‘Legislation will not end bullying in Canadian schools’, warns researcher

Bill 13 has “obscur[ed] the reality that legislating against bullying may not actually stop bullies,” said Peter Jon Mitchell.
Thu May 31, 2012 - 4:06 pm EST

OTTAWA, Ontario, May 31, 2012 ( – A national pro-family organization has denounced the Ontario government’s decision last week to force schools, whether separate or public, to allow gay-straight alliances (GSA).

“While nearly everyone believes more should be done to stop bullying, this sharp action shows that even consensus issues can be mangled in the political sphere,” wrote Peter Jon Mitchell, senior researcher at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada in a public policy analysis released today.

The government’s decision came as a rebuke to Ontario’s Catholic bishops who conceded to allowing homosexual clubs within Catholic schools, but drew a line in the sand over the use of the GSA name, saying that the name is “not acceptable in Catholic schools.”

In his piece tilted “Does anti-bullying legislation work?” Mitchell pointed out that the entire debate surrounding McGuinty’s controversial Bill 13 has “obscur[ed] the reality that legislating against bullying may not actually stop bullies”.

Mitchell noted how every province has some measure in place to address bullying, yet despite Ontario spending $150 million on its own safe school programs between 2007 and 2010, the issue remains what he called a “serious problem”.

He pointed to the United States’ failure to curb bullying in schools, even with the existence of a myriad of anti-bullying laws.

“Legislation will not end bullying in Canadian schools,” he argued.

“The bigger problem with bullying is this: It is a complex relational issue requiring the engagement of parents, extended family, students and educators,” wrote Mitchell.

“The law may have a role by providing clear definitions of bullying behaviour, mandating the need for policies, assigning responsibility and empowering educators with disciplinary tools, but it is community-level involvement that will best stop bullying.”

Mitchell suggested that before attempting to curb bullying in schools through more legislation, the government would do better to “ensure that school communities have the autonomy to customize community specific programs” for the reason that the “best ideas are likely to come from those closest to the problem.”

“While many Canadians favour legal intervention, policymakers must champion local community level solutions as the first line of response aided by sound, proven policy,” he wrote.

“Bullying requires action, but rushing to legislate schoolyard relationships is unproven territory that in some places amounts to little more than political posturing. The social health of a school community will not be determined by government, but by the parents, students and educators who are already invested in their local school.”

  bill 13, bullying, ontario

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