ACCEPTING SCHOOLS ACT, 2012 /
LOI DE 2012 POUR
DES ÉCOLES TOLÉRANTES
Resuming the debate adjourned on April 3, 2012, on the motion for second reading of the following bill:
Bill 13, An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters / Projet de loi 13, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l’éducation en ce qui a trait à l’intimidation et à d’autres questions.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Further debate?
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on this very important bill, Bill 13, An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters. The short title of this bill, Speaker, is the Accepting Schools Act, and that is how I will be referring to this particular bill.
Speaker, this is my second term in this great Legislature. It’s five years that I’ve been serving the people of Ontario, and particularly the people of Ottawa Centre, and I would argue that at least in my short time in this Legislature, of all the laws, bills and issues we have debated and discussed, this particular matter, this particular bill, is by far the most important one that I have been engaged in. This bill represents hope. It represents hope for thousands and thousands of children and young people in this great province of ours. This particular bill represents hope for those children and young people who are in our schools and are bullied on a daily basis. This bill represents hope for those adults who have been victims of bullies and are out of our school system now but still carry the scars of bullying. Some of them have the courage to come out and speak against bullying, share their stories and try to inspire others so they can also continue with their lives, and some don’t.
Speaker, this bill is hope for parents, for members of families whose children are bullied—and there are, unfortunately, many in our province—especially those parents who have lost a child of theirs, a child who took his or her own life because of bullying. They will all agree, unfortunately, that there have been too many in our province.
Therefore, it is incumbent on us—no ifs and buts about this—that we need to deal with the issue of bullying in our province, and we need to have an action plan on this very important issue now. This is not a matter for the future. This is not an issue we should delay our action on, because our duty and responsibility as members of this Legislative Assembly, our fiduciary duty to the people of Ontario, especially to the children and young people of this great province, requires that we deal with the issue around bullying now.
I think I stand in very good company. All members of this Legislature recognize how important it is that we have strict laws, that we have an action plan in place now dealing with bullies. More importantly than the 107 of us who are elected, the people out there, the members of our community, the people of Ontario are demanding of us that we have an action plan, that we have policies, that we have laws now that deal with bullying. So the stars are aligned. We are all on the same page. Now what we need to agree on is that action plan. What we need to agree on is our resolve, our will to take action, and that’s what leadership is about. That’s the kind of leadership all of us have to demonstrate by working together.
Speaker, my riding of Ottawa Centre is a diverse riding. It’s a riding made up of many, many communities. It’s a riding made up of young and old, a riding made up of people who have lived in that community for a long, long time and those who just arrived in Ottawa yesterday. We are blessed to have a very diverse community that we call Ottawa, and particularly Ottawa Centre.
I also have a very diverse community in terms of a large LGBT—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered—community that lives in Ottawa Centre, a community that is extremely active in not only promoting the well-being of members of the LGBT community, especially youth, but also the community at large, which is active in our schools, which is active in our neighbourhoods, to ensure that we live in a vibrant place. Collectively, we all work together to ensure that our community, our neighbourhoods are safe places to live.
When I’m out there and talking to them about Bill 13, they want action on Bill 13 now. They are very supportive of Bill 13 and what it stands for. What does Bill 13 stand for, Speaker? I think the preamble language in Bill 13 is quite instructive. It states that the people of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly believe that all students should feel safe at school and deserve a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting, regardless of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability. All important differences are listed within the language of this bill, differences that don’t just need to be tolerated; differences that need to be accepted and, in fact, celebrated.
The bill goes further and says that the people of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly believe that a healthy, safe and inclusive learning environment where all students feel accepted is a necessary condition for student success—because that is what we want for our children: no matter who they are, no matter what family they come from, that they are successful in school and they are given equal opportunity to thrive.
The bill goes on to say further—and I 100% wholeheartedly agree with that statement, and I think the people of Ontario accept that as well—that students need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to engage the world and others critically, which means developing a critical consciousness that allows them to take action on making their schools and communities more equitable and inclusive for all people, including LGBTTIQ—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, two-spirited, intersex, queer and questioning people.
This is the right set of policies that we are putting forward. We need to make sure that we address the root causes of bullying that takes place in our schools. Kids are getting picked on because they may be LGBT; they may be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. They may be getting picked on because they’re kids of dad and dad, or mom and mom. There is no reason that that should take place in our schools.
I urge all members to please vote in support of this bill. We need to work at bringing Bill 13 and 14 together so it is law before this September, so that we can start addressing issues around bullying in an effective, forceful manner, starting the new school year. This is a great opportunity for us to demonstrate to the world outside that we do have the capacity to work together and make Ontario a better place for our students.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments?
Mr. John O’Toole: The member from Ottawa Centre spoke with passion, representative of what Dalton McGuinty told him to say—which is fine.
What I’m going to do here is basically, I’m going to put on the table something that’s important. Just in the media today—it’s very good—it says:
“The way to fight bullying is to have school boards, bureaucrats, principals and teachers committed to ending it.
“It’s to make it clear to kids from the first day of school that no one has the right to bully them for any reason and that if they are being bullied, the adults in charge of the school will help them.
“Then, that promise has to be backed up with real action.
“None of this will happen as long as we’re caught in an ideologically-driven sideshow over one form of bullying based on sexual orientation” versus others.
There should be no hierarchy of bullying—no bullying is tolerated—and that distraction is really what’s causing the problem. Bill 14, which we unanimously agreed, I think, puts a more mature look at the whole issue.
This article I’m reading and will refer to says, “First, bullying permeates both public and separate schools.
“Second, kids get bullied for all sorts of reasons, including but not limited to sexual orientation.” None of it’s acceptable.
