Two Competing Visions of Anti-Bullying Legislation

The suicide of Jamie Hubley in October was a rude awakening for the people of Ontario. His suicide after suffering from depression and being bullied in school for being gay was a shock. This doesn’t happen in Ontario, especially in a city like Ottawa. In response the Liberal party, current governing party in Ontario, proposed Bill 13 and put it before the legislature. The Conservatives didn’t like this legislation and proposed their own, Bill 14. Conservative MPP Randy Hillier has been particularly vocal about it with an opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen that was also posted on his web site.  Mr. Hillier suggests that many who support Bill 13 (the one from the government) have not read the legislation. I have. I have also read Bill 14 put forward by Elizabeth Witmer of the Progressive Conservatives. In this post I am looking at the two pieces of legislation as well as Mr. Hillier’s post about it.

One of the  differences between the two pieces of legislation is that Bill 13 acknowledges that when there is bullying there is a power imbalance and Bill 14 does not. Bill 14 acknowledges that bullying is often a group activity, something that Bill 13 does not address in this section.

Bill 13:

1.  (1)  Subsection 1 (1) of the Education Act is amended by adding the following definition:

“bullying” means repeated and aggressive behaviour by a pupil where,

(a)  the behaviour is intended by the pupil to cause, or the pupil ought to know that the behaviour would be likely to cause, harm, fear or distress to another individual, including psychological harm or harm to the individual’s reputation, and

(b)  the behaviour occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance between the pupil and the individual [emphasis mine] based on factors such as size, strength, age, intelligence, peer group power, economic status, social status, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, family circumstances, gender, race, disability or the receipt of special education; (“intimidation”)

Bill 14:
1.  (1)  Subsection 1 (1) of the Education Act is amended by adding the following definition:
“bullying” means the severe or repeated use by one or more pupils of a written, verbal, electronic or other form of expression, a physical act or gesture or any combination of them if it is directed at another pupil and if it has the effect of or is reasonably intended to have the effect of,  (a)  causing physical or emotional harm to the other pupil or damage to the other pupil’s property,

(b)  placing the other pupil in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself or damage to his or her property,

(c)  creating a hostile environment at school for the other pupil,

(d)  infringing on the legal rights of the other pupil at school, or

(e)  materially and substantially disrupting the education process or the orderly operation of a school; (“intimidation”)

It is important to note that that Bill 14 does not explicitly provide examples of groups of students that tend to be the victim of bullying. Bill 14 also does not provide a requirements that boards adopt policies that, as it states in Bill 13, “(a.1) promote a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils, including pupils of any race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability; (a.2) promote the prevention of bullying;” 

In his opinion piece Mr. Hillier contends that “Bill 13 presumes the behaviour of children will be altered by preventing them from experiencing adversity”. I don’t see that in this bill at all. He goes on to state that by mandating that schools create “a host of new school clubs which could identify people in the club as being: “lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gendered, transsexual, two-spirited, inter-sexed, queer (or) questioning.””  and that “[b]elieving these clubs will minimize or end bullying reaches the zenith of downright stupidity.” This totally misses the purpose of these clubs and the positive impact they can have on the lives of students.

These clubs provide a number of benefits to the schools with the two primary ones being support for students who are: 1. LGBTTQ and trying to figure out who they are. 2. An education and resource for other students and staff on issues facing LGBTTQ students. The reason that bullying is so effective against minority groups is that the person being bullied is singled out by the bully or bullies and in the case of LGBTTQ often feels like they will never be accepted for who they are.

Bill 14 does not have any requirement of boards to “develop and implement an equity and inclusive education policy”. Bill 13 does.

By opposing these groups the Conservatives in Ontario are continuing what they were doing in the provincial election campaign. They took positions and supported positions that would limit any recognition of LGBTTQ people in schools. There was an ad that ran in two newspapers that was transphobic and anti-gay criticising educating students about LGBTTQ  issues as well as flyers with a similar message distributed in Brampton. The Catholic Church and many, if not all, separate school boards oppose allowing “Gay/Straight” Alliances or “Rainbow Clubs” in schools. Mr. Hillier contends that perhaps politicians “have forgotten that children learn right from wrong through education, experience, observation, and consequence”. Mr. Hillier also states that “[t]he depth of a child’s understanding is amplified not only through reward or punishment, but by learning compassion and empathy.”  It’s time for the Conservatives to show that they understand this.

Bill 13 is not perfect, Bill 14 falls well short of the mark. I would call on all parties in the house to work together to make this the best possible piece of legislation. At the same time, do not throw LGBTTQ students under the school bus because some people don’t want to hear that LGBTTQ people exist and want to shelter children from the realities of life.

Children cannot be taught compassion, empathy and understanding towards minorities when school boards, politicians and others try to minimise their presence and refuse to allow the teaching of issues in schools.

 

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