Legislation‎ > ‎

April 17, 2012

ACCEPTING SCHOOLS ACT, 2012 /
LOI DE 2012 POUR
DES ÉCOLES TOLÉRANTES

Resuming the debate adjourned on April 4, 2012, on the motion for second reading of the following bill:

Bill 13, An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters / Projet de loi 13, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l’éducation en ce qui a trait à l’intimidation et à d’autres questions.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Further debate?

Ms. Sylvia Jones: Thank you, Speaker, and good morning. It is a pleasure to join the debate on Bill 13. I’m happy to rise today and to comment on such an important issue.

As we know, over the last number of years, the need for serious anti-bullying initiatives in Ontario has become particularly urgent, and as a parent, I’ve seen it first-hand. I’ve seen it with my peers, my friends as they talk about what they have to deal with in the school system, and so I’m pleased, actually, that we’re trying to bring forward some legislation here that will try to deal with it.

Therefore, let me say that I must commend both the Minister of Education and my colleague from Kitchener for bringing forth legislation. It is clearly an attempt on both of their parts—and I know that my colleagues in the NDP caucus have also been active on it—to try to deal with an issue that is not an easy fix. I think if we’ve seen one thing in this debate, it’s that there is no easy fix for how we’re going to deal with bullying in our schools, in our society.

Much to my and I think every other parent’s frustration, bullying seems to have mutated in recent years to something far more vicious than any of us would have been used to or seen when we went through the school system. It’s truly saddening to consider the many new forms of torment that children are suffering and do suffer at the hands of a bully, particularly as we widen our social circles with Facebook and other electronic forms of communication, which, while they have a benefit of widening our circle of interest, also have an ability to—how shall I say?—do the pile-on very quickly, and that’s where bullying has taken on a very different form in today’s society.

The very word “bully” used to be associated with lost lunch money and broken sandcastles. Of course, now we know of far too many examples where it has a much more sinister association. Cyberbullying, text threats, vicious beatings and highly hateful discrimination are now commonly associated with bullying, and rightfully so, Speaker, because these heinous things do occur and bullying does often reach these extremes. While awareness of this fact is critical, it’s also equally imperative that action complements awareness. The members of this House, Speaker, must act to combat bullying in our schools and make sure that every Ontario child is happy going to school in the morning and as well when they are coming home in the afternoon.

I think it’s fitting at this time to take note of one member in particular who has worked very hard to both raise awareness about and put an end to bullying in our schools. The member of which I speak, of course, is Elizabeth Witmer, the MPP for Kitchener–Waterloo. As a former teacher, board chair, critic and Minister of Education, Mrs. Witmer has brought a great deal of wisdom and expertise to this debate on bullying, and I would urge, encourage in any way possible, that we incorporate and we listen to that depth of knowledge that we have sitting on this side.

Simply because we are on this side of the House does not mean that we do not have any ideas, and if there is an example of it right now, it is the private member’s bill that Mrs. Witmer took three years to debate, to discuss, to have consultation with before she was prepared to put it into the chamber and debate. I guess I am disappointed that the Minister of Education hasn’t accepted that offer of assistance, accepted that offer of help from the member from Kitchener–Waterloo, because I think there’s a lot to be gained there, and it is not for a partisan reason. It is not for a political gain. It is, quite frankly, because she wants to help and because she wants to make it better for all students in our school system.

Before the constituency week, we heard the member from Nepean–Carleton, our education critic, relate some terribly heart-wrenching stories of her friends, the Hubley family, who tragically lost their son Jamie to the senseless, heartless persecution that too often characterizes bullying today. Speaker, as my friend and fellow member said so graciously, we owe it to the Hubleys and every family in Ontario touched by these cruel actions to prevent these kinds of tragedies from ever occurring again. After hearing the story of Jamie and the many other children who suffer needlessly, I’d be shocked if there was even one member left in this chamber who thought Ontario students don’t need legislation preventing that kind of brutality.

This brings me to the legislation before us. About four months ago, there were two competing bills introduced in this chamber back to back. The Liberal government introduced Bill 13, and the PC opposition, through the member from Kitchener–Waterloo, introduced Bill 14. While these bills are greatly different in their approach, they were born of the same positive and noble intention, namely that never again in our province should a student feel so isolated, so alone, so depressed as a result of bullying that they should do the unthinkable and take their own life. It is unfortunate, Speaker, that, yes, there may be some extreme cases, and the fact that if even one of these tragedies occurs, that we didn’t try to prevent it. If there was ever a time or a subject to unite, to unify the provinces in this chamber, this should be it.

