgotten/said nothing): Canada had “it’s own Columbine” a week after Columbine in Taber, Alberta. That wasn’t the first or the last time that such a thing has happened here. Google it.

  • JL

    One another note, kids and teens that bully tend to come from abusive, broken homes (physically, emotionally etc.) Not that it excuses the behaviour, but children are so impressionable, and use bullying as a way to regain the power that they have lost.
    When I have run into any known “bully-ers” in my not-so-long-ago days, they are currently working in fast food or retail in the local plaza mall and have the same vocabulary and outlook on life as they did when there were pre-teens. If only the poor victims knew this! Then they could secretly laugh to themselves… Perhaps a long-term study about ‘where bullys end up after highschool’ to reassure the victims that karmas a bitch.

  • Bebe Lizardo

    Bullies are a fact of life and all of the Hallmark-Greeting-Card-warm-fuzzy-therapy-speak on the planet is not going to
    make them go away. The upside of bullies is that cowardice and stupidity can inspire would-be victims to retaliate by learning how to be brave and smart enough to out-fox our foes.

  • I.R.S.C

    An eleven year old boy taking his own life is heartbreaking. As a student of the TDSB, I didn’t even know they were being sued. I moved schools to escape a bully, after returning from a year in Asia where I also had been bullied. I left one bully in Asia and found another back home, then changed schools to avoid them. Then I met not one, but two more people at that new school who bullied me then. I finally am only mildly bullied, but of course I am not the only one; bullying is everywhere, and often unavoidable.

    It is a tragic thing bullying, and no one deserves it. Not even the bully.