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Nova Scotia concludes its first anti-bullying conference

Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old from Cole Harbour, had struggled emotionally for more than a year after she was sexually assaulted and a police investigation failed to file charges, her mother, Leah, says on a Facebook tribute page.

Nova Scotia has concluded its first anti-bullying leadership conference, which saw nearly 500 participants come together to tackle what is being increasingly recognized as a widespread and complicated issue.

"Bullying behaviour is a complex societal problem," said Kathleen Richard, Nova Scotia's anti-bullying co-ordinator.

"(It) does not exist just in schools — it is a community issue, and to have all us together for this event, to learn with and among and for each other is fabulous."

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In large part, the conference was part of a response to the death of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons.

Parsons died after a suicide attempt in April at the age of 17 — her family says she was bullied after a photo of her alleged sexual assault was circulated over social media.

Richard was one of the organizers for the anti-bullying conference, which brought together youth, parents, educators, government officials and representatives from community organizations.

Richard was appointed the province's first anti-bullying co-ordinator in September 2012, as Nova Scotia took steps to address how new technology was affecting the growth and expansion of modern-day bullying.

"Our primary objective was to bring collections and groups of people together for the first time to have conversations with each other," Richard said on Saturday. "So we're not talking adults in a silo, or youth in a silo."

The two-day conference, called Speak Up!, included workshops on various topics: the root causes of bullying, cyberbullying and parenting in a digital age.

The Nova Scotia government also announced the release of new resources for parents and teens dealing with issues of bullying and sexual violence. The province announced it will be launching a website in September for students to report cases of bullying in schools.

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Since Parsons's death, Nova Scotia has passed the Cyber-Safety Act, which allows people to sue or seek a protection order from the courts if they or their children are being cyberbullied.

The act also paved the way for the creation of an investigative unit dedicated to pursuing and penalizing cyberbullies, which the government expects to be operational this fall.

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