A Toronto woman is calling for a provincial inquiry into bullying after she says it may have been the cause of her 12-year-old son’s suicide.
Durba Mukherjee’s son Arka died on June 21. According to a coroner’s report, the 12-year-old boy “was found in the shrubs at the base of an apartment building in the midtown area of Toronto.”
“He went to the nearby building, where he apparently jumped from the rooftop deck,” the coroner wrote.
More than four months after Arka’s death was ruled a suicide, Mukherjee said she struggles to understand what led him to take his life.
Alone in Toronto, the single mother came to Canada with big dreams for his future. Now, just over a year since she arrived here, she questions whether she made a mistake.
“I failed him. I brought him here. I could not protect him. I feel responsible,” Mukherjee said.
Arka was a bright student who was bullied at school, she said. She said she wonders whether bullying was a factor in his death.
Mukherjee said Arka had come home physically hurt once and complained of verbal bullying as well.
After his death, Mukherjee said the coroner’s report left her with questions.
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has since addressed the bullying that Mukherjee said took place in the time before Arka’s death.
“I think it is incumbent on all of us — particularly those in government but also families in homes, civil society, media — to combat the violence and victimization of children,” Lecce told Global News. “I have instructed my officials to bring a suite of options — every available tool at the government’s disposal to ensure we are doing everything we can.”
Mukherjee said she feels heartened that Lecce appears committed to fighting the issue of bullying.
“But in order to do that, it is essential to have a full provincial inquiry. That can help uproot the issue and ensure a safe environment for the children,” Mukherjee said.
She has hired a lawyer, and friends have started a GoFundMe campaign called #Justice for Bullied Kids #Justice for Arka to help cover the legal costs.
“Bullying or threatened bullying most often involves violence. The police are more accustomed to dealing with violence than those that form the educational sector,” said Barry Swadron, Mukherjee’s lawyer.
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Mukherjee detailed one incident in which her son came home physically hurt from school.
“I found my son lying near my apartment holding his abdomen … and breathing in pain. He was crying,” she said. “My boy told me one of these boys had beaten him up.”
That night, she said she called police and brought her son to Sunnybrook hospital.
A Toronto police investigation into the matter has officially closed.
“The police investigation has concluded. If any new information came forward, the police would review and continue investigating,” police spokesperson Allison Sparkes told Global News.
Mukherjee said her son told her he did not feel safe at school.
She said she reached out to her son’s teacher and administration at his school numerous times, expressing concern for his safety.
“The bullying was reported to the school and Arka was bullied for six months,” Mukherjee’s lawyer said.
“It is unacceptable that any child in the province on Ontario feels unsafe in the classroom in 2019,” Lecce told Global News. “My expectation is we are working together — educators, principals, administration — to ensure every child, irrespective of their difference, can feel supported as well as safe in the class in the province of Ontario.”
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB), meanwhile, has no plans for a formal review.
“While we are aware of the concerns raised by the student’s mother, based on the information we have, staff at the school did not observe any bullying, nor were they made aware of any pattern of bullying,” Ryan Bird, a spokesperson for the TDSB, said.
But Swadron said that is not nearly enough.
He said he is calling on Premier Doug Ford to launch a full provincial inquiry into Arka’s death.
Swadron said he hopes it would provide guidance “to schools, to police, to parents, to kids on the best paths to follow.”
To Lecce, he had this message.
“You state what your plans are for the various stakeholders, but you fail to include or even mention the police. I would like you to define what role the police should play in the fight against bullying and to what extent should police liaise with school officials and staff,” Swadron said.
Mukherjee said her sole mission in life is now to fight for justice for her son.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be struggling with mental health issues.