It was an accident that Doug Leslie was in Pine Centre Mall on Wednesday. The Fort Fraser man was in Prince George on personal matters and found out at the mall that a flash mob was about to occur to draw attention to anti-bullying initiatives.
Leslie could not leave without seeing the demonstration by about 100 local elementary students, and offering his appreciation to the organizers.
Leslie is the father of Loren Donn Leslie, allegedly murdered in 2010 in the Vanderhoof / Fort St. James area. Since then, her father and many other family and friends have rallied values like compassion and empathy around her name. Leslie has become a public advocate for improving the self esteem of youth through education and personal development.
"I have a message to share, Loren's message," he said. "To be aware of those around us and to treat others with dignity, compassion and respect. It is a simple and honest message that sometimes doesn’t come easily to many."
Although he cannot discuss the details of the ongoing court case pertaining to his daughter's death, he can speak freely about the local efforts to make life better for young people. He and School District 91 are working together on a peer support program he hopes to pilot soon and expand to other districts. He wants School District 57 to be the second to try the program out.
"When I found out Doug Leslie was here, it shook me up. That was such an unexpected, excellent surprise. It made me cry just seconds before we were supposed to go on," said flash mob co-organizer Tessa Fraser, one of School District 57's aboriginal education workers.
She knew that Loren Leslie was a troubled youth who still found a way to spread dignity and caring throughout her circle of friends, and she knew that Loren Leslie had pronounced differences that sometimes made her a target. She was the kind of young person that anti-bullying events were built for.
"Loren was legally blind and was very self aware," said Doug Leslie. "She, as many do, had a tough time with many things in life but she always pressed on and kept an upbeat attitude. There were many times that she was down and instead of indulging in that feeling of hopelessness, she looked to help others who, perhaps, were more down than she. Loren was a person who did not judge - perhaps that was a fault - but she let individuals express themselves as who they were."
Loren became a self-styled peer counsellor, spending long hours online or in person talking friends through their difficulties and being a supportive ear, said her father.
"How she became a magnet for troubled souls is mystifying, but she was," he said. "When she was shunned, bullied, ignored, or just not included she did not worry 'why me.' Instead she did her best to recognize what was unique in others and to go out of her way to include them in life.
"I may be quiet but I listen very loud...this is what Loren Donn Leslie believed," he said.
In addition to developing the peer support program, Doug Leslie is working to organize the next edition of the Loren Donn Leslie awareness walk in June. He is scheduled to also be a speaker on March 22 (noon to 4 p.m. at the Nadleh Community Hall) at the tribute to Destiny Rae Tom, a 21-year-old Nadleh Whut'en woman found beaten to death one year ago not far from her home. The police are still investigating.
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