A letter to the editors of the Globe and Mail

I'm the founder and director of His Name Was Steven, an anti-bullying and teen suicide awareness organization with well over 5000 members, formed as a response to the suicide of my son due to bullying in 2006. I read your May 29th editorial comment on the current Gay/Straight Alliance controversy in Ontario schools with great interest. I am not Roman Catholic, or deeply religious, but it seems to me you are misrepresenting Cardinal Collins' comments and the content of law itself.

I testified at the recent standing Committee on Social Policy on May 14th at Queen's Park and I can tell you with absolute certainty that the vast majority of concerned parties testified that they are in fact against the law as written. I have been working with many parents, teachers, students and other concerned citizens for several years and know this to be true.

The issue is not, as your editorial implies, a matter of discrimination against gay students, the issue is what is lacking from the law - a broader and effective response to the problem, based on facts and concern for all students, not just the select few. Once again, the McGuinty government and their NDP supporters have shown that they have no interest in considering the concerns of those who testified, or the recommendations of the Drummond report, which suggested that they switch to "evidence based policy decisions". The fact that MPP Broten announced the recent change to the law within days of the end of the committee hearings speaks volumes of just how little this government cares about opinions that disagree with theirs. The timing of the announcement was no coincidence.

In your editorial, you stated that Cardinal Collins is "denying gay students the right to join a club with heterosexual students under the name gay-straight alliance..." This is not what the Cardinal stated in his communications with me or at his recent news conference. As I understand his views, the Cardinal is not against the protection of kids, whether gay or straight. Rather he (and thousands of us) are against the narrow minded and high handed way the law is being forced on all of us. As the Cardinal asked, "Why restrict the response to only one method?" His point was that