Conservative Education critic Lisa MacLeod Photo by Michael Swan

Arguments against bill fed resolve to pass it, MPPs say

  • June 7, 2012

TORONTO - Opponents of Bill-13 lost the debate over gay-straight alliances because they seemed either fearful or contemptuous of the word gay in presentations at committee, said NDP and Liberal legislators during debate at final reading of the Accepting Schools Act.

“We know that homophobia is real. The committee hearings proved it is real,” said NDP MP Cheri DiNovo.

“They wouldn’t even say the word gay. They were afraid,” said Liberal Liz Sandals. “When the adults in a school are afraid of the word gay, you know you’ve got a problem... They absolutely convinced me that if that was the level of vitriol, then we needed this bill.”

Conservative Education critic Lisa MacLeod called the bill unnecessarily divisive.

“We had wanted a bill that could be supported throughout the entire province,” she said.

With the possibility of a court challenge looming and debate raging in the media over public funding to Catholic schools, the issue of bullying is taking a back seat to sexual politics and religious rights, said MacLeod.

“The issue of bullying has now been relegated to some secondary issue while this government and the courts decide whether Catholic schools can be funded,” she said.

The committee process was truncated and failed to take seriously the concerns of parents who warned against gay-straight alliances, according to MacLeod.

“Such clubs weren’t going to be forced on anyone,” said NDP education critic Peter Tabuns.

It was Tabuns who first proposed the amendment to Bill-13 which would give students the right to name anti-homophobia clubs. By adopting the NDP motion, the Liberals assured themselves of New Democrat support in a minority legislature.

Letting kids call their clubs gay-straight alliances doesn’t violate religious freedom, Tabuns told The Catholic Register.

“We’re not asking anyone to change their faith. We’re saying that students should be able to name a club,” said Tabuns.

While it’s easy for the press to stir up a small, angry cadre of opponents to separate school funding, it doesn’t mean anyone is seriously considering defunding Catholic schools or merging Catholic and public boards.

“Overwhelmingly people are far more concerned about jobs, health care, quality of education,” said Tabuns. “And going to a divisive debate on funding the separate school system — my phones are not ringing off the hook on this issue. Secondly, constitutionally it’s been settled. And thirdly, in 2007 we went through an election in which funding for schools was a central theme. It was a divisive and difficult election and I don’t think it would serve anyone in Ontario to go through a similar election again.”

Conservative MPP Jane McKenna called the bill “well intentioned but weak.”

The bill adopted a number of elements from former Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer’s Bill 14, including an enhanced definition of bullying, measures on cyber-bullying, requirements for schools and boards to publish intervention and prevention policies and reporting requirements for principals.

But Bill-13 waters down what would have been much tougher accountability measures in Bill-14, complained McKenna.

“The system is lacking much-needed accountability,” she said. “It’s always somebody else’s fault, always somebody else’s problem.”

Ordained in the United Church of Canada, DiNovo referred to Galatians 3:28 to argue gay-straight alliances are a Christian response to a bullied and vulnerable minority.

“There are no boundaries in Christ. Everybody is included,” she said. “Love for your neighbour means inclusion of your neighbour, and doing what you can to keep your neighbour safe, and doing what you can to keep your neighbour alive.”

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