OTTAWA, Ontario, April 3, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – If Premier Dalton McGuinty pushes forward his controversial anti-bullying bill, known as Bill 13, without amendments to respect the “religious and conscience rights of many parents” Ontario will face years of expensive lawsuits, warn the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in a new open letter to McGuinty.

“Should your government fail to make the necessary amendments to Bill 13 to ensure its constitutionality, we share the opinion of several Canadian constitutional law lawyers that Bill 13 will be setting up the province of Ontario to likely face years of expensive, taxpayer funded litigation,” they write.

Critics say that Bill 13 threatens to undermine religious and parental freedom by bowing to the pressure of homosexual activists. A crowd of concerned parents estimated at 2,000 from a wide range of ethnic and faith backgrounds rallied last week outside Ontario’s legislature to protest the proposed bill.

While the EFC believes that “no child should be bullied, marginalized or suffer discrimination for any reason,” they argue that Bill 13 falls short in many ways.

They take issue with the bill’s definition of bullying, which they say includes ambiguous concepts such as “ought to know”, “likely to cause”,  and “real or perceived power imbalance”. (Find the text of the bill.)

The EFC says it is “troubling” to state that “the pupil ought to know” something, since every child “varies greatly in his or her level of development, understanding and maturity.” They wonder who will determine what a child ought to have known.

Likewise they see the term “likely to cause” as “vague language [that] is troubling” since “children develop at different rates and parents can attest to the fact that children, depending on their age, may differ greatly in their ability to foresee the consequences of certain words or actions.”

The EFC is also concerned with the term “a real or perceived power imbalance”, wondering who perceives the power imbalance and from whose perspective. They wonder if power imbalances are consistent, and if they do change from day to day, who accounts for the change.

“Parents of a faith background are concerned that certain religious beliefs or religious texts on sexuality and marriage may be captured by the vague language ‘likely to cause’”, wrote the EFC.

“Does Bill 13 take into consideration freedoms of religion and expression? This concern is heightened, firstly, given the special consideration that Bill 13 places on ‘incidents based on homophobia’ without defining the term ‘homophobia’”.

The EFC is recommending that Bill 13 be “amended to remove the ambiguous language that may capture behaviours that are not bullying behaviours or are expression protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Prior to writing the open letter, the EFC had compiled a review of recent statistics on bullying in Canadian schools. In By the Numbers: Rates and Risk Factors for Bullying: A Brief Examination of Canadian Bullying Statistics, the EFC provided an up-to-date overview of bullying trends, the existing data on the frequency of bullying incidents, and an analysis of risk factors for bullying.

The review uncovered that a number of factors increase a student’s risk of being bullied, including “appearance, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, grades, and socioeconomic status.”

“While some have asserted that the primary reason for bullying may be a child’s gender identity or sexual orientation, the data demonstrates that bullying behaviours target a number of distinctive factors among children,” the authors of the review point out.

According to one study in Toronto which surveyed 105,000 students, the most common kind of bullying identified was based on body image. The second most common kind was based on grades or marks.

“While we might think from the media coverage that children are most often bullied for reasons relating to sexual orientation or gender identity, students are actually most frequently bullied, both in traditional forms of aggression as well as through cyber-bullying, for three primary reasons: body image or appearance; school grades or marks; and cultural background and race,” said Don Hutchinson, EFC Vice-President and General Legal Counsel, in a press release yesterday.

“One survey showed that body image alone accounted for 38% of cases of bullying, grades or marks accounted for 17% and cultural background for 11%,” he said.

In reference to the proposed content of Bill 13, the EFC suggested in the review that “while all children are equally deserving of dignity and respect, the special focus on LGBTQ students may artificially skew the statistical reality that this demographic makes up only a small portion of all bullied children and may unintentionally serve to minimize the suffering of victims of other forms of bullying.”

Hutchinson pointed out that any initiative that seeks to reduce bully needs to be based on good data.

“We believe that no child should be bullied, marginalized or suffer discrimination for any reason,” he said. “And we believe that if we’re going to reduce bullying in Canada, we need to make good decisions based on good data. Any measure should be inclusive and considerate of every child, bullied for any reason.”

Read full text of By the Numbers: Rates and Risk Factors for Bullying: A Brief Examination of Canadian Bullying Statistics.

Read full text of the EFC’s open letter to Dalton McGuinty.