I’ve studied both bills and I’ve listened to the competing arguments and I have great respect for the authors of both bills for their passion, their enthusiasm and their dedication. But in my mind, Bill 14 takes a more comprehensive approach to eliminating bullying once and for all across Ontario. It is for this reason that I honestly believe Bill 14 is a superior bill to the one that we are debating here this morning, and I really do hope that there will be a—how shall I say?—meeting of the minds so that we can incorporate some of the positive ideas that my colleague from Kitchener–Waterloo has brought forward in her Bill 14, to be incorporated or replaced into Bill 13.

For example, in Bill 14, the definition of the actual word “bullying” is more thorough than in Bill 13, since it focuses on what constitutes bullying and how it affects the victim. I feel this is a more radical approach as opposed to focusing on the reason for bullying, which is relative.

Bill 14, by design, includes all conceivable reasons a child may be bullied. Moreover, it also takes into account the wide-ranging effects bullying has on the victim, the bully themselves, the school environment, the education process and the family.

This comprehensive nature is also reflected in Bill 14’s specific focus on cyberbullying, something Bill 13 is lacking. In today’s day and age, we are constantly exposed to information 24 hours a day, and no one more so than our children. While this is often touted as a benefit of modern society, the dark side of this connectivity is that it means bullying can often become a 24-hour affair that very quickly escalates and gets out of control.

Bill 13 mentions cyberbullying in passing; however, it comes to nowhere near the thoroughness of Bill 14’s definition, which defines cyberbullying as creating an anonymous webpage, 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.

After reviewing Bill 13, I’ve noted it requires school boards to issue biannual surveys to students in order to collect information on the success of boards’ policies and plans. This information, however, is for internal board use only. I guess what frustrates me is that it seems to be another process-oriented idea where we have more paperwork and more surveys to fill out, and yet we’re not actually dealing with the issue faced in front of us.

I know that my time is coming to a close, but it does remind me of another issue that we have before the chamber, and that, of course, is the frustration where we are trying to get into the process of what is happening at Ornge. For that reason, I must call for adjournment of the debate until we get the select committee on Ornge.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Dufferin–Caledon has requested adjournment of the debate. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour, say “aye.”

All those not in favour, say “no.”

I believe the noes have it.

Call in the members. This will be a 30-minute bell.

The division bells rang from 0913 to 0943.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): I’d ask all members to take their seats. Order. I’d ask all members to take their seats.

Ms. Jones has moved adjournment of the debate.

All those in favour will rise and remain standing to be counted.

All those opposed will please rise and remain standing to be counted.

The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): The ayes are 28; the nays are 36.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): I declare the motion lost.

Further debate?

Interjection.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Oh, are you? Okay.

Questions and comments?

Ms. Cheri DiNovo: Thank you, Madam Speaker. It sounds like you’re suffering from the same voice issue others are.

It’s a pleasure to rise and speak to this bill. I certainly would ask both my friends from the Liberal Party and my friends from the Progressive Conservatives that they work together so that we can see this bill moving forward, because that’s what their children need. This is not about us. This is about our children, and this is about the safety of our children in our schools. We should be together at committee looking at both bills. There are strengths in both.

I also want to take this opportunity to give a shout out to the trans community, who had a historic victory yesterday in the Supreme Court of Ontario, who ruled that they do not have to have sex-reassignment surgery to be considered a trans person. That’s good. We have more work to do on that file.

But here’s the bullying bill. The bullying bill needs to move forward. Unfortunately, because of other issues pressing, it’s not. I would hope that both the minister, who brought in Bill 13, and of course the member from Kitchener–Waterloo, Liz Witmer, who brought in Bill 14, could get together and speak and make this happen. That’s my ardent wish, and my ardent wish is the wish of the LBGT community, and it is the wish of our schools, including OECTA, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. Shout outs to them, because everyone who is concerned about our children is concerned about their safety.

We need something in place by September. To get it in place by September we need to get it to committee now. That’s our fervent belief in the New Democratic Party, and Andrea Horwath’s fervent belief. We hope that both the members opposite and the members next to us share in that belief for the future of our students. Thank you.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): The Minister of Education.

Hon. Laurel C. Broten: Thank you very much, Speaker. I want to use my time that I have to speak today to encourage my friends on the opposite side of the House to join with us in our endeavour to see this bill passed so that we can have it in place in schools before September.

