Albertos Polizogopoulos

Opinion,

Bill 13 committee multiplies problems in anti-bullying legislation

Albertos Polizogopoulos
Image

June 5, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Today, Queen’s Park will hold the third and final vote on Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act. And thanks to last week’s efforts by the Committee tasked with reviewing and amending it, the already controversial bill is now even more divisive and constitutionally unstable.

The Standing Committee on Social Policy, which was tasked with studying Bill 13 and Bill 14, held public hearings and heard from approximately 85 delegations, of which I was one. I appeared on behalf of the Coalition for Parental Rights in Education.

During my presentation, and through my written submissions, I pointed to several sections of Bill 13 which were constitutionally problematic and would likely lead to constitutional challenges, resulting in years of taxpayer funded litigation. I recommended a series of amendments to Bill 13 which would have maintained Bill 13’s stated goal of bullying prevention, while eliminating many of its constitutional vulnerabilities.

Most controversial in Bill 13 has been the special status and preferential treatment it provides to those who identify as LGBTTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, two-spirited, intersexed, queer and questioning). Despite two Canadian studies showing that the top reasons for bullying are body image; grades or marks; cultural or ethnic background; and language, Bill 13 singles out the LGBTTIQ community and ignores those children who are most frequently victimized.

I proposed removing this reference, thereby making Bill 13 more inclusive and equally protective of all students. I further suggested that the term “homophobia”, which is used in Bill 13 on three occasions, is problematic as it is loaded, controversial and has yet to be defined in law. With that recommendation, the Committee left the term “homophobia” and added the equally undefined terms “transphobia” and “biphobia” to Bill 13. Thank you, learned Committee, that makes things less confusing.

The controversial sections of Bill 13 have not been amended by the Committee in a manner that makes Bill 13 more inclusive. Rather, the latest version of the bill will create more division and presents additional constitutional challenges. For example, in its original form, Bill 13 required all schools to assist students in establishing clubs to promote awareness of people of different sexual orientations with the name ‘Gay-Straight Alliances’ or another name of its choosing. The Committee has amended the bill, which now requires all schools, including Catholic schools, to use the name ‘Gay-Straight Alliances’ for its clubs.

People of faith in Ontario are in for long, drawn-out and expensive legal battles. I predict that the litigation will begin with the issue of mandatory GSAs in Catholic schools and progress to a challenge of the separate school system itself.

While constitutional law, in my opinion, does not permit the provincial government to force Catholic schools to violate their sincerely held beliefs and teachings, the reality is that a number of administrators within the Catholic school system have already embraced the idea of GSAs. It will, I believe, be difficult to stop the implementation process once it starts.

I would hope that if Bill 13 is proclaimed as law before the Legislature breaks for summer, that a legal challenge of the new sections of the Education Act be engaged before the beginning of the new school year in September. To nip this in the bud is, I believe, the only way to ensure that the religious integrity and autonomy of the Catholic school system remains unscathed.

Albertos Polizogopoulos is a lawyer specializing in constitutional litigation. He practices with Vincent Dagenais Gibson LLP/s.r.l. in Ottawa, Ontario.

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