“Third, the real problem has been the tendency of school boards, bureaucrats and administrators to ignore bullying, to refuse to back up teachers trying to combat it and to re-victimize the victims of bullying by transferring them to other schools” instead of dealing with it.
We need leadership on the issue. We need clear rules that aren’t creating a hierarchy of one form of bullying versus another. No form of bullying is acceptable in Ontario or Canada, or for that matter the world. And I can tell you first-hand, I’m dealing with constituents now who have been bullied, not for any particular reason that I would disclose here, but it was not dealt with properly and indeed the child was transferred. In fact, the child becomes re-victimized. This bill simply doesn’t do it. Look at Bill 14. Look at serving the children, not some other ideology.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Thank you. Questions and comments.
Mr. Michael Mantha: I want to take this time to introduce you to a fabulous, young little girl from Bruce Mines. Her name is Candace. You know, there were a lot of signs that were there. First, she was a bubbly young person, very athletic, was very active in her community. Nobody would have thought that the outcome that she chose was the outcome that happened. The unfortunate part? She couldn’t talk to anybody. She didn’t have that avenue. She didn’t have that organization. She didn’t know who she could go to. And unfortunately she took her life. She made a drastic decision because those resources weren’t there; or if they were, they were hidden; or if they would have been, she didn’t know where to go to get them. It’s unfortunate now that all the signs were there but nobody recognized them.
There’s a lot of good in Bill 13. There’s a lot of good in Bill 14. We need to take some action—yes. We need to take the right steps—yes, we do. But we need to do this in a way that will serve all Ontarians. Let’s put the flags down. Let’s get this right, let’s get the discussions going, but let’s say no to a lot of what we’re seeing—or a lot of what I’m seeing—as far as positions that we’re taking on either/or. They’re both good. Let’s move them forward. Let’s get this right. I think we owe that to our kids, we owe that to our communities. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Thank you. Questions, comments.
Hon. John Gerretsen: I’m very pleased to speak on this bill, and it’s unfortunate that a bill like this and Bill 14 have sort of become very partisan issues because they really shouldn’t be. I think all of us remember either having been bullied, particularly during our formative years in schools, or seeing bullies operate in those schools, and there have been some lasting effects of that.
What I would strongly suggest to the process here is that we take the best aspects of this bill and the best aspects of Bill 14 and come up with a law that is a nonpartisan law. A lot has been said about sexual orientation, and that’s only one kind of bullying.
I have sort of been thinking about how some organizations—mainly, the separate system doesn’t want to have the committees called one thing or another. Now, I’ll tell you I’ve been a separate school supporter my entire life. Quite frankly, I can’t see it. Kids in their schools are going to call the committees whatever the heck they want to call them, and just because adults say you’ve got to call it this, you’ve got to call it that, okay, that may be the official name, but they’re going to call it whatever they want, and that’s the reality of the situation. Let’s deal with the real issue here so that people aren’t stigmatized, so that people don’t suffer the consequences of this for the rest of their life, or as the member from Algoma just mentioned, some very dramatic situations happened with respect to the young girl that he talked about who in effect took her own life.
This should not be a partisan issue. There are good points in both of the bills, and the only way we’re going to make a real difference in the schools is by allowing the kids to basically decide what to call the committees that they want to form. This is a good idea. This is one way in which we can all collectively do something about the bullying situation in our schools.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments?
Mr. Rob E. Milligan: As a high school teacher, an educator, a parent and just an individual who cares for his community, province and country, and for everyone from all walks of life regardless, I think the member from Durham made a very good point: Bullying is wrong, regardless of sex, gender, religion, creed—it doesn’t matter; it’s wrong, period. Intolerance—
Mr. Bob Delaney: Sexual orientation.
Mr. Rob E. Milligan: Sexual orientation—it’s wrong, right?
Mr. Bob Delaney: See? That didn’t hurt.
Mr. Rob E. Milligan: No, it didn’t hurt. And intolerance for diversity is wrong, period.
We have to remember that we’re dealing with human beings. Bullying is something that has been around for thousands of years. We try to legislate it. We try to improve upon it. We’re educating our youth toward the tolerance of others and their beliefs. This is important. I think that, obviously, we have to do better. We can actually address the issue of bullying within our school systems.
But, really, we have to look at the heart of the matter, and that is one of collectively working together. Bill 13 and Bill 14: We can argue that ours is better than theirs. But I think the member from Kingston and the Islands made a good point: This is a nonpartisan issue. It should be a nonpartisan issue, because it affects everyone and their families. So, Mr. Speaker, I have to say we are looking toward working with the other parties: the third party and the government.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): The member from Ottawa Centre has two minutes to respond.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: My gratitude to the members from Durham and Algoma–Manitoulin, the Attorney General, and the member from Northumberland–Quinte West.
Speaker, I stand here as the member for Ottawa Centre, and there’s only one group of people I speak for, and that is the people of Ottawa Centre and nobody else. They are telling me again and again that we need to take action on bullying. They are telling me that we all need to work together as a group of responsible, elected members and deal with this issue.
They’re telling me, “Bill 13, Bill 14—we don’t know. Work together and take action on bullying.” They’re telling me, because they do watch, “Stop playing games in this Legislature. Get to work. Don’t delay debate on this important issue.” Let’s talk and find a solution to bullying.
Most importantly, Speaker, believe it or not, the kids are watching. They’re talking about it. I go to a lot of schools—elementary and high schools. They are talking about this particular issue, and kudos to them. They want action, and they’re saying, “We don’t get it. Why are you taking so long? Why can we not have a law in place so we can start working with our teachers, so we can start working with our principal, so we can start working with our administrators, so we can start working with ourselves and start dealing with the issue around bullying—bullying of all kinds?”
