March 26, 2012
ACCEPTING SCHOOLS ACT, 2012 /
LOI DE 2012 POUR
DES ÉCOLES TOLÉRANTES
Resuming the debate adjourned on December 7, 2011, 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?
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: It’s a pleasure, on behalf of Tim Hudak and the Ontario Progressive Conservative caucus, to speak to anti-bullying initiatives in Ontario, and in particular to the legislation placed before us.
I’d like to first start by welcoming Karen Strype and Gail Birkett from the Canadian Federation of University Women. They are here in support of the anti-bullying coalition, a coalition I will be speaking about this afternoon.
An important topic of late, bullying has become further pronounced than it has ever been experienced by members of this chamber. Cyberbullying, text threats and the sad reality that today’s bullying has taken on a greater severity and viciousness is evidence why this assembly needs to act, and to act in a decisive, holistic and non-partisan manner.
For some time now, several members of this assembly have drawn attention to the plight of bullied students and have proposed a variety of ideas that could bring awareness to bullying and also to prevent it. One member in particular who has devoted such energy is Elizabeth Witmer, the MPP for Kitchener–Waterloo. Mrs. Witmer is a former minister and critic of education, but she is also a former teacher and a former board chair. I would like to commend the member for her important and substantive work in anti-bullying initiatives in this House.
There are also a number of other Ontarians who have committed their attention to eradicating bullying. While it is impossible to mention all of them, let me share with you and with this House some of the initiatives that are occurring at a grassroots level. In Ottawa, Majic 100 FM has taken a leading role with their No More Bullies campaign. Led by on-air personalities Stuart Schwartz—known to most of us as Stuntman Stu—Trisha Owens and Angie Poirier, the No More Bullies campaign has been raising awareness in schools and through a rather unique outreach program. They have celebrities, pro athletes, politicians and everyday Ontarians write “No More Bullies” on their hand, take a picture of it with their face and stick it on a Facebook campaign so kids know there is support there.
By having Ottawa Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk, Canadian band Simple Plan, Canadian singing sensation Carly Rae Jepsen and even a few MPPs like myself and the member from Ottawa Centre participate, Stuntman Stu’s team is telling students it is not okay to bully. It is not cool. But even more importantly, Mr. Speaker, Stu, Angie and Trisha are letting kids who are bullied know that they are not alone.
My friend Colin McSweeney often says of bullying, “We need to make bullying taboo and socially unacceptable the same way drinking and driving became intolerable 25 years ago.” That’s exactly the type of activism that Stuntman Stu and his team are doing on-air and in Ottawa schools to end bullying.
Another group in Ottawa, the Bengals football team, is also thinking outside the box when it comes to bullying. They want to rehabilitate the bullies. Their Be a Bengal, Not a Bully program is smart, it’s accessible and it’s productive. The Royal Ottawa Hospital made them an Inspiration Award recipient for their program this past year. Let me read about this program:
“Since 2008, Bengal players, coaches, parents and managers have been united in their fight against bullying both on and off the field. This youth-led initiative brings the anti-bullying message to an ideal place for maximum impact—the football field.”
“The program began with a simple anti-bullying policy—developed and written by the young players themselves—and has since grown into a core component of the Bengal organization. Be a Bengal, Not a Bully identifies and supports leaders from within the team who participate as peer mentors for the program.....
“For the Bengals, the message is clear: Bullying will not be tolerated.”
That’s impressive, given that it’s coming from young football players.
These are just two examples of anti-bullying campaigns in Ontario.
Parents and students have literally come together across the province and have created a vast network of support, awareness and lobbying. I would like to acknowledge a few of those, if I may: Lesa McDougall and Karen Cameron are the co-founders of Bluewater Citizens for Education; Corina Morrison is the co-founder of the London Anti-Bullying Coalition; Katie Neu is the co-founder of Bullying Canada; Karen Sebben is the co-founder of the York Region Anti-Bullying Coalition; and Anne Taylor is the chair of the St. Thomas/Elgin Anti-Bullying Coalition.
They have done outstanding work, pointing out the seriousness of bullying in our communities. Each of them has been directly affected by those impacts. Each of those who I mentioned today can speak to why Ontario needs a strong and comprehensive anti-bullying law that will complement the work they are doing on the front line.
Awareness isn’t enough anymore. I have come to learn that first-hand. It is not as simple to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” That is facile, it is ill-informed and a poor excuse for turning a blind eye to the truth.
Let me read a headline from the Ottawa Citizen of October 27. For those at home and who are here today, listening to this debate, I just want you to know this will disturb you: “Jamie was forced to switch schools in grade 7, after a group of four or five students forced flashlight batteries down Jamie’s throat while they were on a school bus.” That’s not sticks and stones. It’s not name-calling. It’s torture; it’s torment. It’s unacceptable in a civilized society.
Those who think we needn’t enact legislation to protect Ontario students from this type of cruelty might be unaware that bullying has been a factor in some Ontario students and their decision to take their own lives as a result of bullying. Some students have chosen to die by suicide because they felt that the bullying would never stop—bullying, in these cases, so deplorable that the student bullied reaches the depths of despair and cannot see a better day.
That boy I just told you about, that had the batteries shoved down his throat, was Jamie Hubley. Sadly, in Jamie’s case, it took his suicide for the bullying to stop. Jamie’s story has received international attention. I can tell you, Speaker, I will personally never forget learning—where I learned and where I was when I found out he’d died. I think of him every time I see his mother and father. I felt, when he died, that there must be something I could do. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Edmund Burke, the great British philosopher, once said, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” Knowing what we know about Jamie’s tragic experience, the good people in this place cannot turn a blind eye to bullying. We cannot do nothing about this problem. We cannot ignore bullying in our schools and on our school buses. It is simply not an option.
I genuinely believe this House collectively wants to do something. How else to explain Bill 13 and Bill 14 being introduced on the exact same day by both the government and the opposition to eradicate bullying?
It’s now generally accepted that there is a problem with bullying or, as Burke put it, an evil that we have to deal with. The question now becomes how we triumph or, in plainer terms, how we fix that problem. I’ve contemplated this very question in my mind countless times since Jamie died. I personally have gone through all the emotions as well. I’ve been angry, I’ve been sad, I’ve been shocked, and then I’ve been angry again. I’m angry because Ontario students can feel so isolated and distressed as a result of bullying in one of our public schools that he felt that there was no other avenue than to take his own life.
I have spoken a great deal about Jamie in this House, Mr. Speaker, to share his story and to remind Ontarians that bullying today has gone too far. An even more dreadful fact is that Jamie’s story is not the only one; it’s just the one that I know most personally because his parents are my friends. Mitchell Wilson was only 11 years old when he took his own life because he didn’t want to testify in court against his bully. According to durhamregion.com, Mitchell’s dad said he was taking one of the walks prescribed for his treatment of muscular dystrophy last November when he was mugged by an older boy, intent on taking an iPhone. The attack was the start of a downward spiral for Mitchell, who was bullied by other kids and fearful of having to go to court to testify. In words that can only be defined as heart-shattering, Speaker, Mitchell’s grandmother said this: “‘It isn’t OK to beat a little disabled kid and get away with it,’ a weeping Mrs. Wilson said. ‘It’s not right. It’s broken my heart to lose my grandson. He was my only grandchild and now he’s gone. It’s horrible.’”
Since being named PC education critic, I have encountered countless parents, some of whom I mentioned here today and all of whom have shared their personal stories of anguish, stories of how their children were beaten, berated and bullied because they were different—different. They were bullied because they were different. Each story has brought with it a “cause,” if you will, of why their son or daughter was bullied. Jamie was targeted because he was a figure skater. As he got older, it was because he questioned his sexuality. He was the only openly gay kid in his school, so the bullies targeted him. In Mitchell’s case he was bullied because he had muscular dystrophy. Speaker, my grandfather died of muscular dystrophy. I know how that disease can ravage your body while your mind is still there, take away your mobility and your ability to act. He could not defend himself from that cruel disease. This boy physically could not fight back. The physically weakest of the weak, bullied because he had a deadly disease.
Others are targeted because of a learning disorder or their weight. I’ve heard stories of kids being bullied because of their economic circumstances, mercilessly punished because the other kids considered them poor. Still others have been made fun of and intimidated at school because of their religion. Having faith in the Almighty should not be a reason in Canada for derision, contempt or mockery. But sadly, on our school grounds, it’s as if anything can go. Bullying takes many forms, and there is not only one cause—an important point for us to remember throughout this debate.
Speaker, this brings me to the legislation before us. We know that on November 30 the Liberal government introduced Bill 13 and the PC opposition, of which I’m a proud member, through the member for Kitchener–Waterloo, introduced Bill 14. It was a significant day, in my mind. There was certainly consensus among legislators that bullying had reached a tipping point in Ontario and, further, there was agreement that something needed to be done. Before us were two bills—both different but, as I’ve said in the past, complementary, not competing. We had a golden opportunity in this minority Parliament to do something momentous.
We had an opportunity to put students first, not ideology. We could have done the right thing by bringing the best and brightest minds of this assembly together, while setting partisanship aside for the good and the safety of our students. We could have had the strongest anti-bullying legislation in North America, but sadly, I’m not so sure that can happen now. I dare say we missed a golden opportunity. I’m disappointed that the government was not confident enough in the good minds and ideas that this Legislature can bring to do the right thing, and that their insecurity of losing control of the agenda has gotten the better of them. I do believe Bill 14 is of higher quality than Bill 13.
On November 30, as the PC education critic, I said of Bills 13 and 14, “We will be serious about passing anti-bullying legislation, starting, of course, with Mrs. Witmer’s” bill “and ending, of course, with the government’s legislation, because we believe that measures included in both of those bills will make Ontario the leader in North America in anti-bullying legislation.”
Further extending that olive branch, on December 1, I told the Ottawa Citizen, “We have offered to merge the two bills, and I am sure we’ll merge them in committee. Everybody in the legislature is on the same page. There’s merit in both bills and there’s tremendous political will behind this. I support the Premier on this.”
Perhaps I should have been clearer. I support the desire to eradicate bullying, but I also believe we must take this task seriously. If we get this bill wrong, Speaker, the kids suffer. This isn’t about headlines; it’s about getting it right.
Listen to what Karen Sebben has to say—I introduced her earlier—from the York Region Anti-Bullying Coalition. This is her quote: “My son’s three years of bullying took the form of homophobia. But 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 the PCs’ Elizabeth Witmer got it right with Bill 14.” A strong endorsement by Ms. Sebben of Bill 14, not Bill 13.
You’re aware, Speaker, that I approached the government to have them seriously consider getting their bill right and using the minority Parliament to all of our advantage. We had the opportunity to do something revolutionary here by using obscure legislative tools to bring our biggest and brightest ideas together.
I have personally lobbied this government for months to pass second reading so we could create a process that would send both bills immediately to committee to merge. For months, I thought the negotiations were moving along. That was until late last week, when the government unilaterally put this bill on the table and on the order paper so we couldn’t continue our negotiations.
Ontario students should have been given the confidence that this assembly could put them first and set aside partisan differences. I think it would have been a worthy exercise, one that could have produced remarkable results: tough anti-bullying legislation that would deal with bullying of all types and forms without the divisiveness of entrenched positions that are starting to take root.
Even parents and media commentators were cheering this idea along. I’m going to quote a few more people, Speaker. On March 6, the Toronto Sun’s Moira MacDonald said about the bills, “Both had their merits—the Conservatives’ Bill 14 Anti-Bullying Act, had a more all-encompassing focus on bullying compared to the Liberals’ Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act.
“Nevertheless, even Premier Dalton McGuinty said there was an opportunity for both parties to work together on the final bill.”
Allan Hubley wrote in the Ottawa Citizen, “I have personally met with a number of MPPs from all parties and believe they want to work together to develop a final bill that will enable schools to accomplish real action on the anti-bullying issue.
“This can only happen quickly if all parties agree to send the government’s bill to committee for discussion and revision, and to blend it with some good ideas from Witmer’s bill.”
In fact, this past December, Allan Hubley and his wife Wendy joined me at Queen’s Park. They met with Dalton McGuinty and Tim Hudak, they talked to Peter Tabuns and Laurel Broten, and they shared stories with Christine Elliott and Elizabeth Witmer. The Ottawa Citizen said of the day, “They also wanted to tell the Premier to start working with the other side on this issue.
“‘The kids are watching us,’” said Hubley. “‘This is important.’
