Bob Murray, director of legislative and political affairs for the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA)

Bill-13 implementation still a work in progress

  • June 13, 2012

TORONTO - The potential introduction of gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools has angered many Catholics, but several Catholic educators expect such clubs will closely resemble Respecting Difference groups already in operation.

“Our expectation is that the content will still mirror the Respecting Difference groups and that the Catholic content will be ensured and so will our denominational rights,” said Bob Murray, director of legislative and political affairs for the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA).

Respecting Difference groups are broad anti-bullying support systems that can also address a specific issue. The name comes from an OCSTA resource document to aid staff in combating bullying using methods within Catholic faith parameters.

While Bill-13 empowers students to name the clubs as they see fit, including GSA, Murray said governance structures contained in the legislation leave content control in the hands of staff.

“Principals still have the right to control content and to ensure those clubs meet the existing mandate of any student club that’s existed in our schools,” he said. “Staff supervisors in the clubs will be along the line of a teacher that is familiar with the Catholic faith and can ensure that those values are protected in the content of these clubs regardless of what they’re called.”

However, the government has yet to provide boards with specific regulations regarding implementation of the legislation. Murray expects that to arrive by the end of the summer. Although things are not finalized, he foresees no major surprises.

He says that anti-bullying clubs, some of which address bullying based on same-sex attraction, have existed parallel to faith teachings in Catholic schools for more than 25 years, a point Murray feels was frequently overlooked during Bill-13 debates.

This long history of successful support is reason for optimism, said Bruce Campbell of the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

“We expect to see that the existing structure of the Open Arms Respecting Difference groups continue,” said the board’s general manager of communications and community relations. “We see these groups as meeting the needs of students within the safe context that parents would expect from a Catholic school.”

During the board’s 8th Annual (IN)Equity Conference, the board added the term Open Arms to Respecting Difference to further extend the idea of acceptance and inclusiveness after gay activists criticized the resource document.

Campbell said there are at least six schools across the board, one of Ontario’s most populated, pursuing the formation of these groups. He also could not recall any request for the formation of a special interest group, such as a GSA, aside from St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Mississauga.

“Once we get going and roll out then students have a choice to select a name (and) I’m not sure if everyone is going to want to have a GSA in the name, although I’m certain that would be the preference in some cases,” said Campbell.

Murray, and many others in the Catholic school system, believes such groups have the potential to marginalize students.

“In terms of these issue-specific groups, I feel that there is a danger of marginalization,” said Murray. “But if students desire the formation of these groups they have the right to do so according to this legislation.”

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