We need to take action. Speaker, I urge every single member: Let’s work together and pass a law by June so that we can implement it in our schools for September.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Further debate?
Mr. Jeff Yurek: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and good morning. I’m glad to speak on this bill. It’s a pretty close issue to myself. About two years ago, I had a visitation at a funeral home. One of my employees who had left us—she had moved on to another job—her 13-year-old son decided just before Mother’s Day to end his life. It wasn’t because he was sick; basically, he was bullied, and he was sick of being picked on at school and having no help, no supports from the school, the school board or the community at large.
I went to that visitation, and I haven’t really gone to a visitation for a child before. It was quite shocking and startling. A lot of emotions went through my mind at the time. There was anger and rage, but most of all it was helplessness. I felt helpless because what could I do as a community member, a pharmacist in the community, for my old employee? How could I help this family? How could I prevent this from going on? At the time, the helplessness you feel—you know, it hurts. It eats away at you. So I’m glad now that I’m in a position where I feel that I can help.
I am very, very proud of my fellow caucus members: Elizabeth Witmer from Kitchener–Waterloo, who came up with quite an extensive bill. I’m proud to be part of her caucus, and I’m quite proud to be alongside Lisa MacLeod here from Carleton-Nepean—Nepean–Carleton. I always say it backwards. But I’m proud to be a colleague with Lisa and her advocacy on bullying, and I just give you very much applause.
I did have a long speech on this, but this morning I thought, “I’m representing Elgin–Middlesex–London. I’ll give out some emails that I received on it, just so my constituents’ thoughts are heard in this Legislature.” Some of them have come from maybe earlier.
This one comes from Anne Taylor, chair of the St. Thomas-Elgin Anti-Bullying Coalition. Anne is actually the mother of the son who took his life, and used to work for me.
“We are calling on all parties to work together and take time for careful consideration over the drafting of a final bill. ‘Bullying is abusive in nature and is a result of intolerance, inequity and misuses of power. In order to put an end to bullying and bullycide, we must use legislation to help build this framework. The language must be concise and specific regarding bullying and peer abuse. Our hope is to have a bill strictly devoted to anti-bullying for all students and to keep other issues of equality separate so that the bill’s purpose is not distorted, making it about political reputations or narrowing the bullying focus to issues of sexual orientation and sex education, instead of the safety and learning success of every single one of the children and youth in this province.’”
This next one comes from Corina Morrison, co-founder of the London Anti-Bullying Coalition. I’ve met with Corina. She was on my doorstep right after the election. She is an advocate who is non-stop, and I’ve met with her numerous times over the past few months.
“It is vital to the well-being of our children, that legislation gets it right. ‘Without informed decision-making and effective legislation, every Ontario student remains at risk.’”
This comes from Karen Sebben, co-founder, York Region Anti-Bullying Coalition: “My son’s three years of bullying took the form of homophobia, and he is not homosexual. As parents it didn’t matter to us what form the bullying took. The fact remains that aggression and assault were taking place regardless of the reason. This is the focus of any anti-bullying legislation and PCs’ Elizabeth Witmer got it right with Bill 14.”
This comes from Katie Neu, co-founder of Bullying Canada: “We have to look at all of the lives being lost as a result of the bullying they have endured, as well as those coming forward with their school horror stories and realize that something has to be done. Bullying is not being taken seriously enough and needs to be addressed before this epidemic takes even more lives.”
These are the experts in bullying; it’s not us. I think we need to listen to the experts and follow through.
I’ve got some emails here. These are a group of law students. I’m sure we all got this email, but I’m going to read it out anyways.
“As law students of Osgoode Hall Law School, University of Toronto, and University of Ottawa, we want to thank you for your concern regarding the issue of bullying in schools. Many of us have experienced bullying in our own lives and have endured its detrimental effects.
“While we commend the goal of Bill 13 insofar as it addresses the need to eradicate bullying, we are concerned with the method and scope of this bill in attempting to achieve ‘bullying prevention and intervention.’ While bullying can single out traits such as race or sexual orientation, bullying is not limited to students displaying such traits—rather, any and all students may become targets, whether for the size of one’s body, for shyness, or for any other characteristic. Legislating that school boards empower only those students who lead clubs from one of four explicitly protected groups—gender equity, anti-racism, respect for students with disabilities, and sexual orientation—sends the message that some grounds for bullying merit more attention and protection than others. Consequently, the scope of the bill is too narrow and exclusive to promote true equity for all potentially targeted traits and identities. Moreover, the bill is silent on character development, and on creating a safe environment for speaking about bullying.
“The bill’s section on disciplinary measures similarly gives explicit attention and protection to issue-specific causes. Section 4(2) lists the general term ‘bullying’ along with ‘sexual assault, gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia.’ Sex and gender-related issues are not the only motivations behind bullying or violent behaviour; addressing only these groups unduly minimizes the bill’s impact. Should we not send the message that all bullying is unacceptable, regardless of what prompts it? Furthermore, the sanctions, or ‘appropriate consequences’ for ‘inappropriate behaviour’ listed under subsection 7(3) are vague, and give arbitrary power to schools to decide their own standard of ‘appropriateness.’ We suggest that such licence may alienate or marginalize students whose conscientious beliefs may not align with the dominant views of school boards about what merits punitive sanctions.”