I agree with Allan Hubley. He has been a principal adviser to me on teenage mental health, youth suicide and bullying. If I may say, he and Wendy are two of the strongest, kindest and gentlest souls I have known in my life. They have put their own grief on the back burner so they can tell Jamie’s story, because they don’t want another family to go through the pain they are battling.
I don’t want another family to go through the struggle that the Hubleys are facing. I’m certain that no one in this place wants another family to face the same sorrow that Allan and Wendy are feeling. Yet there are kids watching, and what they see is a Liberal government unwilling to admit they could have done better by working with others.
Imagine using the Liberal slogan “Going Forward Together.” Those words could have been more than just catchy electioneering, and we could have presented to the public a first-class bill aimed at eradicating bullying of all kinds. Alas, it appears that sloganeering has won the day, Speaker, and I’m disappointed to say that we are debating an inferior bill to Mrs. Witmer’s. Therefore, even when this bill does eventually go to committee, it is not likely to produce the type of protection Ontario students deserve because of the constraints of the legislative process.
This is where it becomes real; where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. Parliamentary procedure, I’m sure you’ll be aware, really doesn’t matter that much to moms and dads who are at their wits’ end because their kids are being bullied and they’re struggling with suicide. Parliamentary procedure means nothing to those people, Speaker, because they are going through something that only some of us here feel, and hopefully many of us won’t ever feel, every day at our house. All they know is that they want their children protected. All the Hubleys want is their child back, and I’m certain they won’t be able to understand why we couldn’t break with parliamentary convention and work together and use a commonsense starting point.
I’m sure they won’t be happy to learn that the minister was so entrenched in her own views. I’ll even use the word: The minister was selfish not to accept that there are valid criticisms of her legislation, that there was a better way and that we could have worked together. We could have put partisanship aside. We could have improved her bill. But she was selfish.
I know they’ll be utterly disappointed back home to know that if you disagree with even one “and” or “but” in the minister’s bill, you’ll be labelled a bigot or a homophobe—bullying, of course, at its finest. And I must say that members of this assembly have been targeted by that, because there are significant challenges to any piece of legislation where you will want to bring attention to those flaws and you will want to bring in amendments. All of us, regardless of party, could have given consent to put a process together that works for those kids who are hurting, for those parents who are at their wits’ end and for all of them who just want something done.
Mr. Speaker, let me read something that Anne Taylor recently wrote:
“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 ... instead of the safety and learning success of every single one of the children and youth in this province.’”
I consider Bill 14 to be the gold standard of anti-bullying legislation because it is devoted to the anti-bullying of all of Ontario’s students. A comparison document done by Mrs. Witmer’s office provides a detailed analysis of both 13 and 14, and it’s clear that her bill is one that the Legislature should be passing.
Let me make this comparison, because I think it’s extremely relevant to where myself and Mrs. Witmer are with respect to anti-bullying legislation.
Bill 14’s definition of bullying is more thorough, focusing on what constitutes bullying and how it affects the victim. The Liberals’ definition is preoccupied with the reason for bullying, whether it’s gender, religion, or race, and does not place enough emphasis on the form or outcome of bullying. The Liberal definition focuses on the perceived power imbalance, based on the aforementioned individual factors. Our definition doesn’t require specifically stating what the individual factors are, since it is designed and written to include all conceivable reasons one may be bullied. The PC definition includes the impact that bullying has on the school environment, the education process and the victim’s emotional well-being. Our definition is longer, more detailed and therefore more comprehensive.
The PC bill includes a section devoted solely to addressing cyberbullying. This is critical due to the increasing prevalence of Internet-based bullying. The Internet allows perpetrators to relentlessly bully and harass their victims 24 hours a day, and often anonymously. The Liberal bill barely makes mention of cyberbullying, referring to it instead as an “electronic” form of bullying. Our bill prohibits the many different forms of cyberbullying: creating an anonymous Web page, impersonating another person, communicating material to more than one person, or posting material on an electronic medium that can be accessed by more than one person.
The Liberal bill requires school boards to issue biannual surveys to students in order to collect information on the efficacy of board policies and plans. The information is solely for internal board use. Our bill, the bill submitted to this Parliament by Elizabeth Witmer, requires principals to track and to forward the number of bullying incidents that have occurred each year to their respective school board. The board is then required to compile this information in a yearly report and submit it to the ministry. The ministry will subsequently release this information in an annual report detailing the number of bullying incidents that have occurred provincially and what steps the ministry has taken to address bullying in schools. Our bill, the PC bill, recognizes that in order to make progress and improvements, the ministry and boards must have the necessary data.
A major component of our Progressive Conservative bill is accountability. The Liberals fail to address this in its entirety.
Our bill is much more robust in its requirement for the ministry and school boards to develop comprehensive bullying prevention plans. It requires the ministry to establish a provincial plan that will serve as the basis for each board’s plan. The boards are mandated to develop their own plan and submit it to the ministry for approval. The bill stipulates what must be included in each plan. Bill 13, however, states that the minister “may” establish policies and guidelines with respect to bullying prevention, and I will touch on that a little bit later because it is an area of concern for many parents across Ontario.
Let’s continue to do this comparison. The Progressive Conservative bill requires principals to provide every student and parent and guardian with the board’s prevention plan, as well as include the plan on the school website. The Liberal plan does not require that.
The PC bill formalizes a process for investigating allegations of bullying. It also stipulates the duties of the principal following an investigation in which bullying has been deemed to have occurred. The Liberal bill does not include anything similar to this.
The PC bill incorporates bullying prevention directly into the provincial curriculum, beginning in kindergarten and continuing throughout the elementary and secondary grades. This, Mr. Speaker, will enable the prevention of bullying. The Liberal bill, on the other hand, does not require this. Their bill focuses on discipline, which is reactionary and punitive, and from what we hear from parents, not workable.
Our stakeholders, including parents of bullied kids, do not believe in expulsion. They believe in rehabilitation, something I was talking about when I told you about the Be a Bengal, Not a Bully campaign that’s happening in Ottawa to make sure that kids are learning bullying is not acceptable and violence in the schools is not acceptable.
The PC bill establishes mandatory remedial programs for perpetrators of bullying. They must be provided by boards and delivered by social workers, psychologists or other trained professionals. It also stipulates that these programs must be made available for victims, albeit on a voluntary basis. The Liberal plan does not require perpetrators to attend remedial programs. That means the bully is still going to be out there without any necessary supports. It’s problematic, Speaker.
I would like at this point in time just to say a special acknowledgment to a member of Elizabeth Witmer’s staff, Dan Powers, for compiling those points for our caucus, who has taken a lot of his time to ensure that we got it right.
As Karen Sebben pointed out in yorkregion.com—and we’ve spoken about Karen before—“The York group, along with coalitions in St. Thomas-Elgin and London, Bluewater Citizens for Education and the youth-led Bullying Canada, released a statement this week raising ‘grave concerns’ over Bill 13.
“If anti-bullying legislation is to be effective, they say, it should be all-encompassing to include bullying by school staff as well as students and provide families easy access to information.
“Ambiguous, vague and unavailable bullying policies can allow administrators to diminish incidents, the release said.”
Further on, it reads, “The group is asking all parties to leave politics at the door and work together, with input from victims and their families, to combine the Liberals’ Bill 13”—with the Progressive Conservative Bill 14—“both tabled in December.”
Now I’ve said many times in this House that if one student takes their own life, quits school or self-harms after we pass the bullying law, we will have failed. Here we have a credible and impartial parent group—a group of them, actually, parent groups—who have seen the effects of bullying first-hand, telling us in this chamber that Bill 13 is not as strong as Bill 14. They tell us that we need to check our politics at the door. In fact, Sebben’s York Region Anti-Bullying Coalition has linked arms with several other parent groups that I mentioned earlier. They make critical arguments why Bill 13 is not as thorough as they would have hoped.
Now, allow me to read into the record, Speaker, excerpts of an open letter the group released earlier this month. I might add, before I read this into the public record, I did place a copy of this letter on the desk of the minister a few weeks back, and I do hope she took the time to read what this group has said. It is quite lengthy, so I will ask your indulgence as I read all of this information into the public record.
They start, “It is vital to the success of our education system and the well-being of generations of children and young adults to reduce the incidence and impact of bullying. Without informed decision-making and effective legislation, every Ontario student remains at risk....
“There are two bills tabled, two bills that have some good ideas, but two bills that don’t go far enough. We beseech all to work together and take time for careful consideration over the drafting of a final bill because, once passed ... the government of the day can claim that there is no further need to look at bullying issues ... and that time is needed to see how effective the new legislation is ... and that will likely amount to years. The students of Ontario cannot afford to have any more ineffective legislation passed. They cannot afford any further ‘band-aid’ approaches or ‘wait and see’ attitudes. Comprehensive and effective legislated changes to the Education Act are needed to ensure that this province is doing its very best to keep students safe in its schools. Bullying is abusive” and results in “intolerance, inequity and misuses of power. In order to put an end to bullying and bullycide, we must implement an anti-oppressive framework. If we are to use legislation to help build this framework, the language must be concise and specific regarding bullying and peer abuse. To integrate the problem of bullying with other school-based issues would, in effect, put the issue of bullying on the back burner yet again. 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,” as I stated earlier.
They go on to say: “It is vital to the success of our education system and the well-being of generations of children and young adults to reduce the incidence and impact of bullying.”
Then they outline a number of initiatives that they’re concerned about. One is “all-encompassing.” “Any definition(s) related to bullying (Bill 14 has a thorough one; Bill 13 does not provide one) must be all-encompassing, pertaining to all members of school communities.... As victims and parents of victims,” they say, “it doesn’t matter what form bullying takes. Safeguards need to be written into the Education Act that would prevent students from being harmed by all acts of bullying, including, but not limited to, homophobic acts and even, and especially, those acts carried out by those in positions of authority. We will continue to seek this and ask for nothing less than legislation that ensures that our children’s bullying experiences are never repeated.”
Speaker, this is coming from concerned parents from across Ontario, from York region, from London, from Elgin-St. Thomas, from Kitchener. Right across this province, parents have banded together, with their own ideas, because they actually see this happening to their own children. They actually have had to deal with some of the repercussions that bullying has had in their own family, in their own schools, and they’re telling us how to get this right.
They also say we need easy access to information. They say: “We have seen first-hand (and have been made aware of many other cases) how ambiguous, vague and, often, seemingly unavailable bullying policies, procedures and definitions allow administrators to diminish incidents and remove them from the realm of bullying altogether. Clear definitions are crucial and must cover all forms of bullying (Bill 14 covers some of this....)”—Bill 13, not so much.
They also talk about tracking and reporting, and I’m very proud that Mrs. Witmer has made a very important and dedicated addition to her bill to ensure that there is going to be tracking and reporting.
This anti-bullying coalition, that represents so many of our communities across Ontario, says: “All schools should be required to keep a quantitative and detailed record of all reports of bullying throughout each school year. The public should, again, have ... access to the quantitative information, which should be broken down to clearly show:
“a) the total number of bullying incidents reported in a given ... year;
“b) the total number of reported incidents that, after investigation, were deemed to have been legitimate incidents of bullying;
“c) the total number of incidents that required disciplinary action;” and
“d) the total number of incidents that required legal intervention in any capacity.”
Now, as I have mentioned on a number of occasions, and in the spirit of the legislation introduced by Mrs. Witmer, this organization also believes in a very key and important point: There should be support for all. “Bills 13 and 14 both recommend offering support, assistance and remedial programs to both victims and aggressors. The damage caused by bullying is not, however, limited to the bully’s chosen victim(s). It is far more wide reaching than that, as its effects are felt by family members as well.... Early intervention is critical in attempting to avoid the years of psychological damage that can follow ongoing bullying attacks. Time is of the essence when you are watching your child crumble and become suicidal.”
Those are very important words from parents who are quite distressed. They believe there needs to be comprehensive policies for all school boards. “Bill 13 would seem to suggest that school boards must each establish their own policies and guidelines regarding bullying, prevention and intervention, and that these policies must be approved by the Minister of Education.” Their concern in this open letter: “Inconsistent policies and guidelines in different boards across the province leads to confusion, mismanaged time and too little accountability. One overarching and comprehensive policy for all of Ontario” would be so much better.
Let me give you an example. Let me take you back to that quote of October 27, where I read to you about Jamie. Remember? The batteries? Jamie was going to one school at that time and his parents took him out of that school and put him in another school. In Ottawa, we have four different school boards. It is not impossible to see four different school boards have four different schools on the same street. Those four schools could end up having four different policies as a result of this minister’s bill. Does that make any sense to you? It doesn’t make any sense, and that’s why Mrs. Witmer has a far superior bill.
