ACCEPTING SCHOOLS ACT, 2012 /
LOI DE 2012 POUR
DES ÉCOLES TOLÉRANTES
Resuming the debate adjourned on March 26, 2012, on the motion for second reading of 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. Cheri DiNovo: It’s an honour and a privilege to stand today to speak about Bill 13.
Quite frankly, this is not a partisan issue. There is, of course, sentiment all around the House that what we want to do and what we stand together on, shoulder to shoulder, as it were, is to keep our children safe, to prevent teen suicide, the kind of occurrence that happened with our friend Jamie and others who have killed themselves because of bullying in their schools. We are speaking really together around this issue.
I want to send some particular notes of respect out to a number of groups: first and foremost, thestudents themselves—I hosted a presser here with a number of them from our separate school system who came, and I’m going to speak about that in a minute; also to the teachers from all the teachers’ unions who have stood up for their students, stood up on behalf of their students very bravely and courageously; and for other organizations like Egale that have been outspoken about this; the Falconer report and others who have pressed this government and pressed all of us to actually take action.
I also want to thank those who have crafted bills; we’ve seen two of them on this issue. We’re looking forward to being in committee to deal with clause-by-clause examination of those bills, because all of this is important. Particular kudos go, I think, to the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, who have been unbelievably brave and courageous in their stance for students.
As I said, I want to mention some students in particular: the students who came to Queen’s Park. This was in a presser we just had about a week ago. We had here some incredibly courageous young people. We had Trevor James, who is a straight youth from Peterborough, who “got up at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday and took a two-hour bus ride to Toronto to talk about school clubs for gay students.”
He was flanked, and I’m quoting here from the Toronto Star, “by Leanne Iskander, 17, who self-identified as queer, and Christopher McKerracher, 16, a bisexual man, both from Mississauga’s St. Joseph Secondary School.”
All of them were here speaking with one voice about, if anything, strengthening Bill 13. Here’s a quote from James. He said, “‘I love my school. It’s my home away from home.... We are not fighting. We just wanted to be treated equally. If we do not accept racism and nationalism in school, why is it okay to be homophobic?’”
“To call these clubs anything but gay-straight alliances is a denial of queer students’ existence … added James, a student at St. Peter’s Secondary School.”
And kudos to Leanne Iskander, who has organized a group of Catholic students for gay-straight alliances.
I also wanted to cite some of the studies that have been done by a number of groups interested in education. People for Education sent in some information to this government about Bill 13, again trying to strengthen the bill, trying to add to the bill. They talk about the role of principals and that special-needs students at one in three GTA elementary schools are not getting the recommended level of support. They talk, as do others, about the safe schools action team and the Falconer report, again about strengthening this bill in terms of strengthening the schools’ ability to deal with the issue.
One of the problems with this initiative is that there’s not funding attached to it: funding for special students, funding to help those principals and teachers who want to help their students, funding for special-needs students—oversight, even, because we know that bullying often happens where teachers’ eyes and education assistants’ eyes are not, so oversight for those playgrounds, those lunchrooms, those places where bullying can take place and nobody is watching. So again, funding is needed to strengthen oversight of those places. All the reports come together and speak about that, and they speak about that in some detail.
Certainly, when we’re spending $150 million on EQAO tests—tests that teachers are loath to administer and really are not fans of—surely some of that money could be redistributed to help children who are victims of bullying, to help the teachers who deal with them and, quite frankly, to help the bullies themselves, because if the only alternative is to suspend children with problems, i.e., the bullies, then that’s not an answer either. All children, even those who are bullies, need an education, and we need to deal with this as adults. We need to deal with it in a loving fashion.
I also want to acknowledge all those across the Christian spectrum, particularly those Catholic parents in our school system who have written to me and to whom I’ve responded and corresponded with. I speak as a Christian, a United Church clergyperson, and I remind everyone who is Christian, in this debate, that Jesus was very outspoken about how we should treat our neighbour. He said we should love them, pure and simple. We should love our neighbour. Implied in that is that we should not judge them; he also said, “Judge not.” He was pretty emphatic about that, and he didn’t put caveats around that. He didn’t say, “Some neighbours, not other neighbours.” He didn’t say, “Judge not, but judge some people and not others.” He was completely outspoken; neither did he ever say anything about homosexuality. Check your Scripture.
All Christians have a vested interest. All people of all faiths and all people of no faith have a vested interest in the well-being of our students. Sadly, when you look at the suicide statistics, you see that LBGTQ students are the ones most at risk of suicide. Sadly, when you look at the statistics for that group, you see trans students at greatest risk and they grow up to continue to be at great risk. So at the age that they are in school, that’s the opportunity we have to intervene. That’s the opportunity we have to make a difference in their lives.
I know, because of working on Toby’s Law around the transgender issue, that as trans children age and grow into adults they represent a group that has a 50% poverty rate, a 50% depression rate, a 50% attempted suicide rate. Again, as you look through the spectrum of LGBTQ people, you see the same sort of heightened statistics.
Where does it start? It starts in high school. It starts in public school. It starts when children are young. That’s where we have a chance to really influence them. I proudly went out, you know, around the Pink Shirt Day—and I know that Pink Shirt Day is coming up—in our schools, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for everybody to engage; to add their support to our schools in standing up against bullying.
But I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that critically here, critically, is that we need the input of our students. We need our students to be able to define the supports they need, because what we are about here in this House, presumably around this bill, is supporting our students. We all agree on that. We want to support our students, particularly our vulnerable students, our students that have been bullied like Jamie, who was, by the way, bullied because of his sexual orientation. We want to support these students, and part of supporting these students is to support them in supporting themselves. When they say—and they don’t all say, but when they do say—that they want a gay-straight alliance in their schools, we need to be behind them. We need to be supporting them in that. We need to be standing with them shoulder to shoulder, just like these brave young people that came to Queen’s Park, a some two-hour bus ride away, to take a risk, to stand in front of the cameras, to say, “We’re queer, we’re here and we need your love.” Because ultimately that’s what we’re speaking about as well: We’re speaking about this assembly coming together to act out of love for our students.