I got another email: “I have ... been very busy with our many appointments all because of bullying. I sincerely hope changes are coming to keep our kids safe. My oldest, who endured bullying in grade 4 then intensified in grades 7 and 8, chose to go to an out of boundary high school to make a fresh start. (He started counselling in July 2010.) Over this past summer, not only the usual nervousness of starting grade 9 in a school where you don’t know many, but he was so afraid of being bullied again, not only did he suffer emotionally but it became physical—heart palpitations, involuntary spastic twitching, unable to participate in all the activities he once loved—basketball, soccer, swimming, golf.” He wasn’t allowed to be a kid anymore. “He used to be an avid reader, read all the time and could not wait to start another novel.” His hygiene started to become neglected. “He ‘would rather be dead than go to school.’ We were in a very bad place. I was worried for his personal safety.
“Anyways after lots of outside help, he is now going to begin his third type of therapy and medication ... he is doing better. We have been told it’s still a long road, and it makes me want to scream because he is 14 and this is not how life should be for a teenager. I am just very fortunate and count my blessings that he is still with us.”
Families are going through too much in this province over bullying. Those that survive bullying are affected emotionally for life. They’re scarred, and it’s hard to bring them back. It’s time to work together. Bill 14 is an amazing bill, and I salute it and I support it. Hopefully, we can work together and get one unified bill and get it out to our students in this province. Thank you.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments.
Miss Monique Taylor: I’ve been listening quite intensely to all of the discussions going on here in the House today, and it seems to me that we’re all under the same agreement. It doesn’t matter what kind of bullying is happening; we know it’s happening. That’s the key issue. We know that we need special-interest groups because the kids are going to create their own special-interest groups. It’s them who are feeling the heat on this.
The problem with this bill that I’m seeing is that we don’t have the funding to back up this program. Who are going to be the ones administering the program? Who are going to be the psychologists on-site, the therapists on-site to deal with these kids who are having these issues? We’re already having funding shortfalls when it comes to EAs for our disabled children and children with special needs. So who’s going to be the one to take the extra stand and to do the extra work that’s needed when these kids come to them? We have teachers and we have staff in the schools. They’re already over-bound—and yet we have no one to watch a playground. Where’s the issue here? If we don’t have enough supervision in the front of the school where they’re fighting on the front steps, and we have adults walking by them, where are we going wrong here?
Instead of arguing about what kind of bullying is happening in our province, maybe we’d better be looking at how we are going to fund the education system better to make sure we do have adults responsible who are going to step in and take a stand, that we do have adults and therapists and everybody—EAs—at the school to make sure the kids have the resources that they need to make sure it works.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments? The member from Scarborough East.
Ms. Soo Wong: No, Scarborough–Agincourt, Mr. Speaker.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Thank you for correcting me—
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): But your member stood up first. The member from Scarborough–Agincourt. No tricking the Speaker. It’s not nice.
Ms. Soo Wong: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m delighted to stand and to be given an opportunity to speak in support of Bill 13. I’m very sad and very sorry to hear from my colleague from Elgin–Middlesex–London about that tragedy. I think that was one preventable death that all of us are deeply saddened by.
The proposed legislation is about protecting students, and at the same time creating a safe and inclusive environment so that every young person in our school can learn. That’s what this bill is all about.
I appreciate all the constructive feedback shared with us this morning by my colleagues, but we need to move forward. We need to move forward with legislation that is strong, robust, comprehensive, and that will protect young people at the same time, to ensure their safety. It’s not just about protection; it’s also about providing resources.
The legislation is very clear. It talks about providing consequences, because we need young people to know there will be consequences to your bullying. We all know bullying is a learned behaviour. You’re not born a bully. You learn about these kinds of behaviours.
The other thing in the legislation is there will be a recognized Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week. Again, it will be education and prevention, and there will be resources to support. I know the member from Hamilton Mountain expressed concern about who’s going to be funding this proposed legislation and what have you. There are going to be resources, especially for the mental health piece, because we know that young people who have been bullied, or will be bullied down the road, need that support—not just the bullied, but also the perpetrator.
I fully support this legislation, and, moving forward, I’m happy to be working with my colleague to bring both Bills 13 and 14 together.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments?
Mr. John Yakabuski: I’m pleased to speak for a couple of minutes on Bill 13, and the address by my colleague from Elgin–Middlesex–London is a good segue into this.
A young man made an appointment and came in to see me in my office, a fellow by the name of Dustin Garron: 16 years old, multiple suicide attempts, has experienced bullying in his life at school. Dustin is also gay, and made it clear that the reasons for bullying had nothing to do with his sexual orientation, nor did his suicide attempts.
He was disappointed in the way that this government deals with mental illness, very disappointed in the focus in Bill 13 but more pleased with the focus in Bill 14, which attacks and deals with the issue of bullying whatever the reason may be. I thank the Attorney General for standing here earlier today and saying exactly the same thing.
We have a responsibility in this Legislature to make sure that we do everything we humanly, possibly can to eliminate bullying. My friend from Durham talked about how the school boards are saying—and how this writer said—it has to be dealt with head on, right at day one, so that the culture in our school systems, the culture everywhere, is one that says no to bullying. It is wrong, and we as adults and we as legislators must ensure that that does not happen.
It should not be an issue that is being politicized by the government, by their stance on it in trying to put one particular emphasis on one particular reason why someone may or may not be bullied. It is time to get down to the business of doing what is right for all children here in the province of Ontario and stop playing political games.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments?
Mr. Jonah Schein: I’m new here to this Legislature and it’s a bit confusing for me to hear this kind of debate because, to me, I hear people stand up, we all despise bullying, we’ve all seen it; we all know we need to deal with it. Obviously, for families who have lost a loved one to suicide when that’s a result of bullying, it’s tragic. We all agree on that.
Obviously, I support this bill. It makes sense. We need good, strong equity policies in our schools. We need to make sure that we have schools that have a school culture that is anti-oppressive, that supports people who are victims of bullying and supports bullies as well to deal with the problems that they have.