This other group speaks to third party oversight as well. They say, “The vast majority of these lawsuits are centred on bullying incidents and inadequate responses to keep students safe.” You can sense their frustration when you read their letters. “There is a clear need for third party oversight in order to hold school boards” accountable. I would argue that could be the minister, if the minister was serious about getting this bill right.
They talk about integrity and responsibility: “Professional development programs on bullying must include information and instruction regarding incidents where teachers or administrators exhibit bullying behaviour toward students, as witnessed by other teachers. Reporting duties need to apply even if the bully is a teacher or fellow staff member.... There must be some form of legislation in place to protect teachers who come forward in order to protect victims of bullying or abuse at the hands of teachers.”
Then, their final point: “Absolute accountability.” Listen to this: “In reading over Bill 13, there is repeated use of the phrase, ‘The minister may....’ In our experience,” they say, “policies and procedures that incorporate the use of the word ‘may’ are virtually worthless to parents advocating for their broken children. The doors are left wide open for administrators to respond, ‘Well, we are not required to do “that,”’ and that is exactly what so frequently happens. When it comes right down to it, the phrase, ‘The Minister may...’ really means, ‘The school board likely won’t have to....’”
These parents are frustrated, and they’ve been asking this assembly to act for many years now. We now have that golden opportunity, and it has been squandered. We have a minority government; every single voice in this Legislature is now equal, and they can’t handle that to protect these children.
So, their letter concludes by saying this: “Although we would like to be optimistic about the possibility of positive change with the tabling of Bills 13 and 14, instead we are concerned that Ontario families are about to begin a lengthy period of time with no real improvement in the area of bullying prevention and no possibility for such.”
These points are a complete analysis, as I have said, done by a number of anti-bullying coalition organizations and parent groups and those who have been bullied across Ontario. They have been in the field for quite some time. They have credibility. The research that they have done and the expertise that they have brought to the table deserve to be listened to. They deserve to be heard, and it’s important that that experience has been because of themselves and their own children.
They are not the only ones who have weighed in. Several Osgoode Hall Law School, University of Toronto and even some University of Ottawa students from my hometown have written to this assembly with their concerns, too. Let me quote what they have said, because when these legal minds come and view legislation from this assembly, I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to listen to what their criticisms might be:
“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 equality, 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.”
They further say—and these are students at various law schools throughout the province of Ontario. I will reiterate: They are from Osgoode Hall Law School, the University of Toronto and from the University of Ottawa. “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 motives behind bullying or violent behaviour....” So that is interesting. They say finally, “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.”
It’s interesting, but they’re not alone. There are still groups that have come out, including one of the largest teachers’ unions in all of Ontario, ETFO. They have written to Mrs. Witmer to express some support for her legislation, and I will read into the record this—and I know my time is getting down there: “Given the increase in reports of serious student bullying, including bullying that has led to students committing suicide, it is no coincidence that there are two bills before the House seeking to strengthen public schools’ capacity to address serious anti-social behaviour on the part of students. In its analysis of Bill 13, this submission will also make reference to specific provisions of Bill 14, the Anti-Bullying Act, 2011, sponsored by MPP Elizabeth Witmer. There are aspects of this private member’s bill that would strengthen the framework for responding to incidents of bullying and should inform amendments to Bill 13.”
As a mom, I want to see strong anti-bullying legislation pass this Legislature. But as the coalition has said, Bill 13 will not solve the problems. It will not give us the desired results. For that reason, both emotionally and intellectually, I don’t feel I can support the Liberal bill at this time. Will that change at committee? As hopeful as I am, Speaker, I am not optimistic; in fact, I’m a realist. Having negotiated with this Liberal Party for the past number of months to try and put kids and their protection first at the expense of partisanship, I’ve now seen what they’ve done. I’ve now seen them unilaterally call this bill while we in the official opposition believed that the negotiations were still ongoing to put the very good ideas of Mrs. Witmer into that bill. As we have seen today, there are a number of other ideas that have come from across the province from people who are desperate, who need our help, who want us to work together so that we can end bullying in our schools. They wanted us to do that together.
I don’t see Bill 13 as being particularly relevant to students in every case, and without Mrs. Witmer’s bill fully included in Bill 13, this bill is incomplete. It’s an incomplete bill that will not solve all of the bullying-related problems that Ontario students are confronted with.
Yet if Bill 13 does pass, the Liberals will claim that they have acted, that they have done everything, that they are going to eradicate bullying in Ontario. They are going to pat themselves on the back, Mr. Speaker, and they’re going to be proud of themselves. It will be a wonderful day to be a Liberal in Ontario. Yet the problem for them will be that if we fail one more kid in this province after we pass their bill and they didn’t get it right, it will be a very big problem, not just for them but for all of us. I have said from the get-go, including earlier in these remarks, that if one more kid commits suicide, self-harms or drops out of school because of bullying, we will have failed.
I’m not interested in the back-patting competition of this Liberal government. I think we can do better. We must remember why we are here: to make Ontario a better place for all Ontarians—not just some, but all; not just the strong, but also the weak; not just the straight, but also the gay; not just the thin, but also the smart; not just the weak in learning abilities, but also those people who are working hard; not just for the overweight; not just for the learning-disabled. We have to protect all Ontarians, regardless of why they’re being bullied. That is our job. That is why we were sent here. We cannot continue to have any more of these problems in our schools. That is the issue.
That is why we believe, on this side of the House, that we could have done something remarkable with each of our equal voices here. Instead, this is a government so focused on controlling the agenda that they gave up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They squandered an ability to take all of the good ideas and put them together. They chose to make a splashy headline at the expense of kids.
I’m utterly disappointed, and I’m very disappointed that they broke faith with this House on this bill. But, Speaker, this isn’t the first time. They’ve done this before—not exactly this way. But let’s go back a week ago when this assembly decided to vote for a select committee to investigate Ornge. This House stood and passed a motion to review what happened at Ornge. We’ve been asking for that minister to step aside. We wanted someone to be accountable. So just like this bullying bill where they were negotiating and they broke the negotiations, they’ve also broken faith with this House.
For that reason, Mr. Speaker, I move adjournment of the House.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Ms. MacLeod has moved the adjournment of the House. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All of those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”
All those opposed will please say “nay.”
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Call in the members. This will be a 30-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1454 to 1524.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Will the members please take their seats.
Ms. MacLeod has moved the adjournment of the House. All those in favour of the motion will please rise and remain standing so that they can be counted by the table staff.
Take your seats.
All those opposed to the motion will please rise and remain standing so that they can be counted by the table staff.
The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): The ayes are 29; the nays are 39.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I declare the motion lost.
I now return to the member for Nepean–Carleton, who still has the floor.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: Thank you, Speaker. I truly do appreciate the opportunity to have participated in this debate.
I do understand that the former Minister of Community Safety, who used to be in charge of protecting kids in this province, is heckling me over an important bill that people want to have their say on. My understanding is that we have an ability to debate this piece of legislation. If that Liberal government didn’t want to have to deal with 30-minute bells and delays, then they should call a select committee and they should put Bill 13 and Bill 14 in committee together.
But what are they going to do instead? Instead, what they’re going to do is heckle, drown us out, shout down the opposition, because Dalton McGuinty thinks he’s got something called a major minority—
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Member for Nepean–Carleton.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: Thank you very much, Speaker. I do appreciate to talk about this important issue. It’s one that I’ve raised on several occasions. I hear the little chirpers over there. They weren’t here for the hour in which I discussed how important passing effective anti-bullying legislation was. They didn’t hear the voices that I brought to this chamber on behalf of the parents in York region, in London-St. Thomas, in areas across the province like Kitchener and Ottawa, who are concerned about this issue.
I’m going to conclude today—I have about five minutes left—by reading something from Allan Hubley.
“This is one issue where partisan politics and special interest agendas should not get in the way of the ultimate goal: protecting kids from bullying. Personally, what I want to have in the final bill and what I believe every parent in Ontario can support is as follows:
“Support for student-led initiatives is the key to giving kids the ability to help each other. My son Jamie wanted to start a club where every child who felt out of place could join and gain peer support. He talked about tall, short, thin, fat, and kids with freckles who would benefit from a safe place to be and the acceptance by others. My son said that this club would help kids learn to accept the differences in each other.
“Politicians need to forget about trying to name the groups that may form in schools. My son Jamie said kids today don’t like labels” like that “anyways.”
We want to memorialize children who have taken the ultimate step that we don’t want them to take. Speaker, we have to work together.
I said we must remember why we are here: to make Ontario a better place for Ontarians—not some but all; not just the strong but also the weak; not just the straight but also the gay; not just the thin nor the smart but the overweight and learning disabled.
Speaker, my favourite hymn in church—and I don’t get there very often because when I get home on Saturday and Sunday, I do spend it with my daughter. But I do have a favourite hymn. I looked it up—I Googled it—because I didn’t know all the words. It’s called Hope is a Star. It says, “The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid.”
Please remember that’s our task. It is to make sure Ontario students, when they go to school, aren’t afraid. As my friend Allan Hubley has said to us on a number of occasions, the kids are watching us. Let’s get this right.
Let’s adjourn debate. Let’s put these two bills into committee. Let’s renegotiate. Why did they walk away? Is it the same reason they walked away from having a select committee on Ornge? Is it the same reason that they can’t give up control: because of their so-called major minority? I am disgusted and I will move adjournment of debate.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Ms. MacLeod has moved the adjournment of the debate. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”
All those opposed will please say “nay.”
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Call in the members. This will be another 30-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1531 to 1601.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Will the members please take their seats.
Ms. MacLeod has moved the adjournment of the debate.
All those in favour of the motion will please rise and remain standing while they’re counted by the table.
Thank you very much.
All those opposed to the motion will please rise and remain standing while they’re counted by the table.
The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): The ayes are 33; the nays are 40.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I declare the motion lost.
I again return to the member for Nepean–Carleton.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: Thank you very much, Speaker. I do appreciate the opportunity to continue debate.
For those members who are staying seated, I don’t have any more opportunities to call you on not calling a select committee, so there won’t be another 30-minute bell.
However, I do know that there will be other members of the Progressive Conservative caucus that will continue to call for a select committee in the House, given the issues that have surrounded the scandal on Ornge.
Mr. Speaker, we’re going to continue to call—
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Member for Nepean–Carleton.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: Thank you very much, Speaker. I can’t believe they’re actually protesting us protesting them for not getting that minister to resign and calling a select committee on Ornge. That is disgusting. That government has lost its way and needs to fire the minister and call a select committee.
But let’s get back to the matter at hand, Mr. Speaker. They also need to merge Bill 13 with Bill 14, and any absence of that means this caucus will not support their bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I would ask all members to refrain from banging their hands on the desks. The Speaker has to be able to hear the member who has the floor.
Questions and comments?
Hon. Laurel C. Broten: I’m happy to be able to respond to the MPP for Nepean–Carleton. I’ve had some extra time to think about my response during the past hour as the party opposite chose to adjourn this debate twice. I thought about all the things we could have said to kids who are being bullied at school. So I’ll take my two minutes to say some of those things to kids now: We support you; we believe in you, no matter what your religion, race, gender, disability, culture or sexual orientation, no matter if you’re gay, bi, lesbian, transgender or queer.
The Accepting Schools Act is about getting all kids the supports they need to succeed in school, about making every school in this province a place where every kid feels welcome and respected. The Accepting Schools Act takes a whole-school approach, from a public education campaign to increased youth mental health resources.
Mr. Speaker, I remain deeply committed to passing Bill 13 in this House as soon as possible and to making each and every school in Ontario an accepting school, and I remain open to working with my colleagues in the opposition to take all the best ideas out there to make that happen. But, Speaker, when we are privileged to serve in this House, we should spend our time thinking about the kids we are privileged to serve, and I would invite the members opposite to take the next period of time to think about the kids in every school across this province who are worried about how they are treated, who don’t feel safe and accepted in their schools, who are not welcomed in the environment they are in. Speaker, I would say that the Accepting Schools Act is an important step forward, to be able to say to every child in every class in every school in Ontario—
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I return to the Minister of Education.
Hon. Laurel C. Broten: We should say to every child in every school in Ontario that they will be accepted in their school, they are accepted in their province, we believe in them and on this side of the House we will continue to work hard in that regard.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions and comments?