I want to just share some quotes, and these quotes are from various groups. First of all, let’s look at Egale. Egale Canada says, “GSAs ... demonstrably improve the lives of LGBTQ youth, increasing their 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 LGBTQ themes, is an excellent means towards addressing school climate, isolation, promoting social connectedness.” They cite a study in California that found gay-straight alliance presence and participation in high school to be highly correlated with decreased depression, substance abuse and lifetime suicide attempts among LGBTQ young adults.
I also want to quote from the Falconer report, where he again—“increase benchmark costs for all components of the funding formula ... to close gap between funding ... and actual costs...”
You know, it’s interesting, Mr. Speaker, that when I first ran six years ago in a by-election the funding formula was one of the main issues that plagued our community and our schools, our teachers and principals and students, and it’s still there. It’s still there. Unfortunately, the McGuinty government has done nothing to focus on that, and here we see, yet again, the funding formula impacting a sensitive issue here. So again, Falconer is calling on some action around that.
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.” So again, curriculum changes; supervision when students are most vulnerable; allowing students to have a say in the kinds of groups that they want to form; what those groups are called; how those groups operate—these are all parts of the answer to the problem. Bill 13 goes part of the way. We want it to go all the way.
Certainly, again, we see that in the Roots of Youth Violence, an executive summary, that was done, again in 2008. A quote here says, “Making headway on issues of safety involves abandoning the failed philosophy of addressing safety through discipline/enforcement mechanisms. It does not work.” They couldn’t be more emphatic. “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.”
Unfortunately, Bill 13 does nothing to address the inadequacy of staffing and supports for students at risk of bullying.
So again, when you look at the bully and the bullied, you’re looking at two students whom the system has failed and continues to fail. We again, I think, are of one mind in trying to address that issue. That’s the issue. We want to help the bullied, and we don’t want to marginalize the bully so that they continue to move through life using those kinds of behaviours, continuing to move through life to be homophobic or aggressive or violent. That’s not what public education should be about. Public education is for all children; it should be for all children.
Certainly, I hearken back to my own school experience and to those of my children. I can tell you that anyone around this room, if they were truly honest with those viewing, with our constituents and with themselves, would know that children who are LGBTQ are still at risk. They were at risk; they have been at risk; they were at risk for my children’s generation, for my generation; and they’re still at risk. We all have witnessed events in our educational experience where children who have identified as LGBTQ were bullied. We have all seen it happen. We’ve all intervened, or not. We’ve all been the bullied or the bully, some of us. We know that this is a reality that touches everyone. There’s nobody who has not had an experience of this. There’s nobody who hasn’t seen it at work.
To confuse the issue and say, “Well, bullying happens for all sorts of reasons”—of course it does. It happens for weight reasons. It happens for ethnic reasons. There are all sorts of reasons. There are as many reasons as there are children to be bullied and to bully. But having said that, when we look at the suicide statistics, the most at-risk children inevitably come down to the LGBTQ community, and they were, in fact, the instigators, those who pushed this government, those who came before this government, who took the risk as they did when they came to Queen’s Park that day to stand up and say, “We’re here. We’re not going away. We’re at risk and we’re standing with those at risk, and we need to be heard. We need to be heard.”
Again, to come back to those other groups that I think deserve incredible kudos around this: the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association; those who are on the front lines with children; those people of faith who, out of their faith, love their students and work with their students. Those people have been very forthright in their support for this bill, and many support even strengthening this bill.
I know our education critic who did the leadoff speech on this, our member from Toronto–Danforth, has been very forthright about where we think this bill should go, the amendments that we will be bringing forth in committee, the support we have in our own constituencies for it, the support we have around this House and the necessity to get on with it, the necessity to get something into place—the necessity also, as I’ve said, to get into place the necessary supports, the necessary funding so that this bill can have some teeth, so that it can actually work, so that it’s not just window dressing on a problem, but it actually becomes a solution to a problem.
That’s as necessary as anything else. It’s necessary in the memory of Jamie. It’s necessary in the memory of all of those children who have suffered, and it’s certainly necessary to those three who came to Queen’s Park, and to all the brave teachers and others who stood with them.
I must mention ETFO and OSSTF, as well as OECTA. I mean, these are teachers who have been on the front lines, who have demanded of this government an action on this front, but also, of course, some follow-up, also some funding to help implement it, which is not part of this, and also have suggested ways of finding that funding. In light of the budget and trying to find money from parcel A to pay for parcel B, might I suggest—respectfully so—that the EQAO, with $150 million worth, is one of the places that we could look in the educational funding package to fund programs for our vulnerable students, because again, this bill needs teeth; again, this bill needs clout; again, this bill needs backing
To go back to my original points, Mr. Speaker: Do we support Bill 13? Absolutely, we do, in the New Democratic Party. Do we want to see it strengthened? Absolutely, and we will be introducing amendments at committee to do so. Do we support those children who want gay-straight alliances in their schools? Yes, absolutely. We recognize that it’s not in every school they want it, but in the schools where they do want it, they should be allowed to have it. We should be standing with our students. That purportedly is what this bill is about. And yes, we stand with the teachers, all the teachers’ unions, who day in and day out do just that: stand with their students. We recognize that whether it’s separate school teachers in OECTA or those teachers in OSSTF or ETFO, all teachers are together on this one; they support their students and the students’ voice in what they call their groups and when and where those groups take place.
I also finally want to thank the students, because without them this never would have happened. I want to thank those brave souls who have stood up against bullying and who stand up against bullying, and I want to send some compassionate messages out to those parents and those children who are the bulliers. The answer to them, Mr. Speaker, is not throwing them out of school, kicking them to the curb, taking away their right to public education, but a program that actually deals with the problems that develop into the creation of a bully—and they are myriad.
So we in the New Democratic Party, with the leadership of Andrea Horwath, stand on the side of children. We stand there with love; we stand there with compassion; we stand there with people of faith and those who don’t have faith. Finally and foremost, we stand there to prevent the deaths of our children—our children; they are our children. And we recognize the impact that this bill will have if it’s done well. That’s our common cause here.
