UPDATE: Ontario passes anti-bullying bill
Legislation sparks renewed school funding debate
UPDATE: Tues, June 5, 11:50am - After months of debate, Ontario parliamentarians have passed Bill 13.
Sixty-five MPPs voted in favour of the bill and 36 voted against it.
Below is video coverage of reaction at Queen's Park after Bill 13 passed.
Tues, June 5, 10am - The Liberals' Accepting Schools Act, Bill 13, is expected to pass a final vote June 5.
The vote will take place after Question Period. MPPs had their last chance to speak to the legislation after Education Minister Laurel Broten moved the bill to third reading on June 4. The bill contains an amendment mandating gay-straight alliance (GSA) support groups in all schools if students request them.
“We know that words matter,” Broten says. “We know the power of words to create fear and pain and to spread hatred, homophobia, sexism and racism, and we know that if we can’t name it, we can’t address it. Speaker, we must address it.”
The passing of Bill 13 will cap a one-and-a-half-year battle in Ontario that has pitted queer students against Catholic school administrators who have repeatedly denied student requests for GSAs.
Mississauga Catholic students Leanne Iskander and Taechun Menns were the first to go public. Throughout their fight they reported bullying from other students, and Iskander was threatened with disciplinary action if her GSA advocacy continued. The school even banned rainbows.
NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo noted Iskander's courageous leadership. "I think of Leanne, who came before us, and of the GSAs [students]. I think of what they’ve already been through trying to start a group, fighting an uphill battle against all the array of power and might of school boards, all the array of power and might of adults."
Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod says her party will vote against Bill 13. She says the voices of opposing religious groups and parents were silenced during hearings last month before the standing committee for social policy. “We saw 80 percent of the people that appeared before committee opposed Bill 13 . . . One government minister says this fight will end up in the Supreme Court.”
Last week Cardinal Thomas Collins also spoke out against Bill 13, reaffirming the Catholic Church's position that GSAs go against its doctrine. Collins, who is also president of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, which governs Catholic school boards' curriculum and policy, told reporters that trustees and principals should have the power to overrule students in naming and running the groups.
Meanwhile, debate in mainstream media has fuelled renewed criticism about the public funding of faith-based schools.
A recent survey found more than half of Ontario residents, 53 percent, oppose public funding of Catholic schools.
Catholic trustees met with Broten on June 4 to discuss Bill 13. According to a leaked memo, trustees feel the GSA controversy has eroded public support for Catholic education.
The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA), whose president called the word gay a “distraction” last week, outlined a strategy to its members, The Globe and Mail reports. Catholic schools plan to make GSAs a “subset” of broader anti-bullying clubs and ensure they adhere to Catholic teaching, which asserts that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.”
The memo states that trustees are considering a court challenge but that a “clear victory” would need to be assured before going forward.
PC Leader Tim Hudak recently told reporters the Liberals are picking a fight with the Catholic school system, which gets about 33 percent of Ontario's $24-billion annual education budget, about $7 billion.
On May 29, Premier Dalton McGuinty said the provincial government is in charge of running Ontario schools, not the Catholic Church. “I’m accountable to all faiths. I’m accountable to people of no faith. I’m accountable to all parents.”
MORE: Ontario's anti-bullying law brings big changes for Catholic schools
Follow Xtra reporter Andrea Houston on Twitter at @dreahouston.