Mrs. Christine Elliott: I did listen very carefully to what the Minister of Education just said with respect to my colleague’s comments. And what’s most disappointing is that they can never accept—either the minister or this government—that anybody but them ever has any good ideas. The reality is that there were two very good bills that were being brought forward here, Bill 13, and Bill 14, which was brought forward by my colleague the member for Kitchener–Waterloo. Both of them have merit, and we initially entered into discussions about how we could merge these two bills, how we could take the best of both of them.
But you don’t want to listen. In fact, the minister wasn’t even here for the points that were made by my colleague the member for Nepean–Carleton, who made some very valid points about the need to listen, the need to protect all of the children, to listen to the kids, that everybody’s watching—
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I would say to the member for Whitby–Oshawa that it’s inappropriate to make reference to the absence of any member.
Mrs. Christine Elliott: Thank you, Speaker.
The reality is that both of these bills, Bill 13 and Bill 14, were brought forward in this Legislature on the very same day. We thought we entered into good-faith negotiations with the government on ways that we could explore how we could put these two bills together and get the best of both bills.
But I really feel, Mr. Speaker, that they led us down the garden path. They never really intended to have any serious discussions about how we could merge these bills. They just wanted to drag it out, and now they’re forcing us to choose one bill over the other, which completely negates the purpose of this exercise in the first place, which is to get a bill that is going to protect all children so that all children, regardless of the reason they’re being bullied, can feel safe and secure in their schools, and their parents can know they can send them to school every day knowing that they will be safe and secure. That’s what we on this side of the House are intending to achieve. That’s why we want to talk about the merits of each bill. We believe that Bill 14, which has been brought forward by my colleague, is the more comprehensive bill, and that’s what we’ll be supporting.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions and comments?
Ms. Teresa J. Armstrong: I can see how this is a very sensitive bill because of the emotions from both parties that have been commenting and making their presentations on this bill today. But one thing that I would caution that we all have to remember is how we debate this bill in this House so that we set the examples, as adults, of how our children should behave when there are disagreements. Regardless of what your point of view is on the bill, there has to be a respect for other people’s opinions, whether they agree or disagree.
Bullying is one of those forms that can take verbal. Let’s remember in this House, please, no matter what bill we are debating, I personally believe that being respectful and considerate and open-minded, and listening to each other’s opinion—you may not want to adopt it or listen to that or agree with it, but in the end this House is supposed to be impartial, as far as I’m concerned, to debates so that we all can create the best bill. Whether it be this Accepting Schools Act, Bill 13; whether it be bill G20; whether it be bill G34, we need to keep an open mind.
If you’re going to have a government that’s going to work for the best interests of everyone—children, seniors, anyone—we have to remember that the debating process must and should remain respectful. We are all adults here, so please, let’s be respectful of that and set an example for all of our children.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): There’s time for one last question or comment.
Hon. John Milloy: You know, listening to the debate this afternoon reminds me of a piece of advice I got before I came to Queen’s Park, after I had been elected. Someone said to me, “You’re going to go to Queen’s Park and you’re going to have a lot of discussions about education,” because education is, of course, central to provincial responsibility. They said, “Be very careful, because it only seems that when you’re in a government setting or a Queen’s Park setting”—and they certainly weren’t being partisan—“you can talk for hours and hours and hours about education and the word ‘student’ never comes up.”
What I think has shocked me the most about this afternoon is—and I give the member credit, she started off her speech talking about bullying, talking about students. Then all of a sudden, we had two recesses to waste an hour of valuable debate time when we could be talking about it. I’ve heard from across the way that we need a committee on Ornge or we need a committee on this or a committee on that. In effect, Mr. Speaker, the opposition is trying to hold hostage the fact that we want to move ahead with a piece of legislation which is going to benefit students here in the province of Ontario.
Mr. Speaker, there’s been a lot of discussion about bill—
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I have to say to the opposition members, the government House leader is six feet away from me and I can’t hear him. I would ask you to refrain from heckling him and allow him to resume his comments.
Government House leader.
Hon. John Milloy: Mr. Speaker, there’s been a lot of discussion about both Bill 13 and Bill 14. As I have said publicly on many occasions, the Minister of Education has said that there are good things in Bill 14, and we look forward to debate and discussion here in the Legislature and then in committee, where we have said we will have a great deal of openness to enhancing Bill 13 by taking what is best from Bill 14 and reconciling the two together. We’ve had a number of discussions with the opposition on ways to move forward. Quite frankly, there has been no real interest on the part of the opposition of having a pre-commitment, so there’s no shame in moving ahead in second reading, which is what we’re doing.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): That concludes the time for questions and comments. I return to the member for Nepean–Carleton.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and to the member from London–Fanshawe, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Community and Social Services who acts as the Liberal House leader, as well as to my colleague from Whitby–Oshawa.
It is a shame that at the time that I gave my hour-long speech on bullying and talked about constructive not only processes, but ideas, actual contents on the bill, that the minister wasn’t able to listen to that first-hand. It’s a shame during that hour-long debate when we were standing here talking about some of the things we could have done right had she not been so selfish—she would have learned a thing or two. I’ve said over the hour—and I’ll send the transcripts to the minister—that I don’t see Bill 13 as being particularly relevant to all students in every case. That’s why we had, for months, pressured them and negotiated with them to try and come to an agreement on process.
I want to give compliments and constructive support to the people that were around that table in the parliamentary liaison working group. I believe, genuinely, that they wanted something to work.
As I’ve said in the past, and I’ve said it two or three times in this debate, if the minister would like to hear it: If one more kid self-harms, commits suicide or quits school as a result of bullying, she will have failed. It is up to her. She has an opportunity to get it right; she chose not to.
With respect to ringing the bells, it is consistent with our displeasure over this government ignoring the repeated calls to call this government into account for an egregious scandal, where they wasted almost $1 billion, not once, but this is now the second time—after eHealth, they brought us Ornge.
Mr. Speaker, this is a government that has decided to thumb their nose at this very Legislature, and this opposition will not allow that to continue any longer. We will fight them every step of the way. We’ll continue to be the voice of the people, and we’re going to continue to challenge them. Thank you very much.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I wish to remind all members that they need to focus their comments on the issue that is being debated, this Bill 13. I would caution all members, and encourage them to confine their comments to Bill 13.
Mr. Peter Tabuns: I rise today to speak to Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act. Before I go to my remarks, I want to comment on some of the remarks made by the member from Nepean–Carleton. I have to commend her for speaking eloquently about the terrible realities that many students have faced and are living with today. Bullying is a very ugly thing; it’s something that destroys lives. Her remarks and her passion fit the scale of the problem that we face.
In the course of my speech, Speaker, I will be talking about agreements that we in the NDP have with Bill 13, put forward by the government, and Bill 14, put forward by the opposition.
I want to say, however, Speaker, before I get into the body of my speech, that I send my thoughts to the family of Jamie Hubley, who Lisa MacLeod spoke so movingly about. His tragic death is, in part, the reason that we are debating this matter today. My hope is that his death, and the deaths of others before him, will not have gone in vain.
There are a variety of issues on the table here, and many of them profoundly difficult for all of us to come to grips with. Almost everyone has been bullied at some point in their life, and so when you come to this issue, it’s not with a clean slate, it is not with an absence of emotional baggage—no, it comes as a charged issue. We come with those emotions, those memories, that history, and we come with the concerns we have for our children.
We’re not talking about things here. We’re not talking about objects. We’re not talking about furniture. We are talking about our children, our flesh and blood, and our fears for them and our concerns for their safety, for their well-being, for the kind of lives that they will live or be deprived of, because we know that they can be hurt, physically and mentally; they can be damaged for a lifetime; they can lose their lives.
One word—bullying—in fact covers a range of issues. I will not spend an hour going into all the different ways that one can approach this, but I’ll try to address two separate poles. One is the question of individuals who are bullies, and behaviour by individuals that is bullying.
The member from Nepean–Carleton may correct me. I may have misinterpreted, but I would say that the focus of her thinking and her analysis is, that is the primary problem, the central issue, that we have to come to grips with in this society.
We know that there are individuals who use their physical strength, their emotional skills to damage others. They will do it through blows, they will do it through words, and in these days, with electronic technology available to us, they will be able to spread their words, their concerns, their rumours and their damage around the whole world, Mr. Speaker.
Sometimes the anger of those individuals comes from the anger already in their lives, the frustration in their lives. Sometimes there are more complicated emotional or mental health issues at play. But the impact of their playing out that anger and frustration on others can be devastating.
In the time since these two bills were introduced, I have had the opportunity to talk with parents and read emails and letters from parents and families around this province, stories of young children dealing with sickness who were abused badly in their school grounds; of children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who had difficulty fitting in with the class, had difficulty dealing with teachers, had difficulty when, on top of the problems they were already dealing with, they were yet again set upon; of parents who despaired about the future of their children who were going to have to go through psychological counselling just to get through the normal life of a teenager that we are all familiar with. That individual bullying and its fallout is profoundly significant and has to be addressed.
There’s also, Speaker, group bullying, where one child or a small number of children is excluded and abused by a larger number of children. Children pick up attitudes around them: sexism, racism, homophobia. They listen to their parents at home. They watch television. They listen to the world of adults, and they carry those attitudes forward with them. It shapes the way they deal with the other children that are in their lives. Our schools and the society within our schools reflect the larger society that those schools exist in. They are not separate and apart.
Here I think is where we would differ with the Conservatives most profoundly: We see bullying not just as a problem of individuals, but a cultural problem. If we look at the history of our culture and our society as we have gone through the struggles for emancipation of women and the establishment of their independence and the attitudes that we had to deal with and, frankly, unfortunately, still have to deal with; if we look at the history of racism globally, but on our continent, some of the terrible things that have been done, supported not just by a few individuals but broadly within the culture, we know that if we want to deal with bullying, if we want to actually have safe schools, not only do we have to deal with those individuals whose anger and frustration comes out in damage to the children around them, but we have to deal with a culture that in itself has problems and a culture that has to be changed.
Speaker, when children are exposed to bigotry at home, they don’t just throw it off when they go to school. If you have a child who comes from a home that is financially well off but emotionally impoverished, that weight does not drop from their shoulders in the school bus. If children come from a family in crisis, they carry that through the whole day.
I want to tell you a story, Speaker. I want to tell you a story about my experience as a child growing up in Hamilton. I went to Holy Family school on Kenilworth in the east end of Hamilton. I remember our principal coming into our class when I was in grade 3. You think about it: I was eight years old, so to have a clear memory from that time, it must have been pretty impressive.
The principal came in to speak to us because there was a new kid in our class midway through the school year, a kid called Joe, and he was being harassed mercilessly. His vulnerability was that he was new. He had no friends who would stick up for him. He was picked on because he had glasses, and as I remember it, kids who had glasses were regularly beaten up for wearing glasses. Sounds bizarre, but bullying has very little to do with the actual realities of a situation. It has to do with the dumping of prejudices, angers and frustrations on others.
Joe’s mother had called the school and said at that her son was finding it incredibly difficult to come in to school, because every day he was picked on by a large group of kids in that class.
Our class was called in to a meeting with the principal. Holy Family school was run by—you know, as a kid, I never thought about the structure. A nun was the principal, and she was one tough nun. She came in. She said to us, “What you as a class are doing with this child, this kid, is unconscionable. That’s not the way we raise you. That’s not the way we teach you. Do you know how hurt this boy is?”
She was severe. She made it very clear that she had no time for behaviour that would leave a child crying in her hallways. She took on the responsibility of changing the thinking in that class. She tried to change the culture in that class, and in fact, she had a real impact. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that, if she was not the voice of God, we knew that she had a direct connection, and we were not going to mess with her.
I have to say that that problem may be far away in time in my life, but when I talk to teenagers in my riding, when we talk about who gets bullied, the most likely victims are those who have newly transferred into a school. They don’t have a network of friends; they are easily isolated; and that kind of behaviour and treatment continues on.
I wish it wasn’t the case, but children have to learn kindness. They have to learn how to respect others. They have to learn that cruelty has consequences, because unfortunately, although we’re born with the ability, we aren’t given, at birth, empathy and respect. As we go through the process of life and learn empathy and respect—all of us—we learn that we can’t take out our anger on others without there being substantial consequences. We have to learn that because a person looks or acts differently, that’s no reason whatsoever to treat them badly. Because a person belongs to another group, it’s no justification for taking out your anger on them.
That means that those in authority—and this chamber has substantial authority in this province—have to make it very clear that respect and caring are core values of our society and need to be represented at every level and in every sphere of this society.