Let’s get this bill done. Let’s get it done well, let’s get amendments in that will strengthen this bill and let’s never, ever have an instance in this province again where a child commits suicide because of harassment. Let’s stand with our LBGTQ students. Let’s stand with students who want a voice. Let’s stand with them because we know, we’ve experienced it in our own educational experience, our children have, and we stand here to prevent our grandchildren from having to go through the same thing.
On that note, I’ll close, and of course I’ll look forward to being a part of the consultation process on this matter through our education critic, Mr. Tabuns, from Toronto–Danforth. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Questions and comments?
Ms. Tracy MacCharles: First of all, I’d like to acknowledge the member from Parkdale–High Park for her deep and genuine commitment and compassion to the eradication of bullying. I agree with her completely. We are in this together and on the same page.
As a mother of two young teens, I know first-hand how bullying affects children—my own children and other children in Pickering–Scarborough East. Bullying can and does happen in many ways to children. My son was the tallest child in a primary grade, and the last person people thought would be bullied, but he was, physically. But it takes on many other forms, as we know.
As the chair of a school community council in my community for many, many years, I directly have been involved in many bullying situations, and I know how it can play out and how the process to address bullying can become very difficult for all parties if not managed properly, without proper communications, without support for everyone involved: the victims, the witnesses, the bystanders, the school staff, the parents and, last but not least, the bully himself or herself. I’m also very aware, through my involvement with the Durham District School Board special-ed committee, of the need to be sensitive for children with special needs and disabilities, and how they can be severely affected by bullying. We must make every effort to ensure this most vulnerable population is supported.
I’ve also seen how empowered children become in our schools when they are in an environment that creates a positive learning place for them, an environment that creates accountability, an environment where everyone adopts zero tolerance to bullying and, most importantly, respect for all. But we need to do more, and that’s why I’m supporting Bill 13. Thank you.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member from Durham.
Mr. John O’Toole: Thank you very much. The member from Parkdale–High Park, I do respect her views. She’s well-informed and very capable, competent commentary on this file.
I do want to read a thing from the Ontario Catholic school trustees, a document called Respecting Difference. I think it’s important. There are some subtle words in here. You need to listen carefully, because I’m quoting it:
“Beliefs across a whole number of areas, including religion and cultural practices and more personal matters such as acceptable sexual conduct, will differ and these different beliefs are an aspect of living in a multicultural and pluralistic society that honours human rights and diversity. While it is an all too human temptation to insist that others share our beliefs and to eradicate the frameworks that make a variety of choices possible, forced acceptance of beliefs about which we may differ is not the hallmark of a free and democratic society but” the complete opposite.
What that’s saying is that someone forcing you to accept their interpretation of their world is in itself bullying. That’s the philosophical argument that I believe is important. I believe all forms of bullying are irresponsible and unacceptable.
The point we’re making here is tolerance. I believe this document from the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, Respecting Difference, summarizes particularly how I feel about the issue. I believe that the secular society forcing views on non-secular society is in fact bullying. So if you look at it, we must respect differences and in fact not be bullies ourselves, on both parties. That way we can live harmoniously, and yet in a democracy, we have freedom of choice and freedom of religion. That’s what this is about more fundamentally, not bullying someone to accept my way or the highway.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member from Timmins–James Bay.
Mr. Gilles Bisson: Oh, I can speak volumes to that one, but I won’t respond to those comments.
I would just say, though, to the presentation—
Mr. John O’Toole: I didn’t write it.
Mr. Gilles Bisson: No, no, but I’m just saying—my point is that we can all be accused, as majority governments in this Legislature—Conservatives, Liberals and others—for exactly what you’re talking about. That’s why I was saying I’ll leave that one alone. But anyways, we all have our ideologies.
To my colleague who gave a presentation, I just want to say, as usual, bang on.
I want to put something on the record, though, in regard to bullying itself. Both Bill 13 and Bill 14, which we’re going to be discussing later on this afternoon, are obviously good steps towards trying to deal with the issue of bullying. I don’t want to argue in any way that we should diminish the value of what these bills bring to this particular issue. But I increasingly get concerned that sometimes, we’re looking for legislative solutions when really the solutions are what we do amongst each other as human beings. I have this little bit of a fear that somehow or other, we think that if we only can only come up with the right law, the world’s going to be a better place. In some cases that may be true, but we really need to challenge ourselves. We need to do public education. We need to use our school systems. We need to, within the family, instil these kinds of beliefs that say, “Listen, bullying of any form is not acceptable. Respect and tolerance for others is the order of the day.”
I’ve got to say, as a young boy growing up in northern Ontario in the late 1950s and 1960s, we’ve come a long way; I can tell you it was a much more intolerant society back in the 1950s and 1960s as I was growing up in our community. Is our community today very tolerant? I would say it’s more tolerant than it was, but quite frankly, we still have a ways to go. I think we need to challenge ourselves. There are all kinds of “isms” out there, and we need to do more in order to educate each other on the tolerance of accepting others for who they are. Accepting and embracing that tolerance makes us better people.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Questions and comments?
Ms. Soo Wong: I greatly appreciate the remarks and examples presented by the member from Parkdale–High Park. I think she was bang on in her examples and remarks about this issue of bullying. Safety is the key to student learning. The proposed legislation is about safety in our schools, Mr. Speaker. I can tell you that as a former school board trustee with the Toronto District School Board, I’ve heard and observed many bullying incidents.
Like my colleagues, I want to acknowledge the many stories from our students, from our teachers, from our parents. It took a lot of courage for these people to come and share with us those stories because, at the end of the day, they didn’t have to. Especially some of my diverse community: It takes a lot of courage to come out and say and tell us what are their concerns, what are their recommendations.
The proposed legislation, if passed, will protect all students in our schools. Some of my colleagues have already indicated that it will, first of all, bring tougher consequences for bullying and hate-motivated actions; require all publicly funded school boards to support students who want to lead activities that promote understanding and respect for all; require school boards to have policies.
