‘He would rather die than go back to school’

Rudy
Rudy Norman
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Bullied youth Torrence Collier forced to finish school year at home, transfer schools for next year

Torrence Collier bounces a basketball and takes a few shots at the hoop in his front driveway before venturing into the garage and raiding his father’s toolbox.

Torrence Collier. — Submitted photo

For the boy who just turned 11 years old, shooting hoops by himself on a sunny day in June isn’t the life he expected when his parents told him they were moving to the small community of Westport on the Baie Verte Peninsula two years ago.

“We told him he was going to have freedom, and that he could be out playing with his friends and not have to worry about going up the road or being out after dark,” says Torrence’s father, Walter Collier. “Now he can’t do that because we’re afraid of what they’re going to do to him if he goes anywhere alone.”

The Colliers have been the subjects of a national focus in recent days after they went public with their son’s story of being severely bullied at school and in the community they now call home.

Torrence Collier is black — something his parents feel has been a key element in how the other children and teenagers of the community treat him.

His mother, Heather Collier, said she’s been fighting on behalf of her son for more than a year with school administration at St. Peter’s Academy and the school board, over the treatment he’s received since moving into the school in 2012.

“One day, two older kids — older than Torrence, probably in the middle teens — grabbed him and stuck his head down in a toilet,” she said. “We had to carry him to the doctor because he got sick, and had an infection, and was on antibiotics for several days.”

That’s just one of the visceral attacks Collier said her son has undergone.

“He’s come home with bruises and cuts from where people have punched and kicked him,” she said. “One day he came home with a big bruise on his arm, and when I asked him what happened he said someone lifted his sleeve and punched him in the shoulder.”

 

No help from officials

The Colliers approached the administration at St. Peter’s Academy last year and expressed their concerns. Heather said she was assured that the matter would be brought up with the school board, but she went months without receiving any word from them.

“They kept telling me the school board was going to call us and set up a meeting,” she said. “But they never did.”

Meanwhile, the bullying kept going to the point where his mother says Torrence came home crying on several occasions because of how he’d been treated that day.

“I started writing it down,” she said. She read out a list of names her son claims he’s been called, including racial and homophobic slurs that she said has had the most hurtful effect on her child.

“He started coming home and asking why everyone hated him and saying he would rather die than go back to school,” she said. The Colliers found a letter, written by Torrence in March, that stated he didn’t want to live anymore.

 

Taking it in her own hands

Heather said after finding that letter, she started desperately seeking help wherever she could find it. Finally, she decided to email Darrin Pike, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School Board.

“He had written a blog post on bullying, and after reading that I knew I had to tell him Torrence’s story,” she said.

After the email went to Pike, Heather said a response came back quickly and suddenly wheels were in motion.

However, she said the talks with the school board still didn’t stop the bullying, and an incident two weeks ago brought the Colliers to a breaking point.

The RCMP in Baie Verte confirms it has an open case file involving a complaint from the Colliers involving an incident of bullying.

“The case file was opened after a complaint came about an incident of bullying,” said Cpl. Justin Hewlett. “The incident is involving minors and while the investigation is ongoing, no charges have been laid at this point.”

 

Worldwide support, community backlash

After going public with their story, the Colliers said they received feedback from both ends of the spectrum. A Facebook page was quickly set up and has accumulated omore 10,000 “likes” from people all over the world.

The family said they received more than 20,000 messages of support through social media, emails, letters, and phone calls.

“It’s been phenomenal. I mean we’ve gotten messages from all over the world, and people have sent cards and letters telling him to hang in there, and stay strong. It’s just wonderful.”

However, not all the feedback has been positive, and the Colliers said much of the pushback they’ve received has been from their own community.

Many residents took to social and traditional media to defend their town and the accusations against them.

Westport Mayor Max Warren says since the family went public with their story, his community has been painted in a negative light.

“It’s awful. Just awful,” he said. “There are people out there who think that everyone in this town is racist because of what’s been put out there.”

Warren, whose grandson is also black, said he’s hurt by people online telling the residents of Westport they should be ashamed of themselves and calling them racist.

“They’ve got us all put on the same level, and we’re all guilty by association, it seems like,” said Warren. “For me, I really don’t believe there’s racism here in this community. Torrence isn’t the first black student to be in that school, and yet this is the first accusation I’ve heard of anyone being a racist.”