We are committed to working with our colleagues in opposition to make this legislation as strong as possible. I’m pleased to tell this House that I have been in touch with MPP Witmer. I have sent her a letter with a long list of items that we’d like to include in the Accepting Schools Act from Bill 14. But I want to be clear that it is imperative that the procedural games in the House end so that this bill can go to committee, so that we can hear from Ontarians, so that we can see this legislation in our schools in September.

Ontario students depend on us in this Legislature to be responsible, to understand that they need to be safe in our schools, to make this bill as strong as possible. I can tell you, Madam Speaker, that we’re absolutely committed to doing that. Both bills raise important, important issues, and we look forward to working. But I do want to say that it is absolutely critical that we acknowledge that Bill 13 speaks widely to the issues that students face in our schools.

I just want to take the last moments that I have to read a section from the preamble, just so that Ontarians watching today will know what the bill is about: “Recognize that a whole-school approach is required and that everyone—government, educators, school staff, parents, students and the wider community—has a role to play in creating a positive school climate, preventing inappropriate behaviour such as bullying, sexual assault, gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia.”

We believe that all students have the right to have a school climate that is safe and accepting for us. That’s what Bill 13 speaks to. I hope that we will be able to see this debate conclude and move on and get this bill in our schools to where it needs to be so that Ontario students are protected.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Thank you. The member for Durham.

Mr. John O’Toole: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I appreciate the member from Dufferin–Caledon. I think she brought a very balanced commentary to Bill 13, paying respect, of course, to the member from Kitchener–Waterloo on Bill 14. It’s in that spirit of co-operation that I think both sides of the House are trying to move forward to end bullying. But even the tone this morning of the Minister of Education, who’s here, the ultimatum kind of minister I call her—she’s given that same thing to the teacher unions, the sort of “my way or the highway”—that’s sort of like a bullying culture that I’m starting to pick up. I think it’s critical that she says that we do have this in place, but she’s not really clearly explaining the motive for the procedural wrangling here.

0950

The government and the opposition passed a motion in this House that there would be a select committee. That select committee would be on Ornge. Now, she’s leaving the impression that this is about Bill 13. It’s not about that at all. It’s about Ornge and the waste and scandalous spending on an issue; we insist there be a select committee.

For the clarification of the minister trying to leave the impression that procedural wrangling here was based on Bills 13 and 14, it’s not at all. It’s based on the inability of the Liberal government, under Premier McGuinty, to deal fairly with the people. In fact, on that bill there, they’re bullying us. They really are. They won’t have a select committee. They’re using all sorts of procedural standing order issues, with their House leader carrying the sword.

But getting back to Bill 13, I would put on the table that we all respect the fact that there should be opposition totally to any form of bullying. That’s a given. We have to find a compromise here to make this happen, and I would put on the table the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ document Respecting Difference. I think that’s a very good starting point, that we could have an agreement and move forward, as the minister suggests we should.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Comments and questions.

Ms. Teresa J. Armstrong: I’m glad to be here this morning and I want to congratulate the member from Dufferin–Caledon on her 10-minute thoughts on the anti-bullying Bill 13.

In her speech, she recognized the efforts of the Minister of Education and also the efforts of the member for Kitchener–Waterloo. I think recognizing the fact that two members have brought the same concerns over the same issue should make us think that we need to work together on this bill, improving Bill 13. I think Bill 14, which the member from Kitchener–Waterloo brought forward, has a lot of valid points and I think they really need to be looked at when it goes to committee—Bill 13—to incorporate some of these great ideas.

We also, the NDP, the New Democrats, have a lot of feedback that we can offer into Bill 13.

Bullying, of course, has come from the time when we went to school, escalated to the time that it is here today. One of those things is the cyberbullying, and cyberbullying needs to be addressed, which is one of the items in Bill 14 that was brought forward. I think that’s something that really needs to be looked at. Bullying under cyberbullying is basically a faceless act and it can hurt. Words sometimes hurt more than actions for children.

So I encourage the government to work together. This, to me, is the purest of issues, a nonpartisan issue. We all have children, we all have family that we certainly don’t want this to have a negative impact on—bullying. So to make this a better environment in our schools, let’s work together in the House so that we can set the tone that we are going to work together to help eliminate bullying.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): The member for Dufferin–Caledon has two minutes to respond.

Ms. Sylvia Jones: Thank you, Speaker, and thank you to the members from High Park, Durham, London–Fanshawe and the minister.