What’s wrong with having policies to support and provide resources to our students? This is what is most important for our schools. It also requires school boards to have Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week, so that it raises awareness about what bullying is and how we prevent bullying.
The proposed legislation is clear, with expectations, and increases accountability for everyone. We, as parliamentarians in this House, have a responsibility to make sure every student is safe, and this legislation is just the first step to protect every student, but together we have to do more—of course we have to do more—so that every student can be safe so they can learn, Mr. Speaker. Thank you for this opportunity to talk.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Further debate? The member for High Park, you have two minutes to respond.
Ms. Cheri DiNovo: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you to all the members for their input—much appreciated. I want to again reiterate, this is about student choice and student safety.
I want to deal with a little word that sticks in my craw a little bit and that’s the word “tolerance.” We do not ask our parents or our teachers to tolerate our students. We ask them to love them. We do not tolerate difference; we embrace it. And this little word and words like it can make all the difference. They can make all the difference to the safety of our students. What we are calling for here in the New Democratic Party is not the tolerance of students. We’re asking for the acceptance and the love of our students, and that’s what our teachers have shown us, including our teachers from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. They have stood up. They’re on the front lines. They are working with our students day in, day out, and they say they love them. They want them to be safe. They do not tolerate them.
So truly, if we want to “respect differences,” to use the other catchphrase, truly, if we want to respect differences, we have to—again I go back to the words of Jesus. He did not ask us to tolerate our neighbour; he asked us to love them. He did not ask us to put up with them. He said, “Judge not.” We don’t judge them; we love them categorically. That was the call upon all of us who are Christians, and certainly in all faiths that is the call upon people of all faiths. And those of no faith but who have ethics and morals, it’s a call upon you, too
So when we go from this place, I hope we go keeping our children in mind, keeping what they want in mind, not what we want for them, what they are asking for, and they are asking for the ability to define and direct their own futures. That’s called love, Mr. Speaker. That’s our call. Thank you.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Thank you. Further debate?
Hon. Glen R. Murray: I always find these particular conversations in the House extraordinarily personally difficult. I find it very hard not to be emotional about them. Because I think through most of my life this issue has unwantedly and with such great difficulty been at the centre of my life.
First of all, I just want to say some thank yous. I want to thank the member for Toronto–Danforth, if I can call him Peter. I know I’m not supposed to use first names, but I want to tell him I was both moved and inspired by his words and by his conviction.
I also want to thank the member for Parkdale–High Park, as I think she just gave—not just today—a very thoughtful, life-affirming, holistic, humanizing speech. She has dedicated much of her time in this House to the rights of gay and lesbian and transgendered people. I want to thank her publicly for that.
Gilles Bisson, my friend from Timmins–James Bay, thank you for your short, to-the-point, pithy retort. We need friends like you, and I want to thank you for your courage and your conviction.
I also want to thank my friend Laurel Broten, who has worked so darn hard on social justice issues and on leading this bill through.
I want to thank our Premier, who, in spite of what some people say, I think is a darn good Catholic. What many people never know is the kind of personal encouragement he has given me over the years when difficult issues have come up. I want to thank him for his quiet stand-behind-you kind of leadership.
I want to thank Jeff Leal and Maria Van Bommel and many of our rural members, some of whom aren’t here. I know that some of them aren’t here because of some pretty nasty robocalls that were just pure homophobia the night before the election. They know the courage it took for Maria Van Bommel to go to the Knights of Columbus and stand up for her faith beliefs about the value of human beings, their souls and a higher calling that brings us to this place.
Why is it so difficult? Because I’m tired of being—I thought we finally got past being a gay politician. I remember when we hosted the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, when I finally no longer had to be the gay mayor, when my partner Rick and I no longer had to be the gay poster couple, when I fought every kind of horrible stereotype by religious extremists like Charles McVety when I tried to become a parent.
The hardest thing—and I mean years of hard work—was to become a parent. My son, Michael, who has fetal alcohol syndrome, is one of the most courageous young people I’ve ever met. What he has to do to get through life every day, on top of it to have a gay dad and to get bullied at school for having a gay father, to me, was just more than he needed. He kept on saying to me, “But no one else is standing with me. I’ve only got you.” I used to say to him, “I’ve only got you, Mike.”
Why are GSAs so important? I have a wonderful father. He passed away of prostate cancer at 63. He was a small-c conservative, a very prudent businessman. He worked hard his whole life, lost businesses, rebuilt them. He was one of the most incredible entrepreneurs I ever knew. He inspired me. He was one of the most honest people. He was so honest that he would go into a business and the shopkeepers would ask him just to put whatever product he thought, because my father was so honest. He would never put more stuff in the store than he thought he could sell.
You know, I grew up with John Diefenbaker and Tommy Douglas and Lester Pearson. Those are the kinds of people who I want, because my father admired those people, and he got involved in politics because of that. I admired my dad.
It wasn’t the opinions of bullies or schoolyard bullies—and when I was growing up, I became a jock. I played football. I figured out the straight guys were the ones who were very athletic, so I became a very good hockey player. I watched my straight friends. I watched my friend who was straight, Jeff, who was tall, six foot two at a far-too-early age. He was a bit effeminate, and everyone thought he was gay and they thought I was straight, so they beat the crap out of him. They tore his underwear. They spit on him. They put excrement in his locker—Jeff, who was a straight kid, who everyone thought was gay. They treated him—they called him an F-A-G and all kinds of other horrible names and beat the crap out of him, and everybody stood by and watched. All these good Christians stood by and watched, and it happened to kid after kid. It wasn’t whether or not you were gay; it was whether people thought you were sissy or effeminate, or whether you’re the young girl who was overweight. Kids could be cruel, and parents can stand by and watch it.
I remember going for a walk with my father, who I admired, and he told me that he’d beat queers up. He made some of the most homophobic remarks I’d ever heard. And here, the safe place I thought I had in my house was to go home to my dad and my mom. Those were the people I loved, who I thought loved me.
