Close to 2,000 protesters gathered outside Queen's Park to protest the Ontario Liberal government's anti-bullying legislation, Bill 13, earlier this year. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Get it right with anti-bullying legislation

By 
  • May 8, 2012

Rather than going back to the drawing board, the Ontario government’s flawed anti-bullying legislation has instead gone to all-party committee hearings where, hopefully, common sense and good law-making will finally prevail. Under the circumstances, that is a positive development.

For several months the governing Liberals and opposition Conservatives have bickered over competing pieces of legislation to curb schoolyard bullying. To break the deadlock, the parties agreed to send both bills to committee to meld them into a policy that can be quickly passed and implemented by September. The committee discussions are likely to focus on controversial sections of the Liberal bill that place special emphasis on gender issues and homophobia-based bullying.

It remains to be seen, of course, if the melded bill will allay serious concerns in the Catholic community about Bill-13. In addition to getting tough on bullying, the Liberal bill would force publicly funded high schools, including Catholic schools, to permit student-requested clubs known as gay-straight alliances. Catholic schools wouldn’t be bound to use the name gay-straight alliance, but the legislation would mandate the creation of student clubs that, in addition to anti-bullying, would inevitably promote sexual moral values that conflict with Church teaching.

The Conservatives’ Bill-14 is similar to Bill-13 without the emphasis on same-sex issues and gender. It addresses bullying in a way that treats all types of bullying equally and respects the rights of Catholic education as enshrined in the federal constitution and the provincial Education Act.

In that respect, Bill-14 is more closely aligned with the anti-bullying position of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association as outlined in its Respecting Difference policy statement.

Bullying is a serious issue that deserves an unambiguous response. The problem with the Liberal bill is that it is soaked in ambiguity. Is it a bill intended primarily to address bullying or a bill intended to advance the cause of a special interest group? It tries to do both. The bill purports to support all students but specifically addresses homophobia while remaining silent on some of the most common types of bullying.

Hopefully the committee members will now re-write the Accepting Schools Act so it reads less like general advocacy for a particular lifestyle and focuses more specifically on bullying. If student support groups are part of the legislation, the groups should be inclusive of all bullying victims, regardless of why they were bullied, and they must be allowed to operate in ways that respect the rights of Catholic education.

This issue should not be so difficult to resolve. All parties agree on the need for tougher anti-bullying laws and all students are entitled to schools that are safe. It’s time the lawmakers got it right.

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