Bill 13: Ontario Picks A Fight With Bullies. The Bullies Fight Back.
Ontario will sometime today have a final reading for some of the most comprehensive anti-bully legislation in
history. Bill 13, known as the Accepting Schools Act, aims to amend the Education Act in our province to define and address bullying in schools.
Bill 13 does an admirable job of defining the concept of bullying. Section 1(1)(ii)(b) even explicitly addresses the concept of power imbalance.
1. (1) Subsection 1 (1) of the Education Act is amended by adding the following definition:
This definition goes a long way toward explaining how privilege plays a part in bullying- the difference between “punching up” and “punching down”.
Ontario may be the first jurisdiction in North America to enshrine programs to address equity and inclusiveness in education that explicitly includes a comprehensive spectrum of sexual identity- including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirited, intersex, queer and questioning. In those exact words.
During the public consultation process, it was brought to the attention of the government that extra-curricular and social groups helped to foster an environment of tolerance, understanding and inclusiveness for marginalized groups- and that students have had problems at their schools attempting to organize clubs and social groups that include LGBTTIQ issues. To this end the government included in the legislation provisions to give interested students the right to start Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) within their school. It also closed a loophole in previous drafts that would have allowed schools to refuse to allow students to name these groups “”gay-straight alliances”.
Bullies To Province: “Only We Get To Define A Group By Narrow Criteria”
So by now I have given away the punchline- you already know who stands opposed to the new anti-bullying legislation. Just to give a little more context though, let me tell you a little more about education in Ontario….
Ontario has a Constitutionally protected publicly funded Catholic school board. This protection is, funny enough, the result of an agreement at the time of Confederation that was designed to acknowledge the privilege of being a Protestant in the province and to give some bit of cultural real estate to a marginalized group. It was enshrined in Section 93 of the British North America Act in 1867- it was protected by section 29 of the Charter in 1982. Since 1867, of course, the naturally privileged Protestant schools in Ontario have all disappeared in favor of secular education while the Constitutionally protected Catholic minority has been allowed to keep their schools religious
focus. Now, the minority that has benefited so greatly by laws designed to level the privilege playing field is shouting at the top of their lungs to avoid giving another minority protection under the law. “This is not something that needs to be protected under the law”, they say. “There is no good that will come from laws focusing on protecting one minority more than all the other disadvantaged groups”, they argue.
Perhaps they are right. There is reason to believe that well-intentioned laws have unintended negative consequences- we have precedent. One need look no further than the protections we afforded to the Catholic church regarding denominational education back in 1867.
The problem with this argument, of course, is that Bill 13 doesn’t focus solely on LGBTTIQ bullying. It points to them by name- as a group that has struggled most with acceptance within the school system. Bill 13 addresses a problem unique to this group when looking to organize extra-curricular groups sanctioned by the school board. It does these things, for sure, yet it still addresses the power of privilege and the roadmap to making headway in the fight against bullying. Why does it focus on LGBTTIQ rights when so many other underprivileged groups also suffer at the hands of bullies? Because the rot of ignorance and ambivalence extends beyond the hormone-swelled students and into the faculty and administration. It is necessary to spell this out for even the adults in the system.
When I went to high school, I was not at the bottom of the pecking order- but I certainly wasn’t near the top. I was called a “fag” for two whole school years because I stood up to a homophobic asshat of a teacher. Oh, and I was in Drama. Also, the Tennis Team-so I was pretty much “asking for it”.
You know what though? I was an “artsy geek”, and I wasn’t entirely alone. I had teachers who befriended me- and helped to make a difference in my life. So did the “MtG geeks”, who had a Staff Advisor who was into D&D as a teen. So did the “Mathletics/Chess Club/Brainer geeks”, who had staff who had been there themselves. Who did the gay kids have? Sure, they fit into other groups. Groups that probably still marginalized them, and staff who probably didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to them. Hell, I was in the Drama Club- that seeming safe haven for homosexuality. We had (that I know of) two closeted gay guys, one bi-curious (at least openly) guy, another who was lifestyle-queer(but swore he was totally straight) and a bunch of girls who made out with each other at parties. Pretty gay, right? Well the one guy who was closeted got called “Princess” by many of the members, and the other one quit after one year when it was apparent that we were just as hostile as the sports clubs. The bi-curious guy was one of my best friends- and I am ashamed to say that I occasionally chastised him for being a bit too “homo” in public. The other guy prided himself on being called gay- at least outwardly. I will tell you that our group was probably the most “gay friendly” you could get in high school. I will also tell you that I wouldn’t trade my hetero-privileged life for theirs. It was still a shitty time for them.