There are a number of issues that have to be addressed to get at the roots of bullying in our schools. We have to teach our children empathy, respect and self-understanding so that they don’t take out their anger on someone who had nothing to do with causing that anger or damage to them in the first place. We have to identify and help those children who are particularly in trouble, who are particularly prone to lashing out and dumping their anger on others. We have to address those children, and that means putting resources into schools and addressing the larger social problems that create anger, frustration, despair. We have to teach people that differences between people—differences of religion, of ethnic background, of income, of gender, of gender identity, of looks, abilities or disabilities—are irrelevant when it comes to treating people with respect, to accepting them as fully human.
We have to address those individuals who are the most destructive, but we also have to address those cultural norms that say that it is acceptable to abuse someone because of something inherent in their biology or their life. That has to be addressed, taken on.
I say all of this as a preamble to talking about the bill itself. In summary, the bill aims to create safer and more accepting schools by designating a Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week; requiring school boards to support student activities that promote equity; suspending or expelling students who engage in repeated bullying or hate-motivated actions; and requiring groups using school property to adhere to a code of conduct.
Given what I said in my opening remarks, this bill is a partial response to the issues that we’re facing. And as I will make clear—because we’re dealing with under-resourced schools—there’s a lot that will need to be addressed beyond the bill itself if we’re going to make the kind of difference we all want to see in this province.
What’s the situation we face in Ontario? The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario that the member from Nepean–Carleton referenced earlier has said, and others have said, that bullying is prevalent in Ontario schools. It can compromise school success, contribute to low self-esteem, contribute to depression, delinquency and even suicide. In order to respond, we need to go from a base set of principles—principles that every student has the right to a learning environment that’s safe, secure, free of intimidation.
We fully support effective action to ensure the safety of every student in the province of Ontario, so that no student is afraid in the morning when they get up to go to school. They may be worried about a test—that’s life; they may be anxious about a trip—okay; but they shouldn’t have to worry about their safety.
Effective prevention of bullying requires a comprehensive approach, including clear and consistent consequences, awareness-raising in class, awareness-raising in the community, adequately resourced student supports, and meaningful student, parent and community engagement.
Bill 13 ramps up the consequences for bullying, but only partially supports student-led equity and awareness activities, and does not address other factors which are undermining school safety, including lack of timely access to professional supports, lack of timely access to treatment and alternative programming for at-risk or special-needs students, inadequate staffing and funding for anti-bullying programs, growing inequities between schools, the lack of social skills building opportunities, and a curriculum increasingly focused on narrow EQAO outcomes.
Let’s just look a bit at the history here. Between 2005 and 2010, the McGuinty government passed two bills and issued various policies aiming to improve school safety, requiring school boards to take a range of actions, including developing policies on homophobia and gender-based violence, supporting student participation in gay-straight alliances and other student-led activities, supporting victims of serious incidents, ensuring schools work with professional agencies and have school-wide discipline policies, providing training for teachers and non-teaching staff, and monitoring and reviewing effectiveness of board policies through school climate surveys.
Bill 13 is supposed to be the next step after that. It’s supposed to strengthen action to address homophobia, gender-based violence and discrimination by:
—creating a legal obligation for school boards to prevent bullying, engage in progressive discipline and support equity and inclusive education;
—requiring school boards to set goals and plans to promote positive school climate and prevent bullying in their multi-year plans; conduct school climate surveys every two years; support student activities and organizations to promote gender equity, anti-racism and respect for people with disabilities;
—requiring principals to expel a student who engages in bullying if a repeat offence and presence creates an unacceptable risk; suspend a student who engages in hate-motivated bullying;
—increasing the flexibility of reporting of suspendable behaviours; for instance, allowing clinical staff to work with students who have an addiction problem as long as there’s no risk to the other students;
—designating the third week of November as Bullying Awareness Week.
As I said in my preamble, we have real concerns about the bill; first of all, with regard to resources and supports. This bill ramps up punitive measures—that is, automatic suspensions—without providing the resources and supports needed to prevent bullying in the first place.
Speaker, I had an opportunity in the last month or month and a half to talk with a group of high school students in my riding, and go through some of the elements in this bill and talk about suspensions. One thing that was striking to me was their opinion that for many students who were disruptive, a suspension was not seen as a punishment but as a holiday. They didn’t have a lot of confidence in suspension—and I understand that if you’re dealing with a bully, having that bully out of the building is a real benefit. But those students, my high school students, said that if you’re going to deal with those disruptive kids, you actually need the resources. They need counselling. They need other social supports. They saw intense work with those bullies as far more effective than simple suspension.
I want to note that not just the experts who were high school students in my riding, but others, emphasize the need to go beyond discipline: “Making headway on issues of safety involves abandoning the failed philosophy of addressing safety through discipline/enforcement mechanisms. It does not work. While there will always be a place for discipline in identifying standards of behaviour, the reality that has thus far not been accepted in the system is that marginalized youth cannot be punished/suspended into becoming engaged....
“Hope needs to be restored through programs and initiatives that create prospects for success for youth who are currently on the outside looking in.”
That’s from the executive summary of the Review of the Roots of Youth Violence, published by the Queen’s Printer for Ontario in 2008.
It has to be recognized as well—my colleague from Kenora–Rainy River pointed this out—that expulsion and suspension are very blunt tools indeed when you’re dealing with northern ridings, where the high school you’re dealing with may be the only one for 250 kilometres. There’s not the option, in practical terms, of moving someone from one school to another to try to break up a bad dynamic. The member from Kenora–Rainy River made it very clear to me that what she very much needed to see was investment in school resources to deal with students who are clearly acting out. Speaker, the bill does nothing to address inadequacy of staffing and supports for students at risk of bullying or who are victims of bullying.
The other side of the coin—again, talking to the high school students in my riding, who have said that when you are victimized by bullying, when you are dealing with intense personal interactions, so often they can’t get the support in the school that they need to get through those problems. We need the resources to deal with those who are marginalized and disruptive, and we need the resources to deal with those who are the victims of that acting out. This bill is not going to address those resources, Speaker, and thus those fundamental problems are going to be left untended to.
According to People for Education, despite new investments over the past few years—are you raising a question, member?
Hon. Glen R. Murray: I do. I apologize.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): The Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities on a point of order.
Hon. Glen R. Murray: I apologize, and I apologize to my friend for interrupting, because I think he’s speaking along the line—if I could just have permission to briefly introduce our delegation from Saudi Arabia, from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. They’ve come all the way from Saudi Arabia. They’re visiting here today.
I want to thank my friend from Toronto–Danforth both for his comments, because I think they’re right on the nose, and also for his kindness in allowing me to do that.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): We extend our welcome to the delegation from Saudi Arabia.
I now return to the member for Toronto–Danforth.
Mr. Peter Tabuns: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Murray, you’re forgiven. Guests from Saudi Arabia, my welcome. The government may tell you everything has been dealt with, but I’ll tell you, as a member of the opposition, not true.
According to People for Education, despite new investments over the past few years, the role of principals, which has expanded from numerous government directives, has found us in a situation where fewer schools have principals. Sure, they’ve got more tasks assigned to them to deal with the problems we have, but if the principals aren’t there, the problems aren’t going to be addressed.
Special-needs students at one in three elementary schools in the GTA are not getting the recommended level of support. If that’s true in the GTA, what’s the case in Welland, in London–Fanshawe, in Timiskaming?
Speaker, we already face a shortfall of the staff that we need to address safety in our schools. More and more schools rely on fundraising for adequate playgrounds and school sports, meaning there’s a growing gap in amenities and opportunities. We face significant physical problems in our schools, ones that need to be addressed. One in three schools outside the GTA has 10 or more ESL students but no ESL teacher. Students in most high schools don’t have regular access to psychologists or youth workers. Three quarters of elementary schools lack supports needed to provide provincially mandated daily physical activity.
Speaker, this bill will not address those shortfalls, and, as my colleague from Welland has remarked to me before, if in fact the Drummond report goes forward, we’ll see an even greater lack of supports in those schools. You can’t talk about safe schools, no matter how beautiful a bill, without putting the actual resources in the schools themselves.
In 2008, the safe schools action team stressed that the Ministry of Education had to provide adequate resources for intervention strategies, and the Falconer report was clear about the resources that schools needed: increased supervision of playgrounds and halls; community outreach workers to build links with the community; support services such as social workers and child and youth workers.
Given the context of the underfunding that I’ve just outlined, the proposed funding associated with this bill—$18 million over three years—is clearly entirely insufficient. Eighteen million dollars over three years is $6 million a year right across the province. Let’s face it: The Toronto District School Board is looking at an $85-million deficit and layoffs of hundreds of staff. Six million dollars per year for the whole province is not adequate to provide the real resources in our schools to make sure they’re as safe as our children and our families deserve.
The Falconer report recommended an increase in benchmark costs for all components of the funding formula to close the gap between funding and actual costs, an increase in the demographic component, designations—“sweatering” I believe is the technical term—to ensure it goes to programs addressing socio-economic factors, and a reconstitution of the local priorities amount. Clearly, Speaker, if we’re going to have safe schools, we have to fix the funding formula, something that was promised by the McGuinty government for 2010, and we’re waiting. Something was promised to make our schools safer.
With regards to curriculum, in 2008 the Safe Schools Action Team consultations “overwhelmingly confirmed that the most effective way to enable all students to learn about healthy and respectful relationships is through the school curriculum.” That has not been done.
Moreover, Speaker, increasingly the emphasis on standardized testing, the EQAO results, as the primary measure of success in schools means that teachers are spending more and more time teaching to the test and are less able to promote team-based and student-centred learning. That means that children aren’t getting the emotional and social skills that they need both to defend themselves and to ensure that they deal with their emotional needs in a way that doesn’t hurt others.
Because of those restraints, there’s less opportunity for students to engage in their local community and create linkages with supports outside of the school. The heavy number of competency requirements leaves little opportunity to add innovative and interactive learning opportunities around bullying—and other social issues, frankly—or to have guest speakers and teachers from the community. Falconer suggested mandatory classroom management training and crisis intervention training for teachers. We haven’t seen that, Speaker, and so the problems that Mr. Falconer was brought in to study dealing with violence in schools continue to be unaddressed.
Again, in the 2008 Falconer report, Roots of Youth Violence, he indicated that key to reducing and preventing violence in the schools was connection with community organizations, creating community hubs, funding community outreach workers. He recommended that government “enhance or create local centres, often based in or around schools, in which opportunities and services for youth and their families can be maximized, and community cohesion fostered….
“(1) Creating community hubs, wherever possible anchored in school facilities, not only to provide programs and services, but just as importantly to provide space and to facilitate connections.”
The McGuinty government has put some funds in to support the use of schools for community organizations, but this, Speaker, is a far cry from developing community hubs: partnered and integrated use of schools to support the health of children and families. Only one in five elementary schools and one in three high schools has staff time allocated for school-community connections. We need to move towards a model of full-service schools, where students and families benefit from community resources and also contribute to the betterment of their community. Unfortunately, unlike other provinces, Ontario has still not developed a policy framework for community hubs.
The development of child and family centres in Ontario, a key part of the Pascal report, appears to be stalled. Local schools are slated to close in part because of an outdated funding formula which fails to provide the funds that schools need. So we’re losing local schools that could be used as community hubs to promote safe and inclusive communities. I’ll just note one, Speaker, because my guess is that other members of this chamber have received letters about it, and that’s PCVS in Peterborough. A letter from a parent:
“As a parent the most frustrating part”—talking about the proposed closure of the school—“is not being able to explain the logistics of our KPR board’s decision.” Peterborough community vocational school, PCVS, “has the highest enrolment, lowest operating cost and lowest projected capital costs of the four high schools that were reviewed. The notion of a super school with increased bussing and therefore lower extracurricular activities is not what taxpayers want. PCVS is also the one ‘safe school’ in our district, having a gay-straight alliance and a higher-than-average number of gay students who’ve transferred into our school for acceptance.
“The Peterborough Lakefield police department has publicly acknowledged that PCVS has the least involvement of all our high schools.” Closing successful schools that are crucial to the functioning of communities does not help us deal with safety in our schools, does not help us support our children in building for the future that they deserve and need. This bill, without those supports and resources in the broader community, is going to be only a very, very small step towards what we need.
Speaker, there are concerns about enforcement. What will the Minister of Education do when schools or boards fail to follow the requirements of this act? And I look forward to hearing from the minister addressing that question.
