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Torrence Collier bullying case: RCMP confirmed open criminal investigation

Dec 05, 2016, 13:38:12
The RCMP in Baie Verte, N.L., confirmed Thursday there is an open investigation into a bullying case in the tiny Newfoundland community of Westport, where Torrence Collier, the 11-year-old black boy whose allegations of racially motivated bullying have made national headlines, has been accused of being a bully himself.
The student and his family allege he has been subjected to racist language — including the N-word and other slurs about his skin colour — since he arrived in the community about a year and a half ago with his adoptive parents, who are from the area but had been living in Alberta and Saskatchewan before returning to Westport.
Cpl. Justin Hewlett said there is currently an open investigation into the case, but would not specify which allegations police are investigating.
Torrence Collier said, “Everybody here says I'm lying, and I'm making it up, so I think I made it a bit worse.”
"A lot of kids, you know, they don't understand that when they say mean things, they might be criminal," said Hewlett.
The head of Newfoundland and Labrador's main school board confirmed Wednesday that several students at Torrence's school, St. Peter's Academy, have been suspended for their bullying and racist comments toward the boy.
On Thursday, Torrence's parents said they have notified school officials that they are removing him from the school for at least the rest of the school year, saying there is a "vicious" minority of people in the community who have bullied him.
"There are some wonderful people in Westport. They are family and friends, but then there are a few cruel ones," Torrence's mother, Heather Collier, said Thursday. "For the safety and health of my child, he will finish school at home."

'He's not the victim,' 1 parent alleges

But some other parents in Westport have told CBC News that they were shocked to hear the Collier family's story.
"I don't think there's any racists in Westport," said Carolyn Jacobs, who has been living in the town for almost three decades.
"I've never heard about racism here before. I don't know what to think, to tell you the truth."Deborah Jacobs, no relation to Carolyn Jacobs, said she does not know whether Torrence has been subjected to racist slurs, but said the Grade 5 boy has frequently bullied her twin daughters, who are in Grade 6, as well as other students,
"He's not the victim. He is instigating a lot of this to other children," she told CBC News, adding that she has had to severely restrict what her daughters can do so that they do not encounter the boy.
'He's not the victim. He is instigating a lot of this to other children.'- Deborah Jacobs
"My daughters have said to me that they're the ones that feel like prisoners, because I keep them away from him as much as possible."
Deborah Jacobs said she was appalled to see national headlines and social media posts casting Westport, a community of a few hundred people on Newfoundland's Baie Verte Peninsula, in such a negative light.
About 220 people live in Westport, a small community on Newfoundland's Baie Verte Peninsula."It's been blown out of the world, practically," she said. "I've had all kinds of phone calls and messages about people going, 'What on earth is going on in such a small community?' I don't think there's any person in this town who's racist."
Tamara Jacobs, 13, who also attends St. Peter's Academy, said the school is a far better place than the Collier family has described.
"Honestly, this community is a good community," she said. "There are people, they're loving, caring, they think the world of everyone, and I honestly don't think there's racism."

School board official to meet with family

The Colliers say the bullying and racist comments toward Torrence started shortly after the family moved back to Westport after living out west. Torrence is the only black child in the town
Darrin Pike, the CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, said he hopes the school board can work with the students who have been bullying Torrence to help them change their behaviour. (CBC)
The family said it blames a core group of young teenagers at St. Peter's Academy, a small school with 35 students that serves all grades in the area.
Darrin Pike, the CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, said it's a complicated issue. "When an issue this serious comes up, it's sometimes not an easy 'and do this and you'll solve it.' It's a multifaceted approach," he said.
"We just don't want to end with the discipline. It's only the beginning. We really want to get the students to change their behaviour ... and understand how their behaviour impacts others," he said.
"What we strongly support is work with the family within the school community. And let's work to fix that up and make that a happy spot for the student to go to."
Pike said an official with the school board plans to meet with Torrence and his family next week.
Meanwhile, Torrence's doctor has said that the boy will need to find another school in another town for his own well-being.
In a letter, the doctor wrote: "I would strongly advise that the only option for Torrence would be to change schools."

Appalling behaviour

Carol Chafe, the provincial child and youth advocate, said any type of bullying is unacceptable.Carol Chafe, the province's child and youth advocate, said the racism that Torrence has endured is appalling. (CBC)
"I was quite appalled that, in 2014, this kind of situation is occurring here in Newfoundland and Labrador," she said.
"If you're aware that a child is enduring this, or your child is committing this type of thing to another child, then adults have to be accountable and they have to stand up and take responsibility, and they have to address it together," she said.

Prejudice 'still part of who we are'

'In Newfoundland, we have a dominant Caucasian population. We are uncertain about how to work with difference.'- Dorothy Vaandering, assistant professor, Memorial University.
"We live in a culture where prejudice is still a part of who we are," she said.
"In Newfoundland, we have a dominant Caucasian population. We are uncertain about how to work with difference."
"It means help them understand what exactly they are doing and how they can learn from the situation," she said.

Students show support

"For a child to have to go to school every day and just to feel so sad about the colour of their skin ... It just really hurt me," she said.
Students from all grades at St. Andrew's Elementary in St. John's made cards on Wednesday to show their support for Torrence Collier. (CBC)

Mom responds

Meanwhile, Heather Collier said the outpouring of support for her son has been amazing."Seeing him smile today and realizing that people do care — it's been awesome," she said.
Torrence said while there has been a lot of support coming in, there has also been a lot of backlash.