The Canadian province of Ontario has passed a wide-ranging anti-bullying bill which mandates that students be allowed to form Gay-Straight Alliances in schools, including those run by the Catholic Church.
The state’s legislature passed Bill 13 easily by a 65 to 36 majority, and the Education Minister, Laurel Broten, said that it is expected to become law when students return to school this September.
Premier Dalton McGunity told reporters that this legislation would be accepted in all schools, despite opposition from the Catholic Church and its associated educational institutions.
“There are values that transcend any one faith,” Mr McGuinty told Canadian newspapers, adding: “And if you talk to parents, they’ll tell you. They want their kids to be respected and accepted, they want their schools to be caring places, ideally we’d like to see them as a bit of an extension of the home in terms of the comfort level that our kids might enjoy inside their school.”
Ms Broten said that students and families in Catholic schools, as well as teachers working therein, had supported the measure.
However, trustees of Ontario Catholic School had asked provincial politicians not to pass an amendment to the bill which effectively stripped them of the power to prevent students from calling anti-homophobia clubs as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). The Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins, said GSAs, as they existed in the US, were in direct conflict with Catholic teaching.
Another organisation, called Campaign Life Coalition, wanted the entire bill to be scrapped, saying it was a backdoor attempt to introduce a controversial sex education programme, and called on Catholics to use their constitutional protection of religious freedom to oppose the bill.
Mary Ellen Douglas, spokesperson for the group, said in a statement: “Dalton McGuinty and those MPPs [i.e., Member of Provincial Parliament] who voted in favour of this legislation have declared war against faith communities and made all Canadians vulnerable,” adding, “They’ve now set a precedent which all Canadians should find alarming. The state interference in Catholic and public schools takes away fundamental rights and puts all Canadians at risk.”
The Tory leader Tim Hudak, and other Conservative MPPs all voted against the bill, the Toronto Sun reports, though they say the opposition is not on religious grounds, but that each school should be free to implement its own measures. That is countered by the New Democratic Party, which pushed for the legislation, whose leader, Cheri DiNovo, drew attention to a recent spate of high-profile teen suicides in the province due to homophobic bullying, and to similar incidents in the United States.