But to me, I feel like the debate is sort of off in some sense, in that we’re talking about a province with growing inequality. The problem with the bully debate is that it disguises the real issue behind bullying, which is power imbalance, that some people have more power and some people have less. The real debate that we should be having right now is how we share our resources in this province and the fact that some people have so much power and some people have so little power.
To talk about bullying as if it’s the fault of an individual in a school rather than a societal problem, which is what it is—you know, kids learn these things at home, kids learn these things on television, kids learn these from our political leaders. What they see if they’re looking in this House is a government that will not stand up for the underdog, will not stand up for people who are struggling. This is the real issue that needs to be addressed here.
Yesterday, our leader, Andrea Horwath, stood up and she said she wants to make sure, if this budget is going to pass, that we stand up for the 99%, that we stand up for people who are struggling, and that the people who are doing very well, the top 1%, give a little bit back. We’ll see if Dalton McGuinty and the government is listening, but this is the way we need to go forward.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): The member from Elgin–Middlesex–London has two minutes to respond.
Mr. Jeff Yurek: I want to thank my colleagues from Hamilton Mountain, Scarborough–Agincourt, Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke and Davenport for commenting.
I think what we need to do with this bill is we need a bill that’s equal and accepting to all and rules out that one form of bullying is more consequential than the other. It’s across the board. We need to come out and say bullying is wrong and we need to have supports in place for our kids.
The one point that Bill 13 misses—and I’m just going to comment quickly on it, because Elizabeth Witmer’s Bill 14 attacks it—is cyberbullying. Kids can’t get away from bullying. It used to be, 10, 15 years ago, you could leave school and at least go home to your family and be safe and secure. Nowadays, you’ve got Facebook and Twitter and what have you chasing you home. It’s there, it’s constant, and it’s 24 hours, seven days a week. I’m glad Bill 14 actually tackles cyberbullying, because I think it’s getting worse and we need to start hitting it hard from all aspects. We need to have legislation that encompasses yesterday, today and tomorrow, and Bill 14 does so, and again, I’m very grateful.
We all have stories here. We’re all affected by bullying one way or the other, and whether you like it or not, it does affect you emotionally and physically, whether you realize it or not, because these are heart-wrenching stories that gnaw away at you. The sooner we can get some solutions out of this Legislature and into Ontario helping our kids, the better.
I have an eight-year-old daughter at home and I never want her to go through bullying. I just couldn’t picture it. Thanks for your time.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Further debate?
Mr. Rosario Marchese: I am happy to speak to Bill 13, and I will say that we support Bill 13 and we don’t have a problem with that. It surprises me that there are some Conservative members who say they do have a problem with that, because their Bill 14 is equally good and adds different elements to the aspect of bullying, and New Democrats have other things to say about it as well.
I’m not sure why some Tories are presenting it as an either/or. I don’t know why you’re doing that. When some of you stand up to speak to it, you recognize elements of Bill 13, you support it, but you say, “No, that’s not good enough. Our bill is the one that does it.”
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: One shot to get it—
Mr. Rosario Marchese: I don’t see why you do that. The member from Nepean–Carleton says it’s a one-shot deal. No, it isn’t, necessarily. It isn’t. And your Bill 14 doesn’t do it all either, as New Democrats have pointed out. So there’s this ideology of right and wrong that is completely mistaken, and I don’t know why you do that. I know why Tories are against this bill, and it’s the part of the bill that says the following: “A new section 303.1 requires boards to support pupils who want to establish and lead activities or organizations that promote gender equity, anti-racism, the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people with disabilities or the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.” What is so wrong with that? Why are some Conservatives so afraid of that? I just don’t understand it. We’re living in an age where, if you can’t accept that, something is definitely not right about your political positioning on this. I get terribly nervous and worried about that kind of politics.
Section 5, subsection 301 of the act, talks about, “which sets out the purposes of the provincial code of conduct, is amended to include preventing bullying in schools.” That means all bullying. I know that as some of the Tories are talking to each other, they may not realize that that section deals with all bullying. It’s clear that the Conservatives either do not see that or fail to see that or deliberately don’t want to read that as part of the bill. So when the member from Ottawa–Nepean says that, “We want to deal with all bullying,” well, that section talks about all bullying. What she doesn’t want to say, even though she herself supports it, is that section 7, the new section 303, is something that puts a new obligation to school boards, and even though she agrees with it, she’s saying that is not something her party can live with. I’ve got to tell you that I feel very, very disappointed in them in that regard.
What does Bill 14 do? Bill 14 adds a few other elements, and it says the following—and how could I disagree with it? Bill 14 says that some of the additions will define “bullying” as “severe or repeated” harmful behaviour. I think that’s a good and useful suggestion. Does it take away from Bill 13, or add to it? It adds to it; it doesn’t take away. Requiring the minister’s annual report to the Legislature to include school board data about bullying incidents—that adds to Bill 13, it doesn’t take away. There is no disagreement between these two elements. The inclusion of bullying prevention in the curriculum—well, that is added in Bill 13, so that’s not an additional component of it. So that’s not a problem.
So you have these additional elements in Bill 14 that are reasonable amendments, and I don’t know why they can’t simply say 13 is okay, 14 is good because it adds a few other elements—and New Democrats are going to talk about the root causes of bullying and what we could be doing about it, which neither Bill 13 nor 14 does. So when the member from Ottawa Centre says we need to deal with the root causes, well, he says it but he doesn’t say how. It’s not contained in the bill at all. There’s no mention of how we deal with the root causes. So even though he speaks the language of New Democrats, it doesn’t speak to it in the bill. That is the problemo that New Democrats speak to. Neither Bill 13 nor Bill 14 speaks to it.