I must focus my comments on what the minister chose to speak of. She used words like “have this bill passed,” “procedural games.” Well, quite frankly, Minister, those procedural games are us making our point. They are clearly laid out in the standing orders. We have every right to do it. It’s called the will of the Legislature. We voted to ensure that Ornge go to a select committee and to start looking at what the issues are. We need to find out what is going on at Ornge. And the fact that you’re using “procedural games” as your response to Bill 13 and Bill 14, I find quite offensive.

What I would like to see is for the minister to stand up and say what kind of discussions she’s had with the member from Kitchener–Waterloo. You don’t need to send a letter. She’s right there. You could actually have a meeting and have a meeting of the minds, because there are some excellent ideas in Bill 14. If you would only open your ears and listen instead of only talking and saying, “We must do it this way because we’re Liberals and we’re the smart ones”—it doesn’t work that way. We’re legislators; we all come here with good ideas. If you would start listening instead of just talking, you might actually come forward with some positive suggestions and we could solve this issue.

You and I are both mothers, and we know what’s happening in our classrooms, we know what’s happening in our arenas, in our communities, and for heaven’s sakes, let’s try to solve it. And you need to solve it not by writing letters but by actually sitting down and talking to someone who has done the research, who has spoken to the school boards, who has spoken to the principals and the schools and the parents, and I just wish you would do that now.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Further debate?

Mr. Todd Smith: It’s an honour to rise today to speak to Bill 13. I’d like to congratulate the member from Dufferin–Caledon and her passion when it comes to this issue and the fact that what the Minister of Education said was completely bogus and did not deal at all with what we’ve been fighting for, which is a select committee on Ornge. That’s something that the government has ignored, despite the fact that the Minister of Health, on probably 12 or 15 different occasions in this House, said she would do what the will of the House was and we would move forward with a select committee on Ornge. I’ll get back to Ornge in a moment.

I have listened with great interest as several of my colleagues have risen in the House to speak both to this bill and to Bill 14, which the House passed some three weeks ago, four weeks ago, something like that. There has been a lot of contentious debate in the House on this issue; there are a lot of good reasons and bad reasons for that. On an issue like bullying, that impacts our kids every day at school, this shouldn’t be a contentious issue here in the Legislature, but it has become that way because of the political games that have been played by the current government.

I have no doubt that there are members of every party in the House who are genuinely interested in combating the bullying epidemic. There are a lot of parents who are here in the House and have been speaking on this. There are a lot of former teachers who are here and know the situation in our schools. Madam Speaker, I remember listening to the member for Trinity–Spadina in the House just a couple of weeks ago as he gave a rather passionate analysis of both bills alongside each other and which one had nothing in it—the government bill—and which one was comprehensive, and that would be Bill 14, put forward by my colleague here in the Progressive Conservative caucus, Elizabeth Witmer, from Kitchener.

It has been speeches like the one given by the member from Trinity–Spadina that show that there is a difference between these two bills, and there is a very serious matter at hand here that has to be dealt with. There are three-plus years’, or two-plus years’, anyway, worth of research and thought that went into the bill that Liz Witmer put forward, and I don’t know how much went into the bill that the current government has put forward, but by the flimsy nature of it, it doesn’t seem like a lot has gone into it.

When the issues are big enough and pervasive enough, we are actually capable of overcoming our differences in this House, and we have many differences, and that’s obvious.

What is discouraging to me is that this bill is rather typical of the way the government has crafted policy over much of the last eight years. This government has used policy as a way of saying that some people in Ontario are just a little more important than others. Nobody on the other side seems willing to say why a kid who’s bullied because of their weight or a kid who’s bullied because of their race or religion or economic class is any less worthy of special protection or special designation by the government. That’s because they aren’t; all kids should be treated as equals.

When you’re a parent, as I am of two young daughters, and your kid is being bullied, which one of my daughters was in school, you want to do everything you can to protect them. You want them to be safe at school. You want them to be safe on the school bus when they’re on their way to school. Unfortunately for my daughter, when she was in grade 1, she didn’t have that safety. She was bullied. And she’s a wonderful, normal young girl who did absolutely nothing to provoke any kind of bullying, but that’s the nature of bullying. Sometimes it doesn’t need a reason or an excuse. So it’s very frustrating to me to see the way that the political games are being played with this legislation right now. Why not go with the best bill possible to give the teachers and the educators and the administrators the weapons and the information and the tools that they need to combat bullying in our schools?

