Joanne McGarry, executive director of the CCRL, addressed the Ontario government’s standing committee for social policy May 15. Register file photo

Catholic Civil Rights League challenges anti-bullying Bill-13

By  Erin Morawetz, The Catholic Register
  • May 17, 2012

TORONTO - The Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada has challenged the Liberal government's proposed Bill-13 over the anti-bullying legislation's focus on gender and sexual orientation.

Joanne McGarry, executive director of the league, along with league president Phil Horgan, addressed the Ontario government’s standing committee for social policy May 15. They expressed the league's opposition to Bill-13 because of its focus on gender, its infringement on denominational rights and its impact on curriculum.

“Nobody is in favour of bullying,” McGarry told The Catholic Register. “(But) we challenge the emphasis on gender and orientation (in Bill-13).”

Bill-13, or the Accepting Schools Act, is a proposed amendment to the Education Act that promotes anti-bullying, and includes guidelines for teacher training and student discipline. In addition, it states that every board, including Catholic school boards, must support the establishment of student clubs and organization that promote gender equality, anti-racism, respect for people with disabilities and respect for “people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance (GSA) or another name.”

But McGarry said the league is opposed to the bill for more than just the reference to clubs.

Section four of the bill says the purpose of the act is, in part, “to encourage a positive school climate and prevent inappropriate behaviour, including bullying, sexual assault, gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia.” 

“We object to the term of homophobia,” McGarry said. “We don’t think the term has any place in legislation.”

The league supports Bill-14, a Conservative bill that has a broader focus on all bullying. McGarry said Bill-13 is too specific on gender and not on other factors of bullying.

Eric Ames, communications director for the Family Coalition Party of Ontario, also spoke at the committee meeting and expressed similar views to McGarry. He said Bill-13 is not addressing the needs of all students, but rather setting up for reverse discrimination by showing that gender issues are given the most attention.

“The document mentions religion as a reason of bullying but not something that needs to be protected,” said Ames. “That’s an omission.”

Ames hopes to see Bill-13 amended and the best parts of the two bills combined into a more general anti-bullying bill. He also said parents should have input into how these bills will affect curriculum.

“It’s written in the Education Act… you can teach about religion but you can’t teach religion,” Ames said. “If we’re going to have a diverse society, we have to learn how to communicate within the respect of differences.

“The way the bill has been worded, it makes sex and religion contentious. If we’re going to have a bill, we need to not marginalize anybody and not politicize this thing.”

The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association does not see a problem with the wording of the bill — and is supportive of Bill-13.

“We’re very much in support of the legislation because it does address the bullying issue,” said Marino Gazzola, president of the trustees’ association. “It’s trying to reduce the incidents of bullying.”

That said, OCTSA introduced its own anti-bullying policy in January called Respecting Difference. It differs slightly from Bill-13 by giving Catholic schools a procedure for setting up Respecting Difference groups — which are to be respectful and consistent with Catholic teaching — rather than GSAs.

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