Am I proposing that we create yet another, New Democratic, bill, Bill 15, to deal with that problem? No. We’ve got two bills, and we’re going to say that as we deal with each, New Democrats will propose suggestions to make it better. We could propose a Bill 15 and present ourselves as the real party of difference on the issue of bullying, but we’re not going to do that. So when I hear the Tories say, “No, we’ve got to destroy Bill 13 because it’s not good enough and ours is better,” I say I don’t know.
I say to the Tories and to the Liberals, do you remember when Falconer did his report? Mr. Falconer did his report and made a number of suggestions about violence in the schools, and no one, actually, in this assembly ever dealt with that report, because it was commissioned by the Toronto board—and Soo knows what I’m talking about. The Toronto board, lacking in funds, could never implement that report, but the provincial government could have. I suspect the Toronto board made efforts at trying to get the province to fund some of those things and failed miserably. I know some of the trustees who are here as Liberal MPPs didn’t want to attack their Liberal colleagues, but I would have, as every other board before them did, where we had New Democratic trustees attack the New Democratic government—and they did that. The Liberal trustees should have done the same with their Liberal colleagues, and didn’t. That, I find regrettable.
If we want to deal with issues of violence, let’s look at what Mr. Falconer says, because he says preventing violence in schools requires adequate resources for proper student supervision, adequate funding, community outreach workers to build links with the community, and adequate funding for student supports such as social workers and child and youth workers. None of those implementations were reviewed, or they might have been reviewed but they were never implemented; they were never addressed. They need to be.
We need to understand why young men and women bully others. There’s a long list of reasons why it is that young people bully, and it all connects to the culture and connects to families. If we’ve got alcohol abuse in the family, it’s going to show up in the school system. If there are mental health issues, it will show up as a problem in our school system. If there is bullying against gays and lesbians and transsexuals in our schools, it’s because it is utterly connected to every aspect of our culture that, obviously, says that that isn’t right. We need to fight that, and we need to fight that ferociously, aggressively. There are multiple reasons. Poverty is another problem that reflects itself in the school system.
We need to understand why they do it, and punishing them simply will not solve the problem, which is what part of what Bill 13 does and Bill 14 does. Expelling students doesn’t deal with the problem of sexual abuse of children against children, which has happened and has not been dealt with by boards.
Boards need financial support, principals need financial support, and in spite of what this Minister of Education is doing, attacking boards, she is not supporting them financially. When we impose a new obligation on boards, which I support, it has to be imposed with financial supports. This minister and other ministers cannot say that boards can do this. When boards are required legally to implement Bill 13, it means they have to do it, but if they’re not given the financial support, they will not be able to do it well. That’s the contribution New Democrats make to this debate on Bill 13 and Bill 14.
But, please, let’s proceed with Bill 13. It’s a good bill. Let’s then deal with Bill 14 and not bully each other on that issue, and then let’s look at what it is that we can do by way of additional amendments to Bill 13 and Bill 14 to make it a little better. I think we can do it.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments?
Mr. Kevin Daniel Flynn: It’s a pleasure to join the debate and to follow up on the always excellent remarks of the member from Trinity–Spadina.
I had occasion today to receive a letter that was sent to me from Vancouver. It’s from a young woman who spent her youth growing up in the town of Oakville. She has decided, because of what we’re doing in Ontario and because of the attention being paid to this issue, that she’d like to open up a little bit about her own experience. I won’t use her name, obviously, but I’ll tell you what she says in the letter. It’s a long letter, but there are some parts that really stand out. One says, “I was teased because I was smart, [but I was] left out because I was poor. [I was] ganged up on because I had no one to defend me, and this was allowed to happen because I was a bit of a precocious child and that doesn’t tend to win one the kindness of teachers. In short, there was no protection for me when I was on the grounds of my elementary school.”
She goes on to say, “The lessons I took away from my childhood are not ones that I would teach children of my own. It taught me that being smart makes you a target; that any sign of confidence is a target to be shot at; that being happy is futile because there will always be someone to tear it down and rip it apart. It taught me not to trust anyone, that people will always say one thing and do another opposite, more sinister thing in its stead, and that like a pack of hyenas, people (adults and children alike) will team up to topple the thing they find most threatening.”
When you think of the childhood that this person experienced, it seems to me that what we’re proposing to do today by Bill 13 or 14, or whatever bill the adults choose to call it, is something that needs to be done—and it needs to be done, I think, in some haste. Young people are still suffering through this on a daily basis, and until Queen’s Park acts on this issue, it won’t stop. It’s time that we move ahead on this, Speaker. Thank you.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments?
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: It’s a pleasure to once again engage in debate today and discuss what the member from Trinity–Spadina has talked about.
I want to commend the member from Oakville for bringing a letter to this House from one of his former constituents. I think that’s probably the most important thing that we’ve done since debating both Bill 13 and Bill 14, is talk about the issues, I know I want to make mention of my colleague from Elgin–Middlesex–London and the tragic story that occurred in his community, and as well to the member from Algoma–Manitoulin, because I think we’ve got a few issues here.
I’ve spoken a lot about Bill 13 and Bill 14, but I think what we’ve seen occur in this House are people bringing stories from their communities, from people that they know, about three issues actually. Bullying is one, mental health is another and, finally, suicide prevention and suicide being committed, which makes me think—and I say this as a member of the assembly, like every other member of the assembly, 106 other people—if there was ever a time for greater study, perhaps even a select committee on dealing with these types of issues all together, it might be now. I think that while we’ve done this as a so-called committee of the whole, even though we’re not a committee of the whole, we’ve all discussed it. We all have views. We all have values that we’ve brought from our communities about this issue. I just hope it’s all reflected by the minister when we move forward, because we’ve obviously missed that opportunity to work together at an earlier stage.