Julian Falconer proposed the creation of a provincial school safety and equity officer to be a central repository for the reporting of serious issues of student safety. He also proposed whistle-blower protection for staff who anonymously report threats to school safety. He also echoed calls for a student hotline separate from the main school number or website. I note that the government has partnered with the Kids Help line, but it is not clear that that is sufficient, and frankly, again, talking to high school students in my riding, they have real questions about Kids Help line as well.
I’ve outlined a number of problems here, Speaker, that are not addressed or inadequately addressed in this bill. As contentious as they may be, there is another issue that has taken on much more profile, and that takes me to the whole question of student clubs to reduce bullying, the most contentious section of this bill—and that is because one section has to do with the formation of gay-straight alliances in schools. This is the part of the bill that helps to address two issues: cultural change and building support networks for those who are under attack.
Culture change—because when authorities recognize and respect groups that are under attack, that are subjected to abusive action, it changes the dynamic of power. When authorities show respect for girls, when authorities show respect for those who have different skin colour, show respect for those who are disabled, show respect for our gay youth, that helps to shift the culture as much as the principal of my school coming in to talk to my class when I was in grade 3. It says the ground has to move. Allowing students in schools, under the sanction of the administration, to set up clubs says to all students that those students deserve respect; that the authorities in charge of the schools and the education system believe that those students deserve respect. Allowing students in schools to set up support networks gives them the security of being together and reduces the isolation that we all know can be, literally, deadly.
I want to look at this section in a bit more detail. Section 303.1:
“Every board shall support pupils who want to establish and lead,
“(a) activities or organizations that promote gender equity;
“(b) activities or organizations that promote anti-racism;
“(c) activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people with disabilities; or
“(d) activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.”
First of all, this section recognizes that bullies can use a variety of excuses for abusing people. Secondly, the section gives support to students who want to make schools better. Let’s look at each category.
Activities or organizations that promote gender equity: Girls in high school are commonly subjected to sexual harassment. That is a reality of life in this province today. The safe schools action team report notes that almost half the girls surveyed in high school had to deal with some kind of sexual harassment. Some of them have to deal with very severe harassment. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health did a study and produced a report that the safe schools action team used as their source material. They noted that some girls were severely affected psychologically. No one in this chamber can say that it doesn’t happen. No one can say that girls who want to organize in schools shouldn’t do that. They should be given support to come together, to make this kind of harassment socially unacceptable, and I’m sure all of us in here today would say that we should support this.
Racism: The bill says clubs can be organized around “activities or organizations that promote anti-racism.” Well, Speaker, racism is a real problem here in Ontario. I’m not going to single out any particular region, but, interestingly, when I went through googling on the weekend, Lakehead Social Planning Council in Thunder Bay has a very useful, detailed fact sheet on fighting anti-aboriginal racism in local schools. They talk about the need to respect cultural differences and the need to take on racism.
No one in this building can deny the damage that racism has done. Look at what First Nations of this country endured at the hands of the residential school system. I was going through yesterday—I looked at an article in the Catholic Register on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, dealing with the aftermath of the residential schools. I have to say, a friend of mine, active in the United Church, spent a good number of years dealing with the consequences of those years and the need for that church to find the resources to try to do what it could to make amends.
I’ll note what is said in the Catholic Register: “Though not an official recommendation of the interim report” of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “the commissioners do urge churches to be specific and forthcoming about what contributions they can make to rebuilding and restoring aboriginal culture, language and spirituality.
“‘What role did the churches play in undoing (aboriginal culture)? And where does that lead in terms of considering what role the churches might play?’ asked commissioner Marie Wilson.
“Teachers in church-run schools often ridiculed, belittled or denigrated traditional spirituality and belief systems, said Wilson.
“‘There were very, very negative messages children were given about their own parents, about their parents’ beliefs and belief systems,’ she said.
“As aboriginal people seek to reassert their own identity, many people perceive a conflict between reclaiming traditional spirituality and membership in Christian churches, said Sinclair.
“‘Many aboriginal people’s connection to the churches remains strong,’ he said. ‘If an individual is going to remain connected to his church, the question arises about how you reconcile your return to tradition, language and culture—and in particular your traditional belief systems—while at the same time practising your Christian faith.’”
Well, Speaker, no one ever said that culture was easy. No one ever said that addressing problems in our culture and society was easy. But clearly, churches and the aboriginal community, through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, are working on trying to find that solution, to reconcile the two different streams; to take what is in the past, learn from it, correct the damage that has been done, and move on, hopefully, with a solidarity that will enrich all. We have learned from our history—maybe imperfectly, maybe incompletely, but we have learned. No one can say that those who are suffering from racism, from bias shouldn’t be able to organize and combat that bias.
Subsection (c) related to student clubs: “activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people with disabilities.” You know, Speaker, we may talk less about this than we talk about racism or sexual harassment, but it’s a very real problem. Again, looking through for documentation, Bloorview Kids Rehab has a number of articles on the bullying of the disabled. They report a 2007 review of international literature by Canadian authors finds kids with physical and developmental disabilities are at greater risk of being bullied. In a 2003 Canadian Council on Social Development study, 11% of children with special needs aged 10 to 11 reported that they were bullied “all or most of the time,” versus 5% of peers without disabilities. A 1998 British study of 55 children with hemiplegia—paralysis of one side of the body—and 55 classmates without found that 45% of those with hemiplegia were moderately or severely victimized, compared to 13% of peers without disabilities. Can you imagine, Speaker, half your body paralyzed, and on the basis of being struck like that, subjected to abuse by the children that you interact with every day?
On the Bloorview website, they posted a story about a child dealing with bullying and disabilities. “When her daughter Sequoiah graduated from Bloorview’s primary school to a regular grade 2 class in Burlington, Kerene Wallace was shocked to learn that Sequoiah was being bullied.
“‘I expected that this might happen in the older grades, but these children were in grades 1 and 2,’ Kerene says.
“Sequoiah was singled out because of her unusual walking gait, chronically teased on the playground, and made to hand over her snack every day. ‘She was totally overwhelmed,’ Kerene says.
“Children with physical and developmental disabilities are at greater risk of being bullied by peers, say the authors of a 2007 Canadian article that reviews the international literature on the topic.”
I found this extraordinary. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, but it is horrifying. It is horrifying, Speaker. “In a follow-up study published in Child: Care, Health and Development, Holland Bloorview researchers asked the same group of youth with cerebral palsy how their participation in school life could be improved.”
What about these disabled kids, these disabled children who are being bullied? “The students identified three key strategies: learn how to explain your disability to peers and teachers, rather than trying to hide it; improve disability and bullying awareness so students are more comfortable seeking help; and develop friendships by engaging in extracurricular activities. Research shows that having a support network of friends protects children from being isolated and bullied.”
Speaker, there’s nothing in that paragraph that doesn’t apply to every other group of children subjected to bullying. Who amongst us would say that children with cerebral palsy or other disabilities shouldn’t be given support and respect to live their lives? Who would reject the advice that has been given?
That takes me to the last category in this subsection of the bill: “(d) activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.”
Everything that has been seen to be true for other responses to oppression based on gender, racism or ability is true when we come to sexual orientation. Yet, as you are well aware, Speaker, this is the most contentious item of the bill. We’ll explore that, I am sure, as we go further through debate and through committee.
This bill supports formation of equity-promoting groups for gay and lesbian students but does not require school boards to allow students to determine the most appropriate name for the committee. Speaker, I think that is a change that is going to be necessary, to give the students the right to determine the names of their committees. This lack runs counter to the aim of creating schools which are accepting of all students and of stopping prejudice and discrimination.
Egale Canada says “GSAs ... demonstrably improve the lives of” lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning “youth, increasing safety and improving their self-esteem.”
By simply existing, GSAs present students “with the idea that LGBTQ identities have a place in the school, and society at large. Directly engaging LGBTQ youth and their allies within school, as well as those who are ambivalent regarding” those “themes, is an excellent means towards addressing school climate, isolation and promoting social connectedness....”
A recent study in California found GSA presence and participation in high school to be highly correlated with decreased depression, substance abuse and lifetime suicide attempts among LGBT young adults.
Now we started off this afternoon with the member from Nepean–Carleton talking about the tragic death of Jamie Hubley. I have to say his death was not one that was so rare that we could say there was no pattern. I wish—and this is tragic to say—I wish it was that rare.
In the Toronto Star last December, Antonia Zerbisias wrote about Support Our Youth, an organization in Toronto on Sherbourne Street that supports gay youth. In her article, she talked about how children are bullied and how gay children tend to be particularly picked out for abusive treatment.
She notes in her article: “‘Numerous studies suggest that among lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, approximately 32 per cent contemplate or attempt suicide (compared to 7 per cent of all youth)’ says a recent analysis by Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.” Those are very high numbers, Speaker. Those are numbers that every person in this room should keep in mind as we debate this bill, because the simple reality is that we’re dealing with decisions that will affect life and death of our young people. Researchers and advocates say that “it’s not their sexuality that leads these kids down a suicidal path—it’s the stigma and discrimination they face in a heterosexual world.... Jamie Hubley, 15, killed himself” last fall. “Orangeville girlfriends Jeanine Blanchette, 21, and Chantal Dube, 17, were found in a wooded area in 2010, apparently after committing suicide with pills.
“In 2007, 13-year-old Shaquille Wisdom hung himself the day after he was stuffed into a garbage can at his Ajax high school. His homophobic bullies have never been outed—or punished.”
All of us have a responsibility to protect our children no matter what colour they are, what gender they are, no matter what their gender orientation. All of us in this building, in this chamber, who have power, authority and responsibility have to protect our children. Speaker, we cannot abandon children to their fate; we have to act.
Bill 13 could be enhanced by incorporating elements of the Conservatives’ anti-bullying private member’s bill. Elements around public reporting, enhanced staff training, inclusion in curriculum, alternative programming—all those need to be taken into account as we get into committee, and everything that is going to advance the protection of children in this province that is incorporated in that private member’s bill needs to be brought into the government’s bill.
Speaker, I want to summarize. Reducing and eliminating violence in schools requires addressing factors that contribute to violent behaviour: isolation, homelessness, poverty, inadequate housing, lack of community supports. All those factors have to be taken on.
This bill will not be successful unless it’s integrated into a comprehensive strategy to reduce and eliminate violence. That means taking action to reduce poverty, not putting in place policies that exacerbate inequality and shift taxes from big corporations on to modest-income families.
That means ensuring that a full range of supports is available for gay and lesbian youth, including gay-straight alliances, something that the government and this bill have to ensure.
That means moving ahead with the implementation of a comprehensive curriculum to build student capacity to defer and prevent bullying. That means ensuring that there is adequate funding for alternative programming for at-risk children and youth, something the government, by delaying the review of the funding formula, has failed to ensure.
That means ensuring that if additional responsibilities are given to principals and teachers, then we need to provide the resources they need to carry out their responsibilities. That means reducing inequities in resources between schools, by reining in the growing reliance on fees and fundraising.
It means ensuring that the curriculum is based on development, knowledge and skills by broadening the set of measures by which we evaluate schools beyond the EQAO scores. That means ensuring that there’s follow-up and consequences if boards fail to implement required measures. That means ensuring that monitoring and reporting requirements provide data on bullying that is valid, comprehensive and available to schools and the public.
It means ensuring that there’s adequate school funding for proper supervision, staff training, student supports, so supports are in place to avoid, whenever possible, reliance on suspension and expulsion.
We need to move forward steadily. We need to move forward quickly to deal with bias, prejudice and violence in our schools. It is in our hands. We are charged with this task. We cannot drop it. We cannot let it go. We have to take it forward.
Thank you, Speaker.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions and comments?
Hon. Laurel C. Broten: I want to thank the member for Toronto–Danforth for his remarks, and thank him for his thoughtful advice and criticism with respect to the areas that this piece of legislation could be improved.
In the time I have, I want to speak to a couple of things. One, I want to recognize that Bill 13 is one piece of a comprehensive strategy that our government has advanced to see that all of our schools are safe and accepting places for all of our students. We understand the importance of the investments that we have previously made in children’s mental health, which are coming into our schools right across the province right now. We know the important steps that need to be taken to build upon the work that we have done and the investments we have made with respect to safe schools.
We also know that there are other pieces to this puzzle, and that’s why we have asked the curriculum council to review our curriculum across our schools, to understand how we can embed a culture of acceptance, tolerance, care and compassion and empathy into all of our schools at all of our grades, every single day of the year, for all of our students.