Warren thinks what the community has here is a case of severe bullying, and bringing race into it is something done by people who have concocted that scenario in their heads.

“Bullying is everywhere, and it’s a terrible problem,” he said. “I’m not denying that that boy was bullied — he probably was, just like other children like him, but I don’t think it’s only because of the colour of his skin.”

Warren said he hopes the situation can be handled between the family and the school, and assures the Colliers the community supports them and their son.

“We’re a small town — 180 people,” he said. “We’re not trying to discriminate against anyone. We’re just trying to get along.”

 

Not all bad apples

Heather said the problems her son is having don’t involve everyone in the community, nor everyone in the school. In an email to officials she pointed out that in one instance of bullying, two students actually stood up for her son against his oppressor.

“It’s definitely a core group of people that do most of the bullying,” she said. However, they’ve been unsuccessful in isolating Torrence from those people, and stopping the violence against him.

The Colliers have been approved to remove their son from school for the remainder of the school year, and will home school in the coming weeks.

In September, Torrence will transfer from the school in Westport to Copper Ridge Academy in Baie Verte, however the Colliers will be responsible for bringing him the 40 kilometres each way.

“That’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make. If we have to drive him, we have to drive him,” said Heather.

They have more meetings with the school board next week to discuss the future.

When asked where she sees this situation ending, Heather fought back tears, and paused to gain her composure.

“I want him to be happy again. I just want my son to feel happy.”

The Nor’Wester

AUDIO

This is a recording Torrence Collier's mother made back in March after he came home talking about some bullies who were going around school telling everyone not to go to his birthday party.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador English School Board, RCMP, Copper Ridge Academy

Geographic location: Westport, Peter, Baie Verte

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Recent comments

  • Llewellyn
    June 14, 2014 - 10:04

    Agreed, however the parents need to be held accountable. Not informed but accountable. If a child breaks a window the parents pay. Complaints to human right and whatever can be levied. From hate mongering to whatever. The fear of reprisal has to hit the parent and their jobs , their standing in society. My boy likes to rough-house, essentially boisterous play and I was called in to the principles office and his home room teacher as well as my 11 year old son. He was read the riot act. ZERO TOLERANCE. For what was perceived as actions that were leading to bullying. And as a victim of this myself let me tell you that evening we had the talk with our son. And the issue was put permanetly to rest. I brought him into this world. And I will take him out. Needless to say he has been an excellent student since. When it comes to bullying please save the so called constructive talk therapy chats...... While I believe that an entire community should not be blacklisted for the sins of a few , the universal rule applies, Bad things happen when good people do nothing. Teachers, community leaders and parents are all to blame. But more so the bullies. Kids today grow up fast and they know the difference!!

  • bill
    June 14, 2014 - 02:23

    Racism and bullying should not be condoned but I wonder if the media has over sensationalized this problem Demonizing all Westport without hearing from the school, other parents in the community etc is really unfair. Torrence should not be bullied,particularly because of race, but one media given brief expression by one mother pointed him out as being a perpetrator of bullying himself. Obviously there is a problem to be addressed but media deliberately polarizing it is not a solution.

  • Buster Garvick
    June 14, 2014 - 01:04

    Bunch of bloody savages putting that child through such torment. If that's indicative of the quality of parenting in that obviously dysfunctional outport then the entire operation should be shut down and the whole tribe of them forced to resettle to the 21st century. These ignorant louts are nothing but an embarrassing blight on the entire province. And every single one of the so-called educators who enabled the torment visited upon that child by blithely ignoring it until it was exposed publicly should be sacked.

  • Anonymous
    June 13, 2014 - 18:08

    No NLers are not better than this, actually. I'm biracial (white and indian like Shaun), and every day I get stared at. Not casual glances, but long uncomfortable stares. I've been called an array of colourful words and phrases. When I was younger, about Torrence's age, I would let it get to me and I would go home crying. But after awhile i just got used to people asking me questions and giving me 'that look'. Honestly, I can't wait to get the hell out of here because there are so many homophobic, ignorant, racist, simple-minded people in NL that it's appalling. I have no idea how NL got its rep of having the friendliest, nicest people because they are actually so rude. Now, not everyone here is but most outport communities are full of these disgraceful people. I'm really ranting on about this but I just think it really isn't right that an 11 year old boy would rather die than go to school. People think that in 2014 racism is gone. It's not. People are just better at hiding it.

