Ontario passes anti-bullying bill
The Ontario government voted in measures to prevent school bullying today, approving the third and final reading of the Accepting Schools Act. The bill will finally allow Gay Straight Alliances to exist in all schools, in spite of strong resistance from Catholic leaders.
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After months of deliberation with Conservatives, Bill 13 was approved in its third and final reading today in the Ontario legislature. The anti-bullying bill, which will soon become law as the Accepting Schools Act, was the subject of divisive debate over the ban on Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Catholic Schools.
The bill is the first one to pass (65 to 36) in the minority Liberal government, with the help of the NDP. An NDP amendment to the bill by education critic Peter Tabuns specifically grants students the right to use the name “GSA” for their clubs, in an effort to combat homophobic bullying. Premier Dalton McGuinty has said specifically that his motivation for the bill came from the high-profile bullying-related suicide of Ottawa gay teen Jamie Hubley last year. Another snag in the months-long debate over the passing of the bill was that Conservative MLA Elizabeth Witmer had proposed an anti-bullying bill of her own last year (Bill 14), which Tories say had tougher “accountability measures.”
While both bills had similar principles for addressing all forms of bullying, only the Liberal’s Bill 13 specifically addressed the issue of GSAs. For months, Roman Catholic leaders and other religious groups have opposed the legislation, saying that it promotes a “radical sex education agenda.” Education Minister Laurel Broten was amongst the politicians hearing deputations from both anti-gay religious leaders and students fighting for GSAs in their schools.
“It should not be up to us at Queen’s Park to determine what these groups should be called. We believe it should be up to the students. Student voices are what really matter,” she told Xtra.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said they are “pleased that neither a board nor principal may prevent students from using the name ‘gay-straight alliance’ if they wish to start such a student organization,” adding to a chorus of voices that have supported the bill, including the EGALE and Jer’s Vision.
Advocacy group Queer Ontario was also a vocal supporter of Bill 13. “We feel very strongly that LGBTQ-identified youth, who we know are heavily targeted for bullying, should receive the protections and supports they require regardless of what school board they are enrolled in,” says Nick Mulé, chairperson of Queer Ontario. “We expect the province’s Catholic School Boards to abide by this new legislation or reconsider accepting public funds.”
Catholic Bishops have already said they have no intention of challenging the legislation, which has unleashed dormant questions of public funding for religious schools in Ontario. Photo by Jplsongs, Flickr