Government faces criticism over anti-bullying bill

EFC's Faye Sonier called Bill 13 'problematic'

Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government has pushed an equity and inclusivity initiative on all Ontario publicly funded schools, which has Christian groups and concerned parents worried about the ability of Catholic schools to remain faithful to the teachings of the church. Those concerns were proven correct, says Campaign Life Catholics, when the government introduced Bill 13, an anti-bullying bill entitled The Accepting Schools Act, that ignores common reasons for bullying such as appearance and body size and prohibited groups opposed to the homosexual lifestyle from renting school property.

At the center of the anti-bullying initiative is the government-mandated creation of Gay Straight Alliance clubs (GSAs), which critics say are in violation of Catholic moral teaching on homosexuality and are a mechanism to promote gay activism in the schools. Catholic bishops in Ontario have said GSAs are not allowed in Catholic schools and on Jan. 25, the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association released a document, “Respecting Differences,” that states clearly GSAs are “not acceptable in Catholic schools.” The OCSTA supports Respecting Differences clubs that would deal with bullying related to any identifiable group, not just people who self-identify as homosexual. The document states that the clubs must be “respectful of and consistent with Catholic teaching” and directs principals to appoint a carefully selected staff advisor who “must know and be committed to Catholic teachings” and will be present throughout all the club’s activities.

Suresh Dominic of Campaign Life Catholics congratulated the bishops and trustees for their document and said all separate school boards should endorse the document.

The Institute for Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) issued a review of Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy and urged the government to not create a “hierarchy of victimhood” which could “lead to an inequitable availability of resources.” IMFC’s Peter Jon Mitchell also said that the government is mistaken to conflate tolerance and acceptance, with a government policy enforcing acceptance representing a threat to the larger educational goal of encouraging “diversity of thought and opinion.”

Education Minister Laurel Broten has there will be “no more debate” on GSAs and is “confident” that Catholic schools will implement them once the bill is passed.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) has also come out against Bill 13, which they say gives “special status” to certain groups at the expense of other groups. The EFC said in an open letter that while ostensibly the bill states all students “feel safe at school and deserve a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting,” it identifies four groups that would receive special status with the creation of clubs that promote gender equity, anti-racism, raise awareness for people with disabilities, and gay-straight alliances. The EFC said, “Rather than permitting students to learn about their differences and recognize their commonalities in equity clubs, this Bill specifically sets out to isolate students into issue-specific groups.”

Faye Sonier, EFC Legal Counsel, in a media release last Wednesday called the bill “problematic from a legal perspective as well as unnecessarily broad, rigid and inflexible.”

The EFC also questions whether bullying can be addressed by “legislative force.” MPP Randy Hillier (PC, Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington) agrees. He told The Interim that the government does not need a new law to address bullying in the schools because schools already have the tools to deal with students who are violent and that “a law isn’t going to change human nature,” suggesting that school-yard teasing is beyond the scope of matters with which that Queen’s Park should be concerned.

Besides questioning its effectiveness, Hilllier also questioned the need for an anti-bullying law. He said students have always had differences and have teased and hassled each other over them. While accepting that “schools should provide a safe learning environment for all students” by punishing violent bullying, he said the real problem today is that “we have an epidemic of the bullying label for political purposes.” He accused Dalton McGuinty of “legislating by headline” in promoting laws that react to current news stories and produce positive media coverage but do not necessarily correlate with the critical needs of the province.


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