So to me, Bill 13 is very important legislation. Will it end bullying? Nope. Will it make high school easy? No. Will it give bullied kids a real avenue to address the daily torture they face? Yes. Will it give some much needed shelter to the queer community from the privilege of a hetero-centered and homophobic school system? Yes…and it should.
The public hearings on Bill 13 were a three-ring circus. There were accusations that Gay-Straight Alliances were “sex clubs”. People testified that schools would have forced GSA’s even if no students were interested- it was mandated.
Why would people be so ridiculously misinformed about this legislation? I’ll give you a guess…..
O.K., still not sure? Here’s a hint.
It’s a group. A group who has the word “Family” in their name. Are you surprised?
Go check out their site. It’s a real prize.
You Know How To Terrorize A Kid? Make Up Shit That Could Plausibly Be True- Tell Everyone, Repeat. How Do You Attack Anti-Bully Legislation? Do The Same…..
Here is a couple of tips for those who want to kill this bill.
- If you are going to write to your Liberal or NDP MPP to tell them how unbelievably horrible this legislation is, you might start by not using the epically ridiculous form e-mail offered by the Family Coalition Party. You know that MPP that you are writing? Yeah. About that. He/She has read the bill. She knows what it does and doesn’t say and do. Why does she know this? Because she read the fucking bill! Hell, she might have actually assisted in drafting it. Don’t piss on someone’s leg and tell them it’s raining.
- If you are going to testify before committee-and I’m dead serious here- read the bill! Know what it says. Know what it doesn’t say. Point out something clever, like the fact that a Staff Advisor may be required to oversee a GSA against their religious principles. Don’t make shit up. Don’t tell them that it is a sex club. Or that kids are going to be forced to join GSAs. Or that “gay kids don’t get bullied any more than other groups”. That’s patently false.
- If you are an opposition MPP, don’t write a letter telling people a whole gaggle of bald-faced lies and logically disjointed arguments in an effort to sway opinion. It makes you look even more ignorant when you are expected to know better.
- If you are the opposition Conservatives- for the love of all that is sacred in this universe- do not introduce a competing bill that has multiple clauses stating “this legislation means absolutely fuck all”. The point of legislation is to legislate something. As near as I can tell, Bill 14 only actually legislates “Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week”. Everything else is just polite suggestions. For those who have better things to do with their lives than read Conservative toothless platitudes, let me sum it up in my revised preamble, then just click the link above and scroll to sections 303.1 (2), 303.2(5), and 303.2(7).
Bullying, particularly in schools, has become an increasing problem in Canada. Victims of bullying have suffered mental anguish, bodily injury and even death at the hands of their tormentors. We as a society must at least feign concern, or else people might say we are heartless.
Bullying is a problem we don’t really want to solve. It can leave children with painful emotional and mental scarring and a lifelong struggle with self-esteem- but it also teaches some good life lessons. Like what to expect under a Conservative Government.
Bullies suffer as well, since bullying may be indicative of deeper psychological and emotional problems. Children who bully more frequently experience psychological problems later in life, such as aggressive tendencies and occasional symptoms of depression. Childhood bullies often display the same types of behaviour as adults and are found to be more likely to harass co-workers or commit spousal, child or senior abuse. So why are you picking on the poor bullies? They are only carrying out the natural social order. It is in this spirit that we introduce this anti-bully legislation. As a Government, we must send an ambiguous but public message that bullying can go on as usual, but we kind of don’t really like it. School officials must have tools in place, other than themselves, that they can use to consider, then disregard if they find cumbersome or inconvenient.
We need anti-bullying legislation that is going to take steps to fix a problem that has been- and will continue to be- with us since we came down from the trees. No one is saying that Bill 13 is going to end bullying. It is going to put the burden on teachers and administrators to act and intervene. It is going to make it illegal to brush it aside as the natural order. It is going to allow students to be proactive in reaching out to fellow students who need a safety net. It is going to allow students to do something about the ignorance and misinformation that exists around a certain flavour of being different.
Bill 13 may be the warning shot in the battle to remove public funding of the Catholic School Board in Ontario- but it won’t be the Province that does them in. It will be themselves. It will be a group that benefited from a gift of synthetic privilege that can’t see the reason for helping their own marginalized students. It will be a Church that wants to be the piglet that insists on being fed well without ever having to walk to the trough.
In Ontario, from now on at least, schools will be places that aren’t endemically homophobic, transphobic, or biphobic. It will be there, for sure, but the ignorance and hatred will be swimming against a current of tolerance. I couldn’t be happier.