  • Anonymous
    June 13, 2014 - 17:21

    This is terrible.. No 11 year old should want to rather die than be who they are. I can't believe the school board didn't do anything... They should be ashamed. The mayor 'Mr. Warren' is a disgrace. How can he basically say these bullies chose a random child to bully and it just so happened to be a black kid? He KNOWS why Torrence was bullied but won't say anything about it. Im biracial living in NL and I do get stares that are more than casual glances and I've had some very colourful words and phrases thrown at me, but nothing as bad as this. If I was the Colliers, I would move faarrr away from that town. I myself can't wait to get out of the whole province because of how simple-minded, ignorant, racist and homophobic many people are here.

  • Phillip Greene
    June 13, 2014 - 15:33

    As like many others I am appalled by the treatment this young boy is receiving. Unlike others however, I am not at all surprised. I was born and raised in a small Nl town, and to read all these comments from my fellow Newfoundlanders who are shocked by this ugliness on our quaint little island in the sea is laughable. Repeat this scenario in 10 other small towns across the island, one where there are a small number of visible minorities amongst an ocean of white faced, isolated and ignorant down homers and what would you get, my guess is you get the same result we have here at least 8 out of 10 times. Bullying is ugly enough, carried out by unsophisticated children of unsophisticated parents but then for these same parents to take to talk radio and somehow attempt to explain away what this child has had to deal with is ugly on a whole new level. Shame on you Westport, shame on the schoolboard, shame on you Mr Mayor, shame on those offending children as youth should not be held up as an excuse and shame, shame, shame on the parents of those children for kids are not brought into this world concerned about race, creed, color, religion, etc...Whatever adverse effect this will have on this quaint little village, ie loss of tourist revenue, you the people of Westport deserve it, whether you particapated directly or simply stood by and watched it unfold, you deserve it. I know the dynamic of small town Nl and there is no way that this was happening and everyone, not just some but everyone did not know it. Disgusting yes but a new phenomena certainly not. Newfoundland is known the world around for its hospitality but something it should be equally famous for is an attitude of isolationism and a lack of a clear vision of the world we live in today, especially in these small outport communities. Join the rest of the developed world rural Nl, diversity is what propells us forward as a species, Westport and the people that live there are what holds us back. Take ownership Westport, perhaps then you may all be forgiven, continue to make excuses and attempt to place the blame back on that young man and Westport will forever be synonymous with ugliness and ignorance.

  • Ed Barbour
    June 13, 2014 - 15:17

    I understand that children will do things that they should not be doing at times But it is the role of the parents and the school /school board to address issues like this as soon as they are made aware of them. I also agree that not everyone in Wesport is racist, maybe none of them are but they have failed this child by not acting properly once they were aware of the issues. The blame in this case lies with the parents of the children involved, the principal of the school, the members of the school board and any teachers who knew what was happening. For those people, I believe their lack of responsibility and action is disgusting, they have not only failed this child but the entire community. If there is any blame foe the negative reputation that Westport now has, it is theirs, not this child or his parents.

  • Shawn Elford
    June 13, 2014 - 13:33

    when I read about this story it did not suprise me in the least. It only confirms what I've always known growing up in nfld and that is nflder's do not like anything different from what they know. Nflder's are racist and homophobic folk now Im excluding those who are not and you know who you are. so this does not apply to you. It is quite shameful for this community to allow this to happen. It is time to reflect on your own lives and your attitudes and change it. I am quite shameful to call myself a nflder now that I know this is still going on in nfld. That is why I decided long ago to renounce my culture and heritage as a nflder because I do not want people to know I was born and raised in a province of backward thinking and ignorance that hasn't really changed since I left many years ago. Even when I went home at one time with my husband and yes Im gay, we both were met with such disgust, hatred, gawking and most of all gossip everywhere we went. So I know how this young boy feels. Cmon Nflder's wake up and do something about this. Stand-up and demand change in thinking. If not believe me people around the world will no longer look at you as the friendliness and compassionate people the world thinks that you are.

  • Angela
    June 13, 2014 - 13:32

    Pearl Martin, you rock! I totally agree with you!