1000

It’s inconceivable to me and to any parent that someone wouldn’t see their child the way a mom or dad sees them. Of course, as I sit here as a father of two, I can’t understand why other people wouldn’t see that these are children and they need to be protected.

As I said in my past speakings here in the Legislature, I’m a long-time coach of young people, young girls in particular, when it comes to hockey and, in the past, soccer and baseball. We teach them to stand up for themselves. We give them confidence, and I think the same thing should be happening in our schools right now. They need to have the tools at their disposal, the administrators and teachers and the principals, to ensure that our children are safe and that they are given the space that they need to thrive in our schools.

As I said, Madam Speaker, this is not atypical of the way, though, that this government does business by and large here in this House. The people in this House have heard me talk about Prince Edward county in the past, which is in my riding. The county is the perfect example of exactly how divisive this government’s policies are. For some reason, when we’re talking about power projects, the citizens in Mississauga are just a little bit more important to this government and worthy of more protection than the citizens of Prince Edward county are. We saw that illustrated perfectly in the last election. Even in the county itself, the project has proven to be an instrument of division there. There are families in the county that go back to the 18th century. In parts of the county, knowing someone’s last name is often enough to know if their family is from South Marysburgh or Sophiasburgh ward. As it has with this bill, though, the government has used policy as an instrument of division, and that’s what it’s aimed to be: an instrument of division in this House.

It’s hard, Madam Speaker, for me to stand up in the House and lend any support to legislation whose chief accomplishment is to tell one group of people that they’re more important and more deserving of protection than another group of, in this case, children. All kids are worthy of protection from bullies.

In the Quinte region, we’ve been fortunate to have some great parents who stepped up and made this an issue for our community. What we’re here to do, and I believe that every member of the House has an interest in this, is to ensure that we’re not here again any time soon to discuss a tragedy like one that my friend the member from Nepean–Carleton spoke about a few weeks ago, when she discussed what happened to the young figure skater named Jamie Hubley. I legitimately believe that there is a genuine interest on behalf of everyone in this House to prevent another kid and another family from going through that kind of ordeal.

I do know that back in the Quinte region today, administrators at the Hastings and Prince Edward school board have formed a partnership with the Hastings and Prince Edward Learning Foundation. They’re actually having an anti-bullying symposium for all the secondary schools in our region. Tonight, they’re having a cyberparenting 101, which is parenting the always-on generation, which infers the fact that our kids are always on because they’re always on the Internet, it seems, and there’s a lot of cyberbullying going on there, of course. The special presentation is taking place tonight at Quinte Secondary School for parents from 7 until 9. Then tomorrow, there’s actually a symposium that’s taking place at Quinte Secondary School for students and staff in partnership with the learning foundation as well, and it’s taking place all day tomorrow from 8:30 until 5. The keynote address there is “Virtual World-Real Consequences” by Bill Belsey, who’s the president of the bullying.org site on the Internet and cyberbullying.org as well.

As I say, it is an important issue that is being dealt with at the local level by parents, by our Hastings and Prince Edward Learning Foundation and by our school board. But what we need to do here in the Legislature of Ontario is get this legislation passed so that we can actually get things moving in the right direction and give the administrators the tools that they need.

That’s why I insist that Bill 14 is the right way to go. It’s a far more comprehensive anti-bullying bill. It focuses on prevention, accountability and awareness. Bill 14, put forward by Liz Witmer, provides students, parents and educators with a strategy to raise awareness and prevent bullying, as well as the process to resolve it. It also collects data and reports to the ministry. The Liberal bill, unfortunately, does none of these things. That’s why we need to see some real action by the Minister of Education and Liz Witmer in merging Bills 13 and 14 and putting them together in one large, comprehensive bill that can actually do the job that all of us I think believe is the appropriate thing to do, and that’s do what we can to end bullying in our schools.

Madam Speaker, I’d also like to tell the House quickly about Mary. She’s a 10-year-old at Parkdale public school who took her campaign against bullying to the local press. The Belleville Intelligencer did a story about a month ago as this whole debate was starting. Mary was picked on because some other kids thought she was a tomboy. She actually went into a washroom at the school and pulled down her pants so the other kids could see that she wasn’t a boy and she was in fact a girl. These are the kinds of things that are occurring in our schools and these are the kinds of things that need to come to an end quickly.

We also need to get an end to this whole Ornge debacle. We need to form a select committee and have it formed now, and that’s why I am moving adjournment of the debate.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Mr. Smith has moved adjournment of the debate. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?

All those in favour, say “aye.”

All those opposed, say “nay.”

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

Comments