That’s also why we have indicated that we’ll be bringing forward an expert panel that can give us advice to determine what types of programs should be put in our schools to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect our students.
My colleague talked about that we should never lose sight of advancing the protection of children, and I rise once again to say that, absolutely, we are deeply committed to Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, as well as the minister’s response and the members from Durham and Timiskaming–Cochrane.
I know that everyone in this House agrees that bullying in schools is a very serious issue and one that we must act on. We’ve all read the stories. As a mother, I’m saddened by the stories I read about and that I hear about in this House. I speak with my children about bullying and the many forms that it may take: written, oral and electronic.
Bill 13 is a world-class bill. The Accepting Schools Act is a key component of our plan to make all schools healthy, safe and inclusive, where all students feel accepted. Ontario is recognized across jurisdictions as leading the way with aggressive safe-school legislation, but we know there’s more to do.
The legislation provides clear expectations and increased accountability. I see it as a complete bill. I cannot agree with the statement that was made earlier that this government has been selfish. This government is the first that has taken bullying as an issue that is very serious. Since 2004, we have invested $285 million in safe school initiatives. No other government has invested in safe schools.
I do agree that it is unfortunate that the opposition could not come to an agreement. Let’s be clear: All of us want to end bullying and want to protect our children. It’s unfortunate that recommended amendments could not be agreed to. It’s unfortunate that, again, this is a case where the opposition suggests that unless it’s a definition written by them, it can’t be good. “Who’s playing politics here?” is the question that I have this afternoon.
We all agree that our children are valued, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation and/or any element—
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Thank you very much. Your time’s up, but thank you very much.
I return to the member for Toronto–Danforth, who has two minutes to respond.
Mr. Peter Tabuns: My thanks to the Minister of Education, member for Durham, member for Timiskaming–Cochrane and member from Windsor West for their comments.
One comment, Minister of Education: the suggestion of an expert panel—we’ve already had the safe schools action team; we’ve had the Falconer report; we had Roy McMurtry and Alvin Curling. We’ve had a lot of expert panels, so if you’re going to suggest an expert panel, I think you’re going to have to tell all of us here what added value they would bring. I’m not sure that’s a productive line, but I look forward to hearing what you have to say.
To the member from Durham: When we talk about all forms of bullying, you’re right. Everyone in this House would say that every instance of bullying and abusive behaviour is something that we reject. In our guts we reject it, not just intellectually. But I have to say that there are instances in which abusive behaviour is far more profound, and there are those who are subjected to it far more commonly and intensely as a group than others. It was very clear from the reading that I did that if you are disabled, let me tell you, you are more vulnerable and more likely to be bullied. We have to pay attention to those children. If you are part of the aboriginal community, you have gone through some very intense, abusive and difficult times that were not visited on non-aboriginals, the residential schools being an example. So yes, we want to deal with all bullying, but recognize that there are different circumstances for different groups.
Last, the member from Timiskaming–Cochrane: You expressed well this whole question of us wanting to find the way forward. I’m not particularly picky about whether a bill is Liberal or Conservative or NDP on this issue. We’re looking for the elements in the bills that will advance the situation of our children the most. That’s what we care about.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Further debate?
Mr. Bob Delaney: Speaker, I’m pleased to speak today on behalf of the Minister of Education, my colleague, on an issue that is deeply personal to anyone who has ever been pushed on a stairway or had their lunch kicked across the floor, been trash-talked, harassed online or had to get into a physical fight that they never wanted to have.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Sorry to interrupt. I would ask the opposition members to allow the member for Mississauga–Streetsville to make his remarks. He’s just getting started. I need to hear him.
I recognize again the member for Mississauga–Streetsville.
Mr. Bob Delaney: Thank you very much, Speaker. I guess sometimes the bullying instinct is instinctive.
Even the former bullies themselves usually go on with their lives and pause to reflect back at a future time and ask themselves if something could have been done at that stage in life to have kept them from creating memories at which they themselves now wince and cringe when they remember pushing someone more vulnerable than themselves around at school.
Just as we can take pride in our progress as a society and how we reach out to newcomers to our country in helping them learn English, convert their experience and training to their Canadian or Ontario equivalent, restart their careers, settle their families and get on with life, we need to look into the mirror and make that type of progress in our schools that we’ve made in our communities and in our workplaces.
Discrimination is wrong, and we get that. So is bullying, and we’ll work with parents, students, teachers and school administrators to prevent bullying and to create safe and accepting schools.
Children in Ontario suffer every day because of bullying. It is not a normal part of growing up. What is normal about watching as your brother gets beaten to a pulp and comes home in tears with his glasses smashed at the hands of a bunch of thugs who beat up on him just because they thought they could and nobody would do anything about it? Ontario says that no child, male or female, regardless of colour, religion, physical attribute or sexual orientation will suffer or feel fear or terror because of bullying.
Together, as adults, as parents, as students, as members of our communities and as a government, Ontarians want every student in our schools to be treated with equal respect and acceptance. Our schools will be places to see acceptance, inclusion and student safety in action, and to develop the habits of good citizenship and humanity that sustain us through adulthood.
Ontarians know that pushing people around, asserting power by dominating those more vulnerable, is not a simple problem, and our ministry does not prescribe a simple solution to bullying, but our students, their friends, brothers and sisters want action and they don’t need excuses. That’s why Ontario has introduced Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act.
This act will, if passed, help change attitudes and behaviours toward bullying, and it will help change the culture in society among youth and in our schools toward bullying. This legislation aims to make it better now, and progress starts with our schools, to ensure they remain the safest and the best in the world. Kids can’t be expected to succeed in school if they don’t feel safe, welcome and respected.
The Accepting Schools Act, if passed, will introduce tougher consequences for bullying and hate-motivated actions. As well, if passed, it will provide clear expectations and increased accountability for school boards and for bullies themselves. This includes a progressive discipline, which makes expulsion from school a possible consequence for bullying.
The Accepting Schools Act would require all schools to support students who want to lead activities that promote gender equity, anti-racism, understanding and respect for people with disabilities and people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including groups with the name gay-straight alliance or another name. We know that these kinds of activities help students find support and send a clear message that Ontario is serious about inclusion and respect.
Students need to know that they’re not alone, and bullies need to know that their peers, their school, their family and their community will not tolerate them if they discriminate against anyone based on their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or any other reason.
Discrimination goes beyond physical intimidation. Words can do the same damage to the mind and to one’s lifetime self-esteem as fists do to their face. This makes bullying an issue for both genders. Kids that have been bullied need to know that support is there for them. Unfortunately, bullying sometimes goes unreported because students feel uncomfortable about speaking to an adult. That’s why this legislation also provides for the creation of student-led support groups. Student-led groups provide a place for students to speak freely to their peers—peers who can often better understand what they’re going through, perhaps because they have been there themselves or have even harmed others and come to regret it.
If passed, the legislation would legally require school boards to have policies on bullying prevention and early intervention, progressive discipline, and equity and inclusive education. It would add a definition of “bullying” to the Education Act so that everyone understands what we mean, what we say, and that bullying has no place in Ontario schools.
This legislation would also designate the third week of every November as Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week to encourage and support existing activities in boards and within communities to make clear that bullying must end.
Our minister visited some schools during Bullying Awareness Week and saw first-hand some of the great work our schools are doing right now to raise awareness and to change students’ behaviour. We want to continue supporting that.
In fact, Speaker, Ontario is actively recognizing and encouraging schools to create a safe, inclusive and healthy environment. Through the healthy schools recognition program, schools are recognized for their work in promoting a wide variety of healthy activities and behaviours, and this includes bullying prevention.
In 2011, the new Premier’s Safe Schools Awards celebrated outstanding work done by some of the safe schools teams across Ontario. This legislation would continue to build on the existing work, like Ontario’s safe schools strategy and the province’s equity and inclusive education strategy.
If passed, the Accepting Schools Act would also require boards to report on progress against goals with specific measurement metrics for establishing a positive learning climate for all students, which would create greater transparency and accountability.
The act would require organizations using school property to follow standards consistent with the provincial code of conduct. The provincial code of conduct will set clear standards for behaviour for individual school boards to follow. It includes fundamental beliefs, like everyone has a responsibility to promote a safe environment; all members of the school community are to be treated with respect and dignity; everyone has a responsibility to resolve conflicts in a way that is civil and respectful; and everyone is expected to resolve conflicts without using violence either in word or in deed.
These changes to the legislation would be part of our commitment to make sure Ontario is taking a whole-community approach to making its schools more inclusive.
It’s not enough to propose a new law in order to fix bullying. That’s why this legislation is one part of a comprehensive action plan to address bullying in Ontario schools. The other steps recognize that we all have a role to play in making our schools safer. Schools and school boards alone are not singly responsible for addressing these complex societal issues. The other steps will build on Ontario’s comprehensive efforts since 2003 to prevent bullying and to create a positive school environment.
We will focus on integrating mental health supports in schools as part of Ontario’s 10-year mental health and addictions strategy and continued support for Kids Help Phone. The growing need to support kids with mental health challenges is clear. Mental health issues aren’t identified early enough, and when they are, wait-lists for services are still too long. Too many children and youth still suffer in silence, and not enough families reach out for resources, help and comfort. To talk seriously about leaving no one behind and supporting student achievement, we need to better address mental health and addictions.
Some of those supports are already finding their way into our school boards. As part of the plan, Ontario will also create an Accepting Schools expert panel to provide advice about resources that focus on a whole-school approach, including prevention and early intervention.
The ministry has directed Ontario’s curriculum council to report back later this year on strengthening equity and inclusive education principles, bullying prevention strategies across the curriculum, and suggesting ways to improve this learning in Ontario schools.
As part of the action plan, Ontario will also look at launching a public awareness campaign to stress that all Ontarians have a role in preventing and ending bullying.
We are not alone in thinking this way. We have the support of our partners. They recognize that we have more to do and that we need to stand up and work together, to stand together and to say together that bullying is not acceptable in our schools.
Bullying destroys students’ well-being. Only by working together can we ensure a positive school climate where everyone—and this province means everyone—feels welcome and safe.
As adults, we know what children need to succeed. Research shows that students are more likely to succeed academically if they feel welcome, accepted and connected at school. It doesn’t come as a surprise. Whether it’s physical or emotional, no one wants to go anywhere that brings feelings of pain and humiliation.
Some things that may seem small and trivial, like comments or language that we use, is where the most work needs to be done. Everyone knows that shoving or hitting another student is hurtful. We must ensure that everyone understands that language can also make someone feel hurt, alone or uncomfortable.
Adults know that they cannot concentrate and do our best work when we feel overwhelmed, stressed, afraid or worried. Why should students feel any different?
Students who feel rejection, exclusion and estrangement often suffer from behavioural problems in the classroom, lower interest in school, lower student achievement and higher dropout rates. For every student to succeed, we need to go beyond better academic results, lower class sizes and higher test scores. These statistical metrics are important and they’ve shown dramatic progress in Ontario. The graduation rate has increased for the seventh year in a row. It’s now up to 82%, up from 68% in 2003. That number means an additional 93,000 students have graduated than would have if the rate had stayed at the 2003 level. Ontario was recently recognized in another OECD report for being a world leader in education.
We want to build on the gains that we’ve made and continue to support all of our students to succeed. That means we need to continue to focus on the conditions of success. That includes a safe, inclusive and healthy learning environment.
Bill 13 was created to help protect Ontario students, and we’ve received great support from many people. But most importantly, we’ve received support from those for whom this bill was created in the first place: students.
During the past several months, the Minister of Education has had the opportunity to meet with students to discuss their thoughts and feelings about bullying, about this bill and about school in general. It’s been these personal stories of individual struggles and achievements that have been the most compelling. Students have told us that they need to attend schools where they feel safe, secure and comfortable, and students need to feel that they have the support that they need to succeed. That’s important, because students should never feel that the only way to escape a bullying situation is to move to another school, to stop going to school, or even worse, to consider taking their own lives.
Feeling like you’re being forced out of a school, a place that should feel like a welcoming community, isn’t fair to anyone and it doesn’t benefit anyone. Students need to know that when they cross the school threshold they’re safe, they’re welcome and they’re accepted as the unique individuals that they are.
Just last week, several bright, passionate young people were here at Queen’s Park to speak about bullying. They talked about how much they love their schools and they shared examples of the times their teachers and principals stepped in to address bullying. They also had some wrenching stories to tell about having been bullied. They talked about how important it was that their schools were a place where they felt like they belonged.