  • Shawn Elford
    June 13, 2014 - 12:59

    when I read about this story it did not suprise me in the least. It only confirms what I've always known growing up in nfld and that is nflder's do not like anything different from what they know. Nflder's are racist and homophobic folk now Im excluding those who are not and you know who you are. so this does not apply to you. It is quite shameful for this community to allow this to happen. It is time to reflect on your own lives and your attitudes and change it. I am quite shameful to call myself a nflder now that I know this is still going on in nfld. That is why I decided long ago to renounce my culture and heritage as a nflder because I do not want people to know I was born and raised in a province of backward thinking and ignorance that hasn't really changed since I left many years ago. Even when I went home at one time with my husband and yes Im gay, we both were met with such disgust, hatred, gawking and most of all gossip everywhere we went. So I know how this young boy feels. Cmon Nflder's wake up and do something about this. Stand-up and demand change in thinking. If not believe me people around the world will no longer look at you as the friendliness and compassionate people the world thinks that you are.

  • Jaime
    June 13, 2014 - 12:50

    With people like "Mr. Warren", no wonder the town is painted with a tarred brush. He should be defending that child, not the town. Disgusting behaviour.

    • John Lynch
      June 13, 2014 - 16:59

      Jaime, One hundered per cent correct. This mayor is a joke and is a big pat of the reason the situation has not dealt with. I hope the whole world takes notice and punishes Westport for the stupid comments of this idiot. Of course, punishment of children is no longer allowed in society, so unformately the family is going to have to move.

  • Thomas
    June 13, 2014 - 11:37

    I been to Westport and many small communities like it. They will hang their quilts on their clotheslines, sell their berries on the road site, invite you in as long as you have a foreign license plate. Yet in the same breath ostracize the people of their own community. This little Peyton Place with 70+ percent unemployment has way too much time on their hands. Likely you will be targeted if your not a white Caucasian with a Christian background. I'd encourage the family to leave. And burn whatever bridge (or culvert) separates the community so that the disease does not get out. And once out I would go straight to the human rights commission, get a lawyer and sue the works into the stone age or resettlement, whichever comes first.

  • Ed Barbour
    June 13, 2014 - 11:13

    I understand that children will do things that they should not be doing at times But it is the role of the parents and the school /school board to address issues like this as soon as they are made aware of them. I also agree that not everyone in Wesport is racist, maybe none of them are but they have failed this child by not acting properly once they were aware of the issues. The blame in this case lies with the parents of the children involved, the principal of the school, the members of the school board and any teachers who knew what was happening. For those people, I believe their lack of responsibility and action is disgusting, they have not only failed this child but the entire community. If there is any blame foe the negative reputation that Westport now has, it is theirs, not this child or his parents.

  • Deb
    June 13, 2014 - 11:05

    I agree with Pearl. If a child is being bullied all those involved are responsible, including the parents and teachers of the bullies! Evil prevails when good men do nothing. This issue must be addressed and parents need to take control and take the time to teach their kids that this is wrong and has to stop. I believe too many parents are failing in their roles and leaving too much resposibility to the teachers. This has to be addressed by the community as a whole. Come on people, use your common sense and do your jobs.

  • Russ Powell
    June 13, 2014 - 10:40

    Disgraceful treatment of this boy ... and the local school board appears to have known about what he's been going through and did nothing. Shameful! Resign! All of you!!It is said that it takes a community to raise a child. Well, that community certainly isn't Westport. Almost makes me ashamed of my Newfoundland roots.

  • Chris
    June 13, 2014 - 10:24

    Why should the victim have to change schools? It's the bullies that should have to transfer.

    • Todd
      June 13, 2014 - 16:26

      Chris, I completely agree! If the true number of students/families that have had to 'run' to avoid bullying was known it would stagger you! To make it worse, I know personally of an incident where the school board officials actually asked if the victim had considered changing schools!!! (I.E. We can't/won't stop the problem...can you run away from the perpetrators???) That's the permeating mentality that perpetuates the problem.