The reason the GSAs, and not organizations for disabilities or black kids or aboriginal kids, are at the centre of this is because of our social discomfort with sexual orientation. That’s what the Hotwire—Charles McVety and a few thousand extremists are going to be out on the front lawn. They’re not here talking about kids with disabilities. They have no problem with stopping bullying against young folks who are unfortunately overweight or kids who are a little ungainly or awkward or a bit nerdy or whatever the thing is that brings on that horrible bullying. So it’s not just bullying.
I’m going to support Elizabeth Witmer’s bill, the member from Kitchener–Waterloo, because I think it’s the right thing to do, and I want to commend my friends in the Progressive Conservative Party. I don’t have any problem with the bill you’re presenting. There’s nothing in it I disagree with, and I think and I hope that we’ll support it. But what it misses—and I don’t mean this in a pejorative or a partisan way, because I think on this we have to be Ontarians first—is it’s not just bullying; it’s the indifference, the ignorance and the rejection that are more toxic.
Understanding that my father couldn’t get the fact that his son was gay—and a few years later, sadly, he came down with cancer and died. It was only in the last years of his life that we really reconciled. He couldn’t speak to me for three years. He said to me—the last time I saw him, we sat in bed. He was very ill with cancer; you couldn’t even touch him. He held my hand, which I knew was very hard for him, and said, “Glen, you know, I fear for you, and for all of the kids like you who are gay. I hated gay people. I thought they were sick and perverse. I didn’t want to even imagine that. When I realized my son was gay, I was embarrassed and I was humiliated. And if I thought that way, and you’re my son and I couldn’t reconcile it, how were all of the other people in power—when you go to get a job, when you try to find a life or have a child or do anything like that, how are people who don’t love you, who are not your father, going to treat you? I don’t see how you can have a future.” I told him I admired him. He said, “I admire you, because”—now I was in my early 30s, and I had just gotten elected for the first time to city council in Winnipeg. He said, “I’m not sure I would have the courage to live and walk in your shoes, knowing how people like me actually feel about you.”
My father was an amazing man. One of the reasons, if you look at my name on the thing—I put his name there, because he never got any recognition in his life. The closest I could get to getting my father’s name up there was to put my whole name up there. Every time I walk down there, I say a little prayer for my father and say, “I got there, Dad. I broke through that. I was able to fully contribute to my life.”
The reason GSAs are so important, and why I would ask my friend from Durham just to rethink this—I am a Christian. My faith is incredibly important to me. The hardest thing about being in this House is that my type of Christianity, the Anglican faith I grew up with—we’re not evangelical. My faith doesn’t stand out in front of Queen’s Park and tell everyone that they’re wrong and who’s going to hell and why Tim Hudak and Dalton McGuinty and Andrea Horwath always have it wrong. My faith is reconciliation at the end of the day, and every day I go to bed, there are things I said in this House where I’ve become intemperate and snapped and said something to one of you, often, that I shouldn’t, and I ask for forgiveness. I’m a great fan of—Julia, I forget your riding, but Julia Munro.
Mrs. Julia Munro: York–Simcoe.
Hon. Glen R. Murray: York–Simcoe. She’s a Quaker. I was out with my friend David Crombie for hours and we were talking about this. Many of us practise a faith, on both sides of this House, that is quiet, reflective, self-judgemental. The hardest moral issue for me is not my sexual orientation; it’s how do I be a loving, gentle, kind person when God gave me such a big mouth? How do I approach everyone with a sense of love and hope and trust, even if we have differences? How do we find what we have in common and put that ahead of ourselves? That’s what this bill is about. It’s about our ability to touch our common humanity.
As my friend Kathleen and I always say, on the unique journey that we’ve had in life—and one of the reasons I came into politics was I had been such an admirer of her and her leadership in understanding education. I really think she’s one of the best education ministers this province has ever had. When you talk to students, there is a texture to our schools that she brought. When she initiated this legislation when she was minister and started the idea of GSAs and a whole celebration of diversity—it is exactly that word. And my friend from Parkdale–High Park said this: It isn’t about tolerance. We want to love and celebrate every child. I wanted to be lifted up, when I was 14 years old, as a Christian. It was important to me. There was a sense of eternity and soul and reconciliation that’s much bigger than a reconciliation with the voters. We can debate every medieval interpretation of the Bible; that’s not what it’s about. Christ asked us very simply to live in the middle of other people’s lives, to accept what we don’t understand and to reach out and touch the humanity of each other without fear, and to find the courage to do that. I think most of us will know in our lives, at the core of our faith, we’re searching for that courage on a day-to-day basis.
You know, it isn’t bullying. There’s no one here that’s suggesting that we shouldn’t teach a Catholic perspective in our schools. Let me read Charles McVety, who is a person who, if you had to find the philosophical polar opposite to my world—this is what he recently said in a news article editorial he wrote. He said that Catholic teaching is defined in the document, by referring to the document Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same Sex Orientation in the 2006 CCCB statement, which the member from Durham mentioned before: “Basing itself on sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity” and a tradition that declared—he’s quoting from the bishop’s direction—“homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”
I have to say to the bishops: “You’re not allowed to do that anymore.” I’m not allowed to say to the Catholics—nor should I—or to other Christians or Muslims or Jews, that because of your faith you’re intrinsically disordered. I would never say to you that anything that goes on in your family with the person you love—can you imagine me describing a husband-and-wife relationship as inherently depraved? Can you imagine how it feels to gay and lesbian families and to our children in schools when people like Charles McVety say we’re unfit to be parents? How much do you love your children? How would you feel, as an Ontarian or as a Canadian? You feel a little less Canadian. I feel a little less welcome in my own country every time someone like that is endorsed.
It’s not that I don’t understand it or that I think that everyone’s a homophobe; I don’t. My father wasn’t intentionally homophobic. He arrived honestly through the culture he grew up in, in the 1930s and 1940s and the war, to an attitude about masculinity and some pretty awful attitudes about the role of women. Every time I see Mad Men, it’s not that far a stretch from where women lived, and we think we’ve come a long way.