That’s why we as legislators must make every one of Ontario’s schools a positive and accepting place for students to learn, to play and to grow. This bill is about every student, no matter who they are, where they came from, what they like or whom they hang around with. It’s about what students need to feel safe and to feel welcome. It’s about our responsibility to protect and educate our students in our schools.
We cannot do that without talking to students. They can tell us what’s happening in our schools. By working together with students, we can make sure that we’re on the right track. We have some of the best students in the world. We can benefit from that. They have a lot to offer.
We also need to let students know it’s important to speak up against bullying. Our Minister of Education continues to deliver precisely that message to students.
Ontario’s partners in education support this endeavour. Our schools are working hard to address bullying. The minister has visited schools doing outstanding work to prevent bullying and to ensure that students feel supported. The ministry is hearing stories from so many more. I want to thank the principals, teachers, school staff, especially the students, their parents and community partners for taking a stand on bullying.
When a child enters school, it’s a stepping stone to their education, to their future and to our future. They need to know that it’s their opportunity to learn and to grow.
We all have a role to play in standing up against bullying. Through this legislation, those of us sent here to share in governing Ontarians have stepped up to that responsibility.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions and comments?
Mr. Michael Harris: I’d like to speak on some of the comments Mr. Delaney from Mississauga–Streetsville raised.
One in particular is the “working together” portion of his comments. You know, that’s something that I’ve been hearing throughout my riding, that they’d like the government to work, obviously, with the opposition and adopt the recommendations that my colleague Elizabeth Witmer, from Kitchener–Waterloo, has put forward in Bill 14.
In fact, our local media, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record recently engaged in the debate itself and said that the government, in fact, would be wise to look at Ms. Witmer’s bill with the thought of incorporating some of her suggestions.
I also want to raise some of the concerns—in fact, the overwhelming opposition concerns—from folks in my riding. I’ll read you just a few here.
Hazel from Kitchener emailed me just recently to say that there are much better ways to help children. She’s concerned that if Bill 13 becomes law, it will only increase problems.
Manfred from Kitchener contacted my office to share his view that Bill 13 should not be passed as it stands today.
Constance, a retired teacher, in fact, from Kitchener, who’s a strong advocate against bullying, feels that Bill 13 will do little to help children and youth suffering the devastating effects of bullying.
Monica, a mother of two young children from Wellesley, feels that Bill 13 will do nothing to help prevent bullying.
Sarah from New Hamburg wrote to me asking that, as her MPP, I vote against Bill 13 in favour of the PC anti-bullying bill, Bill 14. She’s concerned that schools do not have the facilities to implement this bill.
Joyce from Petersburg is concerned also with Bill 13, and says that it was devised in a vacuum without consulting parents.
I just again want to reiterate some of those comments that Mr. Delaney talked about in “working together.” I encourage the government to work together with this side of the House and incorporate, again, suggestions put forward in Bill 14 by our colleague Elizabeth Witmer.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions and comments? The member for Welland.
Ms. Cindy Forster: Thanks for the opportunity to get up and speak to this issue, and thank you for the comments from the member from Mississauga—
Ms. Cindy Forster: Oh, sorry. I’ve got to move my chair.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Yes, you have to be at your seat. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize that at the outset.
I again recognize the member for Welland.
Ms. Cindy Forster: Thanks to the member for his comments.
Just a couple of points I wanted to make. There’s a lot of “mays” versus “shalls” in this legislation. If you look at section 301 of the act as being amended by adding the following subsections, the minister “may” establish policies and guidelines with respect to bullying, and “may” provide training, “may” provide resources. I think many of these “mays” need to be changed to “shalls,” and training of teachers needs to be expanded beyond teachers. It needs to be extended to maintenance staff and support staff. They are the eyes and ears of the students when they are in the playground, when they’re in the cafeteria, when they’re in the hallway, even when they’re in the washrooms of the schools. These are the people who can be bringing bullying issues to light in a very timely way.
I also wanted to talk about whether or not there needs to be something in the legislation similar to the Occupational Health and Safety Act that actually deals with violations of the act with respect to the safety and the health of workers. In those situations, in fact, hospitals and public offices who violate the act and do not provide for the health and safety of workers actually are fined. So there’s monitoring that takes place. There are requirements for education, and there are fines that take place when employees and workers are injured in this province, so perhaps that would be an impetus for boards to actually implement policies and procedures and would assist in promoting the health and safety of our students in our schools.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Thank you very much. Questions and comments?
L’hon. Madeleine Meilleur: Monsieur le Président, ça me fait plaisir de me lever aujourd’hui pour parler en faveur de ce projet de loi.
This bullying problem in schools is very close to my heart. Two of my nieces were bullied—imagine, one in kindergarten and the other one in high school. They were both bullied differently, but it changed their lives. It’s changed their lives altogether.
In the first case, the school reacted very positively. They called everyone together, the parents of this boy who was the bully and my sister and her husband. They dealt with it, and it was resolved in no time.
In the second case, the school did not react properly, so my other niece was on suicide watch for quite some time because of what she was going through. They had to move her to another high school, and when it is the only high school in the area, they have to move her two hours away. You know, she had to find an apartment for one year in high school. It’s a bit young to have your own apartment.
I hope that in this House we will all work together to make sure that this does not happen to one more kid. We should put aside our differences as parties. We should all work to make sure that we have a strong piece of legislation and everybody knows their own responsibility.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Thank you very much.
Questions and comments?
Mr. Jim McDonell: It’s an honour to get up to talk to the bill today. I hear from the member from Mississauga–Streetsville about the need to co-operate, and I can’t agree more. I guess I find it disappointing that the three parties were working together on a bill that would truly look at the issues here, only to find out at the last moment that another bill was being introduced. I think it just shows that when we’re working as a group, things have changed. I think, as I heard earlier, there are likely many people in this House who were bullied at one time. But bullying has changed; there are different things we have to worry about. It speaks to the need of working together to come up with a—a serious issue here that needs some serious attention.
I guess the actions we see around here really speak of the functioning of this House, and what we’ve seen since my relatively short time here—I think if we’re truly concerned about trying to meet the needs—I mean, we’ve had some support from the elementary school teachers, that are on our side. We’ve seen this bill that’s being proposed really drive some wedges between some of the groups that are coming in, that are concerned about bullying—but have pulled out the worst aspects about what we see from our society.
I think if they really, truly want to work together, come and support Bill 14 and work together. Send it to the committee, as we’ve asked, and as was agreed to up front. I’m really wondering myself, what changed course here? Why all of a sudden the change? If we’re talking about another issue coming up later this week where they’re looking for support, well, if they’re really truly looking for support—let us be able to trust the other side. Let’s work together for a common good. We’re wanting to see some results, and we look forward to Bill 14 going through.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Okay, that concludes the time for questions and comments. I return now to the member for Mississauga–Streetsville.
Mr. Bob Delaney: I thank the members for their comments.
To the member for Kitchener–Conestoga: Speaker, the member will have an opportunity to debate Bill 14 at another time; this debate is about Bill 13. But if the member still wants to talk about contributing to Bill 13, will he both table the entire letters that he was reading and specifically address homophobia and advocate the freedom of students to discuss issues of their sexuality in a safe environment at their school?
I thank the member from Welland. I hear your comments, and perhaps they can be discussed in terms of your suggestions to some of the supporting regulations around Bill 13.
To the member for Ottawa–Vanier: The member for Ottawa–Vanier understands that you don’t fight fire with fire; you fight fire with water. This bill’s measures represent the ability of schools to quench the fires of bullying with the water of countermeasures and understanding.
To the member for Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry: Will the member please advocate within his caucus to set ideology aside, which is something that I’m sure he can do, and to remember that we were all sent here to work together for the best good of our province and our schools and our students, and we have before us the measures to do it. If that member and his caucus put their heads together and park the ideology at the door, I am personally very confident that we can achieve exactly what we have both set out to achieve.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Further debate?
Mrs. Christine Elliott: I am honoured to rise today to speak to the issue of bullying and specifically to Bill 13. We don’t have much time left for debate today. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to speak fully to this issue, but that is the way of the clock, and I will come back another time to finish my debate.
It is certainly a measure of how important the issue of bullying is in the province of Ontario today, and prevention of bullying, that we actually have two bills before the Legislature at the same time. In fact, these bills—Bill 13, which is the government bill, and Bill 14, which is a private member’s bill brought forward by my friend and colleague the member from Kitchener–Waterloo—were brought forward on the same day, November 30, 2011.
I can say that Bill 14 is the result of a very comprehensive investigation that the member from Kitchener–Waterloo entered into. As you know, she is also a former Minister of Education as well as a teacher and a school board trustee, so she certainly knows whereof she speaks. She entered into extensive consultations with school personnel, with parents, with teachers and, most importantly, with students. The result, in my view, is a very thoughtful and comprehensive bill that certainly is well worth our time to discuss here in this Legislature.
I firmly believe that Bill 14—as opposed to the government bill—would, if passed, have a significant impact in reducing bullying across the province. I will return to a comparison of the relative merits of Bill 13 and Bill 14, Mr. Speaker, but before I do, I would just like to speak for a few moments on the need for a concentrated effort to reduce bullying in the province of Ontario.
Bullying, as we have heard today, has reached an unprecedented level and has certainly far surpassed the old “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me” kind of mentality. That mostly happened when I was young.
Bullying now has reached unprecedented levels and has become very sophisticated, and it has become something that can be done across the Web. Cyberbullying is becoming very popular with some people. As a result, we see many young people who are being tormented to the point of suicide because they can’t bear to deal with their tormentors any longer.
Unfortunately, we have had two very tragic situations that have happened in the province of Ontario within the last year, where two young people did tragically take their own lives.
Last October, a young man named Jamie Hubley committed suicide after enduring years of torment simply because he was gay. In December, Jamie’s parents, Allan and Wendy Hubley, came to Queen’s Park to discuss their commitment to action on the anti-bullying issue despite their grief.
I did have the opportunity to meet with Mr. and Mrs. Hubley, along with Lisa MacLeod and Elizabeth Witmer. We assured them at that time that we would do everything we could do to ensure that legislation would be passed that would protect all of our children from bullying.
In September 2011, Mitchell Wilson, an 11-year-old boy from Pickering, also took his own life on the eve of being required to testify in court against another older boy who mugged him and stole his iPhone.
Mitchell suffered from muscular dystrophy, as a result of which he had a slow and laboured gait. The alleged mugger was arrested the day after the attack, charged with assault and was removed from the school. Yet his friends remained and they continued to taunt Mitchell—taunting him and baiting him on the way home from school.
The spectre of the act haunted Mitchell and he began to suffer severe panic and anxiety attacks. A downward spiral started, which culminated in Mitchell’s suicide. Sadly, this is not unusual. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year olds.
Mitchell’s father, like Mr. and Mrs. Hubley, is hoping that by speaking to the media, visiting schools and telling Mitchell’s story he can prevent other children from being bullied and educate people about what it’s like to have a disability. I think that’s one area that we really haven’t touched on enough in all the debate, although I recognize that many members, particularly the member from Danforth, commented on the issues involving children with disabilities and what many of them have to live through. We need to make sure that that gets highlighted even more in this legislation as we go forward.
Mr. Speaker, we also need to make sure that we can support these brave parents who have come forward despite their grief to prevent this from happening to any other child.
I would now like to deal with the relative merit of Bills 13 and 14. At the outset, Mr. Speaker, I’d like to indicate that upon introduction of both of these bills into the Legislature on November 30, 2011, all parties sought the opportunity to bring the two bills together, with a view to passing the strongest anti-bullying legislation possible. Yet without warning, the McGuinty Liberal government suddenly and unilaterally decided to bring Bill 13 forward for debate today, thereby preventing any possible merging of the bills.
In our view, this is reneging on the original agreement and certainly speaks against what many members have talked about in the Legislature, about how we need to have the strongest bill possible and how we need to put them all together.
I’m disappointed in this, Mr. Speaker, principally because this did give us a true chance to merge these bills, and now we’re not going to be able to. We’re going to have to choose one bill over the other. People’s attitudes get hardened one way or the other and it makes it even more difficult to try and work collaboratively in the spirit of this legislation, which is to bring forward a strong anti-bullying bill.
I think it’s time to stop at this point for today, Mr. Speaker. Am I correct?
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I’m reluctant to interrupt, but I must do so.
Second reading debate deemed adjourned.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): It being 6 of the clock, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 9 a.m.