A day to think of Reena Virk

Times Colonist - - Comment -

On Tues­day, Man­jit and Su­man Virk marked a sad mile­stone. Nov. 14 was the 20th an­niver­sary of the mur­der of their daugh­ter Reena. Hun­dreds of peo­ple com­mem­o­rated the date with a gath­er­ing ded­i­cated to heal­ing and to pre­vent­ing youth vi­o­lence — goals the Virks have worked to­ward for the past two decades. Through­out those years of pain and loss, they and oth­ers in the com­mu­nity have taken Reena’s death as a call to ac­tion.

Her par­ents have spo­ken to hun­dreds of stu­dents about bul­ly­ing and the need for in­clu­sion. Pro­grams to en­cour­age non-vi­o­lent con­flict res­o­lu­tion were cre­ated to show teens a dif­fer­ent way.

Reena was only 14 on Nov. 14, 1997, when she was swarmed and beaten by a group of teens un­der the Craigflower Bridge. She was fol­lowed across the bridge by War­ren Glowatski and Kelly El­lard, who con­tin­ued at­tack­ing her and then drowned her. Her body was found eight days later.

The fact that al­most all her at­tack­ers were teenage girls shocked the city.

“I think Reena’s death is so poignant be­cause it sur­passed what the com­mu­nity thought was pos­si­ble,” said Rachel Calder, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Artemis Place So­ci­ety, which co-or­ga­nized Tues­day’s event with Learn­ing Through Loss. “In ad­di­tion to the grief, there was shock and in­abil­ity to com­pre­hend that this was even pos­si­ble.”

Many peo­ple couldn’t fit the mur­der into their im­age of the cap­i­tal re­gion, but as of­ten hap­pens, a few sought to bring hope out of sor­row. They pushed the prob­lem of bul­ly­ing into the light of day.

In this, they were in­spired by Man­jit and Su­man, who for­gave Glowatski af­ter he took re­spon­si­bil­ity for Reena’s death and apol­o­gized to them.

Hard though it is for most of us to imag­ine for­giv­ing our child’s mur­derer, the Virks have demon­strated that we can’t teach non-vi­o­lence to young peo­ple un­less we also show them the power of for­give­ness. It’s not an easy les­son to put into prac­tice, as most of us know that teenagers are as prone to the worst of hu­man na­ture as are the rest of us.

The worst too of­ten in­cludes not only bul­ly­ing, but dis­crim­i­na­tion and racism, the in­evitable spawn of chil­dren’s propen­sity for pick­ing on any­one who is dif­fer­ent. That’s why the mes­sage of in­clu­sion has to be part of any cam­paign against bul­ly­ing.

Those cam­paigns have had some suc­cess, but as Calder pointed out be­fore the Tues­day event, a lot of bul­ly­ing has moved from the school­yard to the smart­phone.

“In the ’90s, a stu­dent can go home and be safe,” she said. “Now when they’re at home, they’re not safe be­cause they have so­cial me­dia on their de­vices. It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble for these de­vel­op­ing brains to turn these de­vices off.”

So­cial me­dia have changed the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the prob­lem, but not its causes. So while we try to get through to the bul­lies, we also must con­tinue to teach the bul­lied to pro­tect them­selves on­line, as well as at school.

It is a cam­paign that likely has no end. Ev­ery gen­er­a­tion will have to be taught to re­ject bul­ly­ing and vi­o­lence.

If we are in this for the long haul, we will need the courage, de­ter­mi­na­tion and strength to for­give that Su­man and Man­jit Virk have found for the past 20 years.

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