TORONTO, ON April 11, 2012 (CCRL) – In Ontario, recent events surrounding the second reading and debate on Bill 13, the government anti-bullying bill requiring Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in all schools where students request them, have strengthened concerns that Catholic schools will have to downplay Catholic teaching in the implementation of the Bill. Catholic parents must insist that their constitutionally-guaranteed school rights are respected.

About 2,000 parents demonstrated March 29 at Queens Park against Bill 13. During debates in the Legislature, Glen Murray, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, stated “I have to say to the bishops: You’re not allowed to do that anymore…I’m not allowed to say to the Catholics – nor should I – or to other Christians or Muslims or Jews, that because of your faith you’re intrinsically disordered.” (He was citing Church teaching that homosexual conduct is “intrinsically disordered.”)

Even allowing for some rhetorical flourish, Mr. Murray knew he was speaking on the record, his remarks were directed at bishops and what can be taught in Catholic schools, and there is no record of Premier McGuinty correcting him. Later in the day, speaking to reporters, Industry Minister Kathleen Wynne dismissed the concerns of those who oppose GSAs, stating that “they are not Christian.”

Bill 13 got a further endorsement just a few days later when the Ontario Gay Straight Alliance Coalition urged the provincial government to move quickly to pass the bill, with its requirement that all school boards accept gay student support groups. The coalition’s lawyer, Doug Elliot, told a media conference that religious parents “are wrong” when they claim that Bill 13 forces a sexual agenda on students that conflicts with their parental and religious rights, and promised that alliance would back up any students, including the provision of legal help, who wish to call their group the GSA.

“A recent court ruling ( S.L. v Commission Scolaire des Chenes, in which the League intervened) has reminded us that public education is mandatory in Canada and that provincial governments are entitled to control the content of that education even when educating students about world religions,” Mr. Elliot said, according to a report by Sun Media. “The religious beliefs of parents do not trump the rights of Ontario’s government to ensure that all kids have a good education in a safe environment.”

The League predicted that a ruling in the Quebec case unfavourable to parental rights would be used elsewhere in Canada to promote curriculum and policies that some parents find controversial. That is why we intervened in the case. Despite a minority opinion that the parents’ claims were more unproven than unfounded, and that parents may yet be able to prove that their freedom of religion was violated by not being able to withdraw their children from Quebec’s ECR course, advocacy groups and parts of the media have seized the denial of an exemption as proof that governments are in the best position to evaluate and approve all areas of the curriculum.

Given that everyone opposes bullying, and that equality and respect for all are central to Christianity, there should be no problem implementing a comprehensive anti-bullying policy in any school, especially Catholic schools. Opposition MPP Elizabeth Witmer’s Bill 14 includes anti-bullying policies as strong as anything in Bill 13, and also contains  provisions for requiring accountability of schools in terms of documenting what progress they are making against bullying.

Because of its requirement that all schools offer GSAs and a strong inference by some government ministers that they must be issue-specific and use that name, Bill 13 in its present form would be incompatible with the constitutional guarantees of Catholic schools. The Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association document “Respecting Differences” offers excellent guidelines for serving the needs of all students while maintaining respect for Catholic teaching.

Catholic school trustees, teachers and others with direct responsibility for Catholic schools will have to manage the implementation of anti-bullying policies in a manner consistent with Catholic teaching. Strong participation by parents, at the school level and through advocacy with MPPs and education groups, will help ensure that their concerns are respected.

 – Catholic schools need to adapt anti-bullying initiative, CCRL press releases, Dec. 14, 2011
CCRL Declaration of the Authority of Parents and Guardians in the Education of their Children.