Today, the Ontario Legislature passed a groundbreaking new anti-bullying law. Bill 13, the Accepting Schools act, passed by a vote of 65-36 in the minority legislature, despite objection from the opposition Tories and the Catholic church. The bill outlaws “aggressive and typically repeated behaviour by a pupil…. causing harm, fear or distress to another individual including physical, psychological, social or academic harm” in schools, including cyber bullying, and promotes an inclusive environment that welcomes all people including those of any sexual orientation.
After passage of the bill, Premier Dalton McGuinty said “There are values that transcend any one faith. And if you talk to parents, they’ll tell you. They want their kids to be respected and accepted, they want their schools to be caring places, ideally we’d like to see them as a bit of an extension of the home in terms of the comfort level that our kids might enjoy inside their school.”
Only the Progressive Conservative MLAs voted against the bill, saying that the Liberal government used the anti-bullying bill to make their party look “homophobic” and to open up a debate about faith-based schools that “the public doesn’t want to have”. The Catholic School Board, for their part, opposed the bill, because it requires schools to allow students to use the name “gay-straight alliances” for their anti-homophobia clubs if they wish. The Catholic schools wanted to have a veto over the use of that name, claiming it represents a “political agenda” conflicting with their religious beliefs and freedoms.
Ontario is one of the few provinces in Canada that still has a Catholic school system in addition to a non-faith affiliated Public school system. Both boards receive public funding, an issue which became a heated debate in the 2007 Ontario election when a candidate suggested it was time to end faith-based school funding.
This legislation was tabled in response to two suicides – Jamie Hubley of Ottawa and Mitchell Wilson of Pickering, both Ontario boys who faced bullying and torment – Jamie because he was gay, Mitchell because he was weak.
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