TORONTO ON June 5, 2012 – The Catholic Civil Rights League comments on the passage of Ontario’s Bill 13 (“Safe Schools Act”), which passed today in a vote of 65-36 with support from the Liberal and New Democrat parties, and opposition by Progressive Conservatives.
The amendment to the Education Act is meant to combat bullying. It was considered in tandem with the opposition Private Members Bill 14 (later Bill 80), which opposed all forms of bullying and proposed numerous measures to combat it without singling out any one group of students.
Among other provisions, Bill 13 will require all schools to provide Gay-Straight Alliances, so-named, if requested by students. The League was among the organizations that appeared before the Standing Committee on Social Policy in support of an approach to combatting bullying that addressed the needs of all students and which respected the constitutional rights of Catholic schools.
“It is unfortunate that the government has chosen to ignore over 10,000 petitions opposing Bill 13, as well as numerous presentations – 75 to 80 per cent of which favoured Bill 14 over Bill 13 – and hundreds of briefs and letters, as well as several protest rallies, all of them with serious objections to some of Bill 13’s provisions,” says League President Philip Horgan. “Chief among our objections were the labelling of any and all opponents as “homophobic”, and ignoring the constitutional rights of Catholic schools in dealing with issues touching on the faith and morals of its students. It remains our view that the government’s legislation intrudes into denominational guarantees preserved by the constitution, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
It is hoped that Catholic high school students , as confirmed members of the faith, will be respectful of Catholic teaching in creating anti-bullying clubs. They should have reference to the Respecting Differences document published by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association in January.
It is expected that the formation of such clubs will nevertheless be subject to existing school policies in respect of staff participation, oversight, and board rules for invitations to outside groups.
What has been made clear is that the McGuinty government, with the support of the provincial NDP, has engaged in a focused challenge to the constitutional protections afforded to Catholic schools, over the objections of elected Trustees, the Ontario Assembly of Bishops, and numerous stakeholders.