Manitoba’s anti-bullying bill (Bill 18) has caused a debate within the province of Manitoba that is dividing, rather than uniting, citizens. Hearings discussing the bill began Tuesday, Sept. 3 at the Manitoba Legislative Building and were slated to continue for 11 days. Three-hundred and seventeen individuals signed up to speak at the hearings.
St. Vital MLA Nancy Allan (NDP), told the Manitoban that the bill will be useful for schools, teachers, and students to prevent bullying and support those who are being bullied.
“Brian Pallister and the PC party, who have a long history of opposing equality rights by voting against equal marriage (and calling it a “social experiment”), and opposing the inclusion of sexual orientation in hate crime laws, have been opposed to this bill from the beginning,” said Allan.
“Their opposition, and what we’re hearing from their supporters, is opposition to students being allowed to create support groups for gay classmates.”
In Bill 18, also know as the Public Schools Amendment Act, “bullying” is defined as behaviour that: “is intended to cause, or should be known to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other forms of harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property; or is intended to create, or should be known to create, a negative school environment for another person.”
For some, the definition is too broad and has potential to be misused. The concept of “feelings” was an issue for David Dreidger, board chairperson of Steinbach Christian High School, because the defining line between bullying and hurt feelings can be blurred. Thus, a question of “who will be the one to decide?” was raised.
For concerned citizens like Lance Warkentin, the definition is not broad enough and is not inclusive of all children. Warkentin remarked that the bill does not address the most common cases of bullying. He asserted that individuals are often bullied based on aspects of their physical appearance.
Citizen Jen Haslam said the definition is vague, and questioned the bill’s true intentions.
“The bill is supposed to cause unity, but has been creating the opposite effect – religious schools cannot support gay-straight alliance groups,” stated Haslam.
The bill stipulates, “A respect from human diversity policy must accommodate pupils who want to establish and lead activities and organizations that: [ . . . ] use the name ‘gay-straight alliance’ or any other name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils.”
A question that persistently arose during the hearings was, “will legislation be effective at all?”
For some citizens, an overwhelming majority who cited extreme cases of bullying, the answer was “no.”
Manitoba resident Ken Haslam, for one, suggested asking questions that look to find the root cause of bullying, rather than intentions of labelling individuals. Haslam’s questions included, “what is the root of a bully? Do we have the right to label someone as a bully? Why does someone bully another person?”
Solutions to address perceived problem areas of the bill included using the human rights code as a point of reference; guaranteeing equitable coverage for all students; and ensuring freedom of speech.