I’m disappointed when my friend from Markham-Aurora goes on Charles McVety’s show to launch his campaign for elected office, and enthusiastically embraces the endorsement of Charles McVety. So I would ask him not to do that. I would ask him to spend more time together with me and other members, and I would like to have more time to try and reconcile with people like that. Because when you take the support of folks—you will remember, this was circulated in my constituency by people. It was put out by the PC Party. It was done with Charles McVety, and it says some horrible things about gay people.
I would ask the party opposite to stop doing that. You wouldn’t like it if we put out a heterophobia. I don’t believe that most people in this House are homophobic. I don’t believe these kinds of political tactics. It is the impression that young people get, including their MPPs. You know, the only thing in this curriculum—and please read it. None of this is actually even true. Gender-bending? You know what it is? It’s young girls sometimes playing the words that young boys—in fairy tales, that the princess runs off to save the prince rather than the other way around.
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: It’s Robert Munsch.
Hon. Glen R. Murray: It’s Robert Munsch. Thank you, Kathleen. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that most kids read about. If you want to call it gender-bending and make it sound like something offensive—I just think women have a right to be equally treated, like boys.
When I was a teenager the woman who ran to my rescue was a counsellor named Sue Baker, who was the only gay-positive person in my entire school, who came and told me I was okay. As a matter of fact, she said, “I think good things are coming up for you.” There was a point in my life when I had no support at home. None of the family-life education when I was in school meant gay people. Everything was negative. There were no role models. The only role model I ever had was Harvey Milk, and he was shot dead in San Francisco 11 months after he was elected. That was the first person.
You’ve got to remember, I was elected in the 1980s in the prairies. I represented fundamentalist Muslims, Christians, Filipinos. I used to go and pray on Sundays with 80 evangelical pastors who had said some of the most horrible things about me because my faith demands reconciliation and listening and not being afraid. So why don’t we try to do that? Why don’t we actually try to make this Legislature, in a motion in this session, a GSA? Why don’t we make this a gay-straight alliance? I think that would be a powerful, powerful tool.
I want to celebrate every child. The hardest issue I’ve had to deal with since I was there was in a school, one of the high schools. There was a young Pakistani boy who, unlike this—we saw these ads in the National Post, and I give the National Post credit for apologizing for them and withdrawing them. Because this also got large circulation in my constituency, given that a lot of the families in my constituency have two moms or two dads. This family, when they found out that their son came home one day and thought he was a girl when he was going through puberty—which is a way transgender kids are—and his parents had no context to do this, I got a call because the school counsellor didn’t know how to deal with this properly and was afraid. The local police officer from the district came to my office very upset, saying, “We can’t stop this. They’re going to take this young child back to Pakistan for an honour killing.” That’s what goes on in some communities. Were these terrible parents? If you want to murder your own child, it’s pretty terrible. But when people come from a faith culture where they have no context for this, the school can be the only rescue place. So yes, sometimes the school has to stand up to parents to protect the child. That’s where I would disagree with the person from Durham: It’s not just a matter of freedom of expression; it’s a matter of the sanctity of the child’s life.
So we were able to intervene with one of the groups, and I want to thank Susan Gapka and the many people in the trans groups, and Davina Hader and these wonderful women who got together with me.
Ms. Cheri DiNovo: Bring it in. Bring it in.
Hon. Glen R. Murray: Absolutely. You and I are there, sister.
That’s important, because this child’s life was saved. We got a judge. We got a young lawyer who helped us out. We stopped the child from being taken away and killed, and that child is alive.
You can imagine if this happened in my friend Jeff Leal’s community of Peterborough. There are some communities that have less capacity to understand this, and that child would have lost their life.
It is about celebrating diversity. It isn’t about taking Catholic teaching out of Catholic schools; it’s about putting life-affirming, positive images and stories around gay and lesbian children, Muslim children, kids and women of all shapes—that not all girls have to look like Barbie dolls. It is about having a truthful celebration of that. It’s about valuing and holding all our children up.
I think it would be wonderful, really wonderful, if both Bills 13 and 14 passed, because I think they both are good; they both have their strengths. I think this would be a good time for some forgiveness on both sides. It would be a good time for those people who have associated themselves, hopefully wrongly, maybe out of some pressure, with the folks like Mr. McVety—wouldn’t it be wonderful if there wasn’t a single member of this Legislature out there present when he does his normal thing, “Gays and lesbians aren’t fit to be parents. They shouldn’t have children,” and his whole—his web page is now called “Corrupting children.”
It’s hard for me, as a parent who struggled so hard to raise my child, and having to fight to get the right to do that; to take a child who was street-involved, who was sexually abused, who got involved in some pretty horrible things and some even more horrible things that adults did to him—I can’t imagine—when someone talks about corrupting children, I can give you a long list of how people are corrupting a child. Loving, positive gay and lesbian and transgendered parents aren’t part of the corrupting; they’re part of the loving and caring.
I want to thank all of you today—and I want to particularly thank those of you who come from communities where this is hard; people like Maria Van Bommel, my friend Jeff, many of you who come from strong faith traditions where it’s hard for people to understand why you would stand with people who have faced discrimination as so many people in our community have—for your courage.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Questions and comments?
Mrs. Jane McKenna: I stand here today to speak about Bill 13.
Minister from Training, Colleges and Universities, as a mother, my heart goes out to you. But everything that you said today echoes what my son has said—you know, fears for all kids to be accepted.
The other night, my son and I and my family were sitting down, and we were speaking about Bill 13 and Bill 14. My son was born with a vision problem, and he was out of school. Every one of us has situations with our children, people who we know. We were sitting there talking because I had to take him out of the school that he was at because he was beaten up so many times. I said to him, “Son, I’m going to take you out and I’m going to take you to another school, but at the end of the day, you’re going to have to learn the tools to deal with people who treat you the way they treat you,” because I didn’t want him to become a victim.
But as I sit here today, I’m saddened because we all are God’s children. When my son sits there and says to me, “Mom, why are you just talking about one thing when we’re all discriminated? That’s discrimination, when all of us feel the way we feel.” I know for him, he’s said many, many things that the minister spoke about, how he felt going to school and how he felt getting up every day going to school.