So I do appreciate what the members have said, particularly when they bring the stories from their own communities to this assembly. It has affected me, and I know it has affected every other member.
Thank you, Speaker, for the opportunity.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Thank you. Questions and comments?
Mr. Michael Mantha: I don’t want to be repetitive, Mr. Speaker, but you know, I think I will, because everybody needs to hear this in this House.
I’ll start first by giving you a little bit of a discussion I had with my son last night. When I was talking to my son, he said, “You know, where most of the bullying happens is outside in the school yards or outside on the streets.” He said, “Why are you guys calling so many darn recesses? Why are the bells ringing so many times? Why aren’t you dealing in the classroom where the issue needs to be dealt with? Why aren’t you doing that, Dad?”
Anyway, I thought about that and I said, you know what? For a 13-year-old boy, he’s pretty bright. He’s really, really smart.
Mr. Rob E. Milligan: He gets it from his mom.
Mr. Michael Mantha: Yeah, he might get it from his mom.
But, anyways, I think working together is really an acknowledgement of someone else’s work. Bill 13 has great points—some points—but Bill 14, from the member from Nepean–Carleton, also has good points. Our member—I was actually very surprised that he was accused of bullying—from Trinity–Spadina also brings up good points. How is it that this House cannot stay in this House long enough to acknowledge the goods of all three positions and get this done right?
The member from Ottawa Centre said it quite well earlier, that kids in Ottawa Centre are talking about it in their classrooms. Well, guess what? They’re all talking about it. They’re all looking at us in this room, and if we don’t get the work done in here and we keep running out, ringing bells and not getting the work done, we’re failing them. So let’s work together, let’s be reasonable, and let’s get this right. I think we owe it to our kids.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments?
Ms. Soo Wong: I’m pleased to be given another opportunity to speak in response to Bill 13. Let me first respond to clarify for my colleague from Trinity–Spadina. When I was a trustee for the Toronto District School Board like my colleague from Don Valley West, we were unfortunately faced with a tragedy resulting in the Falconer report. Working with our government, we were able to create one of the most successful programs that was ever introduced by this government. It’s called Focus on Youth.
Focus on Youth is one of the leading evidence-based programs, now going on almost five years—I think four or five years—whereby we provide resource support for our young people, free summer camp and employment opportunities. For the past couple of years—for last year I can say the data: We hired over 600 young people in the city of Toronto through the Toronto District School Board, becoming one of the largest employers in the city. The youth who were hired were high-risk youth. Not only were they given an employment opportunity, they were also given credits. This program also provides credit recovery. I wanted to make sure my colleague from Trinity–Spadina had the facts straight.
At the end of the day, we recognize the concerns on safety. The school board will never get enough money. They will always criticize the government about not enough funds here, there and everywhere. But I do know we have social workers, and we have psychologists at TDSB. But at the end of the day, we also need to make sure there are resource supports.
Mr. Speaker, the proposed legislation is not just about protecting young people, it’s also providing resource support. The member from Ottawa-Nepean talked about the mental health piece.
All of us in this House support some kind of legislation to protect our students and ensure that they can learn. Maybe together, we can do something for it before the beginning of the new school year.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): The member from Trinity–Spadina has a two-minute response.
Mr. Rosario Marchese: Thank you for all the comments. To the member for Scarborough–Agincourt, the Toronto school board is about to lay off potentially 1,000 workers. We’ve been trustees, both of us on the same board. We know what we’re talking about here. They’re about to lay off the very people you mentioned, which includes social workers, psychologists, educational assistants and other eyes in the Toronto board. Please, come on. I know you’ve got to talk to your minister about this because she’s attacking the school board and saying she gives them a whole lot of money. The reality is that in a system that’s based on numbers, you’ve been getting less money over the years, and you’re short $85 million. Your school board is short $85 million, and they’re going to have to lay off up to 1,000 workers. Please.
This bill is about bullying, and we think there are good elements in this bill. We hope that the Conservatives will make amendments, as we will, in committee. I think overall, this can work, but we need to deal with the fact that school boards are doing a lot of work without the adequate resources, and they’ve been doing it more and more each and every year. We’re imposing new obligations on boards and principals and teachers, and we do this without understanding the incredible workload that principals and teachers have. We simply think it’s a magical thing for them to be able to do on their own; we simply say, “Do it,” and it happens. There’s simply no understanding from provincial members about what it takes and the supports they require.
This bill does impose a lot of work on them, but if it doesn’t have the support so they can do the job well, it simply will not be done. That’s what New Democrats will speak to at the hearings.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Further debate? The member from Scarborough East-Pickering.
Ms. Tracy MacCharles: Pickering–Scarborough East, thank you, Speaker. I’m very happy to speak on this very important bill today. We are committed to passing Bill 13 as soon as possible.
I do want to acknowledge the member from Trinity–Spadina and the member from Hamilton Mountain for their supportive comments. We are in total agreement: We need to get on with this. However, I also want to assure the member from Trinity–Spadina that we do know what it takes to make this bill happen, and I will be speaking to that soon.
We want to work with our colleagues in opposition, and I call on the members of the official opposition to help pass this bill as quickly as possible. Speaker, I get many calls in my riding of Pickering–Scarborough East about this bill. People are supportive of it. People have some suggestions. That’s what we have committee for. We need to move this forward.
