By Don Hutchinson
As originally published in the National Post on December 14, 2011.
Dalton McGuinty, the man who would like to be remembered as Ontario’s “Education Premier,” has declared that all schools in his province — public, private and religious — must embark on anti-bullying initiatives, including the mandatory establishment of gay/straight alliance clubs for students. The campaign against bullying is a worthy one. But Mr. McGuinty’s approach stands in violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Premier stood with the Hubley family while announcing his newly proposed legislation. Only those who have lost a child can possibly comprehend what Allan and Wendy Hubley have experienced with the death of their 15-year-old son Jamie. Prior to his suicide, the Grade 10 student at Kanata, Ont.’s A.Y. Jackson Secondary School felt alienated and depressed, and described himself as “the only open gay guy in my school.” I can only imagine the level of bullying torment that Jamie Hubley experienced. I understand the Hubleys’ deep desire to ensure that no one else experiences what their son or they themselves have gone through. But his death is about more than anti-gay animus. There is a greater problem at play here — the character of today’s students.
It is not just respect for LGBT students that needs to be part of the curriculum in Canadian schools. Instruction and modelling of respect for all students should be part of the curriculum and the classroom environment. This does not mean all students must be forced to be friends, or agree with one another on all points. And, it does not mean that there can’t be debate or constructive disagreement. It does mean that bullying students on the basis of sexual orientation, race, religious beliefs, national or cultural origin or the several other prohibited grounds of discrimination under human rights laws should not be permitted, either by other students, teachers, administrators or those developing the curricula.
Over the years, parents of Christian students in Ontario’s public schools have contacted me with similar complaints about treatment of their children. One teenage girl was subjected to ridicule by a teacher and students in class, in the hallways (including notes left on and in her locker) and off school property because she objected to the depiction of Christianity in The Chrysalids, a book option from curriculum guidelines that the teacher decided to assign to the class. Another student’s parents were told by a school administrator that if they didn’t like what was going on in the school they should consider transferring their child to a private Christian school.
The remedy for bullying in our schools is not gay/straight alliance clubs, but rather proper character formation. Educators can’t do it alone, and their role is necessarily limited. Parents, churches and others need to be engaged. The foundation of our free and democratic society includes respect for all persons. This foundation needs also to be present in our education system.
Further, Canadian and international law recognize that it is the right of parents to determine the education of their children. Before overriding the choices parents make in education, Premier McGuinty and well-intentioned legislators should be reminded that this is not a right to be overridden casually. There is an obvious constitutional violation in forcing religiously based schools to establish clubs not endorsed by the faith community, parents or students, or a curriculum that disrespects their beliefs.
The children of all Canadians — who are subject to the curricula of the various Ministries of Education across the country — deserve the opportunity to learn ABCs, 123s and the traits of good character, including respect for others (even those with whom they disagree). The environment in which children learn these things should be free from bullying and harassment. And neither they, nor their parents, should be bullied by any provincial premier in the process.