By Kieran Heffernan
News of Jamie Hubley’s death in 2011 was a wake-up call to Canadian politicians and educators that something needed to be done to combat bullying.
Jamie, son of Ottawa city Coun. Allan Hubley, was 15 years old when he died by suicide after suffering from depression and having been bullied for being a figure skater and for being gay. In the nine years since, his family has participated in a number of initiatives in his memory.
For example, each year the Jamie Hubley Memorial Scholarship goes to one person who is looking to get into the mental health field, and one person with mental health challenges looking to get into university. The family has also been in involved with creating an anti-bullying training video for hockey coaches.
“All the coaches have to watch (the video) as part of a certification program that talks about the dangers. Like, we lost Jamie because of bullying,” Allan Hubley said in a recent interview.
He said his son had been doing well as a figure skater, and would often place in the top 3 in local competitions and also came 7th in the provincial championships. Skating was also just something he really enjoyed doing.
“That was the most important part about it. He loved to skate, and he liked to express himself through skating, which is something that draws a lot of people to figure skating,” Hubley said.
Jamie found the sport, and the Glen Cairn Skating Club, to be a safe haven.
“All the members of the club and the executive were very supportive of all the children that were there,” Hubley said. It was before and after his practices, rather, when Jamie was bullied.
“If there were hockey teams out there before or after them, the hockey team players used to really bully the figure skaters. Say nasty things to them, try and really intimidate them. And that was a shame because nobody likes somebody with a stick in their hand talking crap to you,” Hubley said.
The bullying was happening in school as well. Jamie had tried to start a Rainbow Club, but was never able to get it off the ground.
“He got the posters up and all that stuff, but that’s when we lost him. The bullying for that was really intense,” Hubley said.
In some ways, Hubley does think things have gotten better in the nine years since Jamie’s death. He points to Battle of the Blades, the CBC skating competition where hockey players team up with figure skaters, and how players have talked about bullying on the show. He was also recently contacted by Jamie’s former school.
“There was a student from Holy Trinity that reached out to us this fall and they were doing an event for compassion week at the school, and they wanted to feature Jamie,” he said. Jamie had attended the school for a year. “We thought that was really nice of them to do that, and so they were able to talk to the other students about the dangers of bullying.”
Hubley said he thinks that Jamie’s death, along with the suicides of other Canadian teens around the same time such as Daron Richardson, Rehtaeh Parsons, and Amanda Todd, made people realize the severity of issues like bullying and mental health. He and some of the others’ families know each other now because of their efforts to elicit a response from governments.
“We’re close because we’ve traveled the same circuit. We all went to Parliament Hill to get them to change legislation. We were in Queen’s Park getting the provincial legislation changed,” he said.
One response from the federal government was to provide $250,000 to the Red Cross in 2013, to create the “Youth Take Charge” project.
“They would go into the schools and train natural leaders of the school to be involved and to speak out against bullying, and to watch for cases like Jamie to try to help them before the lives are lost,” Hubley explained.
Although schools and sports may be more accepting environments than nine years ago, a recent study out of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia revealed some startling results after surveying LGBTQ+ Canadians. The study, which was published in early December, found that 48 per cent of Canadian youth who come out to teammates reported being the target of homophobia.
Hubley reflected on a conversation he had with Jamie that may point the way to how schools and other organizations can keep improving, moving forward.
“You might have all kinds of different clubs at school, but it always helps people if you can have a club where everybody feels that they’re accepted and respected,” he said. “That’s why he liked the idea of the Rainbow Club. He thought that that would allow kids to talk about whatever their issue was, with the end goal being learning to respect and accept each other.”