  • lc
    June 13, 2014 - 09:44

    well i dont care what community it is on this island ,, nflders are supose to be friendly kind,etc people ,, these kids who bully should be sat down with all mentioned and spoken to even if it is or not because of color of skin ,, if it was your child being bullied for whatever reason you would also go public if nothing is being done about it people start teaching your children whats right and wrong it do start at home teach them kindness ,,towards others ,,

  • michelle
    June 13, 2014 - 09:12

    If he knows who the kids are, why are they not being dealt with directly. This whole scenario makes no sense. My daughter had a bully too in grade 8 and once she stood up and showed him that she had no tolerance for him, he backed off. Bullying has been in schools for generations and unfortunately it is not going away. In our situation I tried to intervene and it actually ended up making things worse, once I let her deal with it, and the bully realized he wasn't getting the attention he wanted the situation disappeared. Kids you need to be able to stand up to these bullies, who are insecure and cowards. Do what you need to do to be strong and secure in your own being.

    • Please
      June 13, 2014 - 22:17

      That is applying your specific experience to a universal problem that in every case has different circumstances. I was bullied myself, and if I had stood up to them, I could have been physically assaulted. Don't apply your experience to this boy's, or generally. Not fair.

  • Pearl Martin
    June 13, 2014 - 08:59

    MY RANT FOR THIS WEEK: I can't believe what I'm reading and hearing about 11-year-old Torrence Collier of Westport, a small community on the Baie Verte Peninsula of Newfoundland, who has been the victim of bullying at his school. I am appalled to say the least by their actions: dunking his head in a toilet, punching and kicking him, making racial slanderous statements about him, etc. Some say that bullying is something that has always occurred and always will but that is no justification for allowing bullying to continue. This young boy and his family have been very brave in going forward, making a public outcry for help. We cannot just dismiss his plight. As caring citizens of this wonderful country, we need to demand help for him to immediately rectify this situation. With police assistance, the teachers and administration of that school need to take matters into their own hands to identify those who are doing the bullying and make it stop. Those bullies should be expelled from school and have to serve some kind of punishment for the harm they have done to this young man. Community service would be a way to punish them - if they had to spend 8 hours a day all summer doing menial tasks around the community when their friends are all out having fun, then they may learn that there are consequences to their horrific actions. As a community, the people should all unite to help this young man. These bullies live in that community and are the children, grandchildren, nephews, etc. of the residents. How can they condone such actions of their youth? By allowing it to continue, they are silently telling these bullies that their actions are acceptable. It's time for those adults to act like adults and parents and demand that this bullying stop immediately. As parents, they can find routes to discipline their own children to show support for this young man. I am a parent. I was a teacher. I understand the system. BUT, if one of my children ever did anything as awful as these youth are doing to this young man, then let's just say they wouldn't want me to find out! I would not beat them or anything like that but they would have zero freedom as a form of punishment. I would find all kinds of ways to punish them by finding chores that others need done. They would help the older citizens, mow lawns, do community clean-up, volunteer at church, or whatever else I could come up with to ensure that from 7am to 6pm their days would be full all summer with nights spent at home under my supervision. I would make it my job to see that my child suffered for his bullying actions. Come on parents, act as such and make your child be responsible for his actions!

    • Living in Europe
      June 13, 2014 - 12:32

      We have sometimes similar unpleasant situations or problems like that here, but also among so-called normal young people born and raised here. Those who think they are normal are the idiots.

  • Jackie Barrett
    June 13, 2014 - 06:48

    While I'm glad that the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District are allowing Torrence to move to another school, I'm more than appalled at the board for not punishing the Administrators at St. Peter's Academy for gross incompetence and discrimination. Since School Administrators, particularly a Principal and Vice Principal, are considered employers and supervisors under the law, they are vicariously liable for the actions of their teachers and their students. They are responsible for student conduct due to the legal principle of "loco parentis", Latin for "in place of a parent". Due to a Principal's failure to do something about the bullying problem at St. Peter's Academy, the school board should remove him/her from that duty and bring in a new leader whom will lay down the law on bullies regardless of fears of reprisals from parents and guardians. However, Westport Mayor, Max Warren, is right in saying that not everybody is racist or stereotypical, and every single resident in that town and other Baie Verte Peninsula area communities should not be painted in a negative light due to a few ignorant people. To prevent what happened in Westport from every happening again, the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District has to make courses on global geography and multiculturalism mandatory in elementary and junior high level Social Studies courses like they do in my home province, Nova Scotia.