Bill 13: The Accepting Schools Act

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Today the Standing Committee on Social Policy of the government of Ontario held hearings on Bill 13, The Accepting Schools Act. The Liberal minority government hopes to pass the Bill before the end of this session of the provincial legislature.

The Bill introduces two important tools to combat homophobic human rights abuses against queer youth in public schools.

First: Social science research strongly supports the passage of Bill 13.
Empirical  research shows that gay, lesbian and transgendered students disproportionately suffer homophobic human rights abuses in our schools, and that this has adverse consequences for them, including increased rates of suicide.
 The research also clearly shows that when schools take steps to stop homophobic bullying, and create an anti-homophobic environment ALL students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, have better physical and mental health.
 Gay, lesbian and transgendered students also show significantly fewer negative impacts in such an environment.
Bill 13 takes concrete steps to put this empirical data into action by mandating anti-homophobic policies in all public schools, and introducing progressive discipline for students who participate in homophobic bullying. 
Second: Bill 13 finally brings Ontario in line with our human rights obligations to gay, lesbian and transgendered youth.

 It is clear law that school boards must provide a safe learning environment free from discriminatory harassment, for all students.In fact, failing to take steps such as those outlined in Bill 13 opens the Ontario government and individual school boards to possible litigation.
In 2005 in the Jubran case The BC Court of Appeal upheld a decision by the The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal against a British Columbia school board, and the subsequent leave to appeal brought by the school board  was denied by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The tribunal found that the homophobic harassment of Azmi Jubran, a public school student, negatively affected his full participation in his high school educational experience; and it concluded that he was discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation.
 The school board was held liable for the discrimination because of the ineffective discipline strategy it applied and for its failure to promote a climate of understanding, mutual respect and equality of dignity in the student population.
More specifically, the school board had not taken proper measures to address homophobia or homophobic harassment on a general level. Research shows that groups such as Gay-straight alliances have been shown to reduce homophobia and homophobic harassment.
Bill 13 takes major strides towards making a safe learning environment a reality for all youth in Ontario's publicly funded schools by allowing students in ANY publicly funded school to set up a gay-straight alliance.
Angela Cameron is a Professor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.

Designed by Rachel Gold.