Update Regarding the Accepting Schools Act

May 31, 2012

Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, was introduced by the government on November 30, 2011. Its stated purpose is to provide additional protections to students who are victims of bullying.

Bill 13 was presented to the legislative assembly for first reading, along with a Conservative member’s private bill, Bill 14, titled the Anti-Bullying Act. Since that time, both bills have been referred together for public hearings before the Standing Committee on Social Policy.

Both Bill 13 and 14 constitute attempts to address bullying by amending the Act to add specific measures regarding bullying. Some of the main aspects that these bills have in common are the addition of a definition of bullying and the explicit obligations placed upon schools and school boards to ensure education with respect to bullying, as well as the inclusion of sanctions and reporting obligations for occurrences of bullying.

Bill 13 proposes a number of amendments to the Act which differ from the ones made in Bill 14.  One of the more contentious proposed amendments, which has received significant coverage in the press, is to include an obligation for all schools and school boards to permit student led groups with a goal to “promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name”.

In an effort to clarify this section of Bill 13, the government introduced a motion on Friday, May 25, 2012, to amend the section to add the following sections:

Same, gay-straight alliance
(2) For greater certainty, neither the board nor the principal shall refuse to allow a pupil to use the name gay-straight alliance or similar name for an organization described in clause (1) (d).

Inclusive and accepting name
(3) The name of an activity or organization described in subsection (1) must be consistent with the promotion of a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils.

(4) A board shall comply with this section in a way that does not adversely affect any right of a pupil guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

If this amendment to Bill 13 is accepted, it is intended to require schools and school boards to permit groups under the name “gay-straight alliance” to be formed in schools.  Some members of Ontario’s Catholic community have been reported by the media as indicating requiring such groups in Catholic schools is contrary to their constitutionally protected right to Catholic education.

It is anticipated that Bill 13 in an amended version of some form will receive Royal Assent in June and require school boards to implement the new requirements on the return on students in September.


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