When I went to school one day to pick him up as he was coming out, a couple of the kids called him a few names that I won’t speak of in here. I wondered to myself, how does he get up every day? I didn’t have that situation growing up when I was a child. I was heartbroken because I thought, every day children get up, and every day as adults, we’re bullied as well in certain circumstances. How do we function, and how does he function getting up?
I want everybody to be accepted. I want everybody to feel that they’re okay and not to be in situations where they can’t get out of bed. They feel that they need to be respected and loved and cared. Every single person deserves that.
I know for my son, my children and every person sitting in here, every one of us deserves to feel that we are somebody and that we are cared about. I know it goes on, and that’s accepted, but it’s not acceptable.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Questions and comments?
Ms. Cheri DiNovo: It’s a pleasure to follow the member from Toronto Centre, the minister, with a friendly amendment. He did not describe himself as an evangelical. I do, because evangelism means sharing the Good News. I wrote a book called Que(e)rying Evangelism that won the Lambden in Washington, DC. Charles McVety does not have proprietary onus on the word “evangelism.” Evangelism means sharing the Good News. The Good News of Jesus was love. It was not judgment and it was not hatred. Christians do not hate.
When our church performed the first legalized marriage—we followed Brent in that regard—it was vetted by Thunder Bay, unlike his. But we were subjected to unbelievable torment from people from the States. I won’t mention names and I won’t say what they said. Our members were targeted. When our music director, who was a transperson, died, the outcry from the so-called Christian right was outrageous.
Forty years ago, when I was obviously only about four years old, I stood on Parliament Hill on We Demand. From those days to this day, some things didn’t change enough, and the member from Toronto Centre pointed to those things.
We need to do so much more. It’s just not enough anymore to condone any of the actions of those who pretend to be Christian—because they’re not. That’s what I’ll say: They’re not Christian. That’s not the Jesus Christ whom we read about in scripture and that’s not the Jesus who those of us who proudly carry that banner feel we follow. Again, he called us to love our neighbour. He did not define who that neighbour is. What Charles McVety and his crew do is not loving. He called us to judge not. What they are doing is judging, by any definition.
We need to finally move beyond that, to show them for who they are. It’s not just a sect. It is not Christian, it is not evangelical, it is not right.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Thank you. The member from Scarborough–Agincourt.
Ms. Soo Wong: I want to thank the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities for his remarks this morning, and sharing his personal challenges and journey with all of us. That took a lot of courage, Minister, and I want to say thank you. Not only are you passionate about this issue, but the fact that you have the courage, the leadership and the vision—because this is what this is all about. Leadership takes courage, and that was courageous this morning. So thank you for that.
Bill 13 is the first step in what our government is trying to do to address the issue of protecting and supporting every student in our schools. As the first Chinese Canadian woman in this House, I could share with you too many challenges that the minister went through—the racist remarks and the phobic remarks attacking my own family in the 1970s, the 1980s, even the 1990s. So I certainly know that this proposed legislation is to prevent more bullying and to protect our students in our schools.
The proposed Accepting Schools Act is a key component of our government, to make all Ontario schools safe, healthy and inclusive learning environments so every student not only feels accepted but also feels safe—I cannot stress enough.
I don’t know how many times, as a former school trustee, young people came to my office, and their parents, crying, begging me to do something. But there wasn’t legislation. There weren’t guidelines and policies. Yes, we have a very progressive school board in Toronto District School Board, but of course more can be done.
Our government and this province is recognized nationally and internationally, around the world, as having the best English-speaking schools in the world. We need to make sure every child is given an opportunity to learn, Mr. Speaker, and this is what the legislation is about.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member from York–Simcoe.
Mrs. Julia Munro: On the one hand, I feel I have a very short time to make any comments, and at the other end of that is the fact that it’s difficult for people to—so I almost feel that this is too much time.
I want to talk for just a moment about the fact that we regard ourselves as a civil society. I know there’s been a great deal of discussion about our faith, and I’ll deal with that in my case in a moment. I think as members of a Parliament, as members of a civil society, what we’re really talking about is the question of tolerance. When you listen to those who are able to share individual stories, it’s the fact that other people have not been able to tolerate and understand whatever kind of difference it is. As we can think back, as children we were probably bullied at some point. Actually, I dealt with mine in a way that today would have had me expelled. The point is that it’s got to be the question—the mark of a civil society is its tolerance.
I listened very carefully and with a great deal of emotion to the minister’s speech. I recall, as a teacher, a young student of mine who came in wearing a button that said “Gay and proud,” and you can’t imagine how much that took for him to be able to do that. It was like a beacon or a magnet. It certainly meant that he recognized his position and the importance of dealing with others. I was fortunate enough to be a confidante of his, actually, after he finished high school, and I can assure you that those issues that he had to deal with as a young gay man didn’t go away, and—
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Thank you.
Mrs. Julia Munro: It’s very important.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Minister, you have two minutes to reply.
Hon. Glen R. Murray: I want to thank my friend for York–Simcoe. I just want to pick up on something you said. Tolerance is the foundation of this. It has to be there; otherwise, people aren’t safe. But we need to move, quite frankly, past acceptance to celebration, because we have differences. To me, it’s not just about being gay; it’s the fact that the suicide rate is higher amongst gay and lesbian and transgendered youth than amongst any other subgroup. It’s just the group that is most impacted.
When I was mayor of Winnipeg, I represented a heck of a lot of Mennonites, Sikhs. I was just talking to some of my colleagues who are going around in gurdwaras right now saying that the Liberal government is bringing forward a bill to teach people how to be homosexuals in school. Well, you couldn’t get a more toxic kind of response about dividing one group of people, especially a community for whom maybe English is not their first language, who create these misconceptions—because it’s hard to do that. That’s what actually puts their children—because a lot of those Sikh kids have gay kids, and a lot of those Sikh kids are getting beaten up for wearing turbans or being marginalized in their own schools, and facing racism and religious intolerance.
