A crowd of about 600 people marched through downtown Toronto on May 31 to protest the Liberal government's anti-bullying legislation, Bill 13. Photo by Evan Boudreau

600 protesters rally in Toronto to oppose GSAs

  • June 4, 2012

An estimated 600 people packed a downtown Toronto square on May 31 before marching to Queen's Park to protest the Ontario Liberal government's Bill 13.

"We are here to make a very public statement against the absolutely totalitarian legislation called Bill 13," said Jack Fonseca of Campaign Life Catholics. "Dalton McGuinty has set before us a choice between liberty and tyranny. It's requiring the Catholic Church to violate its religious beliefs in many respects."

The protest was in response to a change to anti-bullying Bill 13 that would prevent Catholic school boards from blocking clubs called gay-straight alliances while leaving the naming of such clubs solely up to students, even over objections from parents, principals and school trustees.

Campaign Life Catholics partnered with other groups to organize the protest that started at noon at Dundas Square. After protesting for an hour, the crowd than marched behind police along Dundas Street to University Avenue and then up to Queen's Park, where they remained until about 2:15 p.m. 

"This legislation also steals parents rights," said Fonseca. "It tramples them under foot.

"(GSA's) bring a social political agenda into the classroom. All Canadians have to stand against this. This is not just a Catholic issue."

Those concerns were echoed by non-Catholic Phil Lees, leader of the Family Coalition Party, who addressed the rally.

"Our concern is that Bill 13 puts the curriculum . . . in the hands of the ministry and the school boards are going to say we don't have any say," said Lees, a member of Public Eduction Advocates for Christian Equity. "The education system has lead to this challenge for families to raise their kids in a way that is consistent with their faith."

He cited an incident involving his son as evidence. According to Lees, his son was called homophobic for not purchasing a rainbow bracelet sold by a GSA at his public high school. Lees said that case is not isolated.

"I've had other students say if I don't attend, if I don't purchase their materials, I get told I'm a homophobe; I get bullied," he said. "We should have legislation that respects the constitutional rights of people and not put an emphasis on the rights of minority groups because we want to overcome any difficulties they say they've been having."

Maggie Amin, a Muslim mother of three and teacher at a private Islamic school in Peel Region, fears similar bullying against her children in the public school system.

"They're actually starting discrimination with Bill 13, not ending it," said Amin, who brought 10 other Muslim women to the protest after finding out about it the previous evening. "We're going to have people against people. Canada is opening a can of worms."

But counter-protester Justin Trottier, who along with four others held support-GSA signs, said that blocking GSAs would infringe on students' right to assembly and expression. 

"Students have a constitutional right via their freedom of expression and their freedom of association to have gay-straight alliances and to call it by that name," said Trottier. "To deny them the right to use the word gay essentially censors their very identity and is unacceptable."

Trottier dismissed the claim that GSAs simply redirect bullying. He pointed to the decade-long history of GSAs in various school within the public systems across the nation.

"Students in these schools say that their educational experience is enhanced, they suffer less bullying, they feel more comfortable (and) they go to school more often."

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