I do want to share a comment we received from Dara in Toronto. She says, “I wish to congratulate the Liberal government on putting forward an anti-bullying platform that provides recognition, protection and support to all Ontario’s children. I applaud you and [the Premier] for standing up for what is right, for showing all our children that we live in a province where discrimination and bullying of any kind, for any reason, is not okay, that it is their right to do what they can do to stop it and that our government will support them in supporting each other.” So I thank Dara from Toronto for sending her comments to us.
The Accepting Schools Act, if passed, will bring tougher consequences for bullying and hate-motivated actions. It will require all schools to support students who want to lead activities that promote understanding and respect for all. It will require school boards to develop policies and guidelines that include supports and resources for all students, and it will recognize Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week in legislation to ensure and support existing activities in boards and within the communities, to make it very clear that bullying is not okay.
The proposed Accepting Schools Act is a key component of our government’s plan to make Ontario schools healthy, safe and inclusive learning environments where students feel accepted. Ontario is recognized across jurisdictions and leading the way with aggressive safe school legislation, and I know, Mr. Speaker, that there are many school boards in our province that already have laid strong foundations for this legislation. There are many school boards, including the Durham District School Board—where I sit on the special ed committee of that school board—where they have not just policies in place, but they’ve executed on those, and this legislation will build and strengthen on those, so I’m very proud of that.
Ontario is the first province to require all school staff to report serious student incidents, including bullying, to the principal of the school. But there is more work to do, and that’s why we’re making it law to create safer and more accepting schools for all students. The proposed legislation will provide clear expectations and increased accountability for school boards and bullies, including making expulsion a possible consequence for bullying.
One of the things, Speaker, I like about this bill is that it recognizes all of the key people involved in bullying issues: the bully, the witnesses, the bystanders, the staff—all the people affected—the victims. We speak to supports for everyone involved because we can’t address a serious issue if we don’t have the sufficient supports in place.
And getting back to the member for Trinity–Spadina: Again, I appreciate his supportive comments about the bill, but I do want to assure him that there are enough hows in this bill. We know how to execute this, Speaker, and the bill will build on our efforts over the last six years to prevent bullying and create a very positive school climate. Some of the things include integrating the mental health supports in schools as part of Ontario’s 10-year mental health and addictions strategy, which is very much focused on children in this province, Speaker.
The bill also required the establishment of an Accepting Schools expert panel to give advice on new resources for parents, school staff and other matters and other players involved in the process. The legislation will also provide direction to the curriculum council to report back next year on integrating equity and bullying prevention across the curriculum.
The legislation also provides for public awareness campaigns to remind all Ontarians about the role in preventing bullying. Like all legislation, we can have good legislation but if we don’t communicate it properly, we keep it the best-kept secret—
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): I just want to say that we have six sidebars going on and it’s very difficult to hear what’s being said. I’d appreciate it if you have any heated conversations that you take them outside. Thank you.
The member, continue.
Ms. Tracy MacCharles: Thank you, Speaker. We are doing more than just telling bullied kids it will get better; we are working together to make it better now.
It is incumbent on each and every one of us to make sure students feel safe, included and welcome in Ontario schools.
If we all think back, most of us have experienced bullying at some point during our school years—some more than others, unfortunately. It does impact people, and it stays with them for life. I remember feeling very intimidated and threatened by someone half my size in height in high school, and I’ll never forget that experience. That is a much more minor example compared to some of the very tragic situations we’ve seen happen in our province. Unfortunately, many suffer in silence for fear of reprisal or for fear of not being supported by their school or their school board. That is why this legislation is so important.
School safety has been a priority for this government from the beginning. That’s why all school boards must have policies and procedures on bullying prevention and intervention. We need to level the playing field more on all the good work that all the school boards have done around promoting safe schools.
Since 2004, this government has invested $285 million in safe schools initiatives. They’re helping make Ontario schools some of the safest in the world. We are very proud that we’re continuing to build on this good work.
If passed, the Accepting Schools Act will create legal obligations for boards to address bullying prevention and early intervention, progressive discipline, and equity and inclusive education. For the very first time, we are defining bullying in legislation so that every student, every teacher, every principal and every parent knows what we’re talking about when we say bullying is not okay in our schools.
I spoke the other day about how it is important that this happen in the school environment. Yes, behaviours and values and ethics start at home, but it is at the school environment where many of us get socialized. That’s where a lot of our learning happens. Research shows that relationships in the school environment have a direct correlation to how students progress into adulthood, how they make important life decisions, how they choose educational paths and so on. So doing this in the school context is very important, very compelling.
One of our greatest strengths is diversity. We believe that all students, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability—all of that—have the right to a safe and positive learning environment.
We’ve talked about the gay-straight alliances, and I just want to comment that under Bill 13, the naming of such groups is not overly prescriptive and provides flexibility, because we know that every school board has its own culture, has its own rhythm. So this bill provides flexibility on a number of fronts.
I want to share some examples of some of the names of gay-straight alliances currently in place. One is Be the Movement, from Campbellford District High School. Another is Anti-Homophobia Alliance, at Victoria Park Collegiate. Another one is Born Equal, Humberview Secondary School; Dialog, at Cardinal Carter Secondary School; Kenora Positive Spaces Alliance, Beaver Brae Secondary School; and YES, which stands for Youth Embracing Sexualities, at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate, which is in my honourable member’s riding of Scarborough–Guildwood and also where my daughter happens to dance, so I’m very familiar with that high school.
Our focus is not on the naming of these clubs, Speaker. The legislation is about making sure kids get the support they need. We’ve hired more staff in schools, more social workers, more attendance counsellors, lunch yard and bus supervisors across the province. I’m very proud of that, and I’m very proud to support this bill.
I strongly encourage all members of the opposition to help us move this forward quickly to committee.
Second reading debate deemed adjourned.