My journey was a different one than my friend from York–Simcoe, but I just wanted to say that this has to be a respectful place for everybody. I never chose to make being gay the issue. When I went to be a parent, I didn’t want to have a fight over being gay; someone else made it the issue. When I ran for office, I didn’t make a big deal about being gay; someone else made it the issue.
I would have been quite happy—and what we’re fighting for is nothing. I look forward to the day when it is completely inconsequential, boring, and people yawn when they find out you’re gay. We’re still not there yet.
I think anyone who has any kind of difference—a religion they believe in passionately, whatever it is—just wants to have a comfortable place and be able to contribute to society the way everyone else does.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Further debate?
Mr. Rob Leone: I want to take this opportunity to thank the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities for that very thoughtful and emotional response in furthering the debate on this issue.
I think I share with most people who listen to that the fact that you actually had to endure that. I don’t think you actually can really understand what you had to go through unless you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I think the minister today in his comments went a long way in telling members of this House and those who are watching this debate in these proceedings exactly what he has gone through in his life. I would share with him and I share with many members who commented on that discussion, Minister, that what you faced was deplorable. I want to say to you and to members of this House that I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with you with respect to fighting the kind of intolerance, to fighting the kind of hate that we have been seeing going on, particularly with this issue, but in society in general.
I think we have to make sure we’re talking about this issue when we’re talking about Bill 13, that we have to stay mission-focused. This bill is about our kids. It’s about our kids being safe in our schools. It’s about our kids going to school knowing full well that when they’re there, they’re going to be in an environment that’s safe, that allows them to be the bright minds that we expect them to be: the future of this great province.
So I want to stand here today in my place as a member of the PC caucus to demonstrate my solidarity with that position, Mr. Speaker.
A few people, in the comments that we’ve seen over the last little while—one of the comments that I’ve heard on this issue has to do with, “Well, don’t we have policies in place in our schools already that deal with bullying?” I think that the comment is an interesting one and one I think that deserves further elaboration.
You see, Mr. Speaker, I know that particularly when I was going to school, which wasn’t too long ago—I was in high school during the 1990s; I’m sure they would like to elaborate on that a bit more. We on this side of the House came forth with a safe schools act. We talked about violence in our schools, something that we feel very strongly about.
Let me perhaps provide you with a definition of violence that comes from the World Health Organization: Violence is defined as “the intentional use of physical”—and psychological—“force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation.”
I think, Mr. Speaker, a lot of people who have talked to this issue already have listed a number of examples where people have faced violence. I think it’s very important for us to understand that we are dealing with violence, whether it’s physical violence or whether it is violence of an indirect nature, whether it’s by words or defacing property and so on and so forth.
One of the things that came out of the Safe Schools Act was a code of conduct. I want to point out three points. There were multiple points, but the three that I’d like to talk about today are sections 3, 4 and 5 in that code of conduct.
Section 3 of that Safe Schools Act code of conduct is, “To maintain an environment where conflict and difference can be addressed in a manner characterized by respect and civility.” I think if we live by those words, Mr. Speaker, it goes a long way in sort of alleviating some of the concerns that we’ve been raising in this House. This is already in legislation. Section 4 says, “To encourage the use of non-violent means to resolve conflict.” Again, I think this is something that we like to talk about in both Bill 13 and Bill 14. Point number 5 of this code of conduct is, “To promote the safety of people in the schools.” I think that is ultimately what we’re tasked with, Mr. Speaker. We’re here to try and come up with a robust, best-in-North-America anti-bullying bill. I think that’s our goal, a goal we share on all sides of this House.
I think it speaks to a long-standing Conservative principle, which is that governments should intervene when something is happening that harms: where a person is harming another individual, a group is harming another individual, a group is harming another group or a group is marginalizing another group—the harm principle. The harm principle was first discussed by John Stuart Mill, who articulated the harm principle in his volume On Liberty. He states that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
Mr. Speaker, we stand committed to helping our kids go to school in a safe and nurturing environment. We produced policies when we were in government that effectively did that, and we’re certainly very interested in seeing that discussion proceed.
So what is that difference between violence and bullying? What produces a reason for us to debate this issue in this Legislature today? Let me perhaps provide a few definitions of what bullying actually is. According to Peter Smith, who prepared this definition in a report to the OECD on bullying, it is “generally agreed that bullying is a subset of aggression: namely aggression that involves (i) repetition and (ii) imbalance of power.” So you see, Mr. Speaker, it’s a subset of violence, some of the things that we’ve talked about in previous legislation. It’s talking about violence that’s recurring, that’s repetitive, and it speaks to an imbalance of power.
A few more definitions: In 1993, Farrington wrote, in volume 17 of Crime and Justice, “Bullying is repeated oppression, psychological or physical, of a less powerful person by a more powerful person.”
A 1994 book, School Bullying, by Smith and Sharp suggests that bullying is “the systematic abuse of power.” Systematic abuse of power—it’s not isolated; it’s systematic and it’s all-encompassing to that degree, Mr. Speaker.
A 2002 book by Rigby that tried to apply new perspectives on bullying said that bullying involves six criteria. It involves a desire to hurt. It involves a harmful action. It involves a power imbalance. It typically involves repetition. It involves an unjust use of power. It involves evident enjoyment—this is I think one of the most unfortunate parts of bullying—by the aggressor and generally a sense of being oppressed on the part of the victim. If there’s anything that speaks to a call to action on this file, it is very much related to those words, of trying to eliminate, if we can, this enjoyment by the aggressor when they are victimizing people. I think this is something that’s very important to suggest.
Now, the OECD report that I referenced talked about several different types of violence and bullying. There are six types. The first is a direct physical attack. The second is an indirect physical attack on belongings and property; we’re talking about vandalism. The third is a direct verbal attack, so that’s oral, or it might be a letter, might be a text message, might be an email or something you post online. There’s an indirect verbal attack, which is the spreading of rumours. The fifth is a social exclusion from normal group activities; and finally, institutional aggression/manipulation, which is setting unrealistic goals by groups.
I realize I’m out of time, Mr. Speaker. I hope to resume this debate when we do that. Thank you.
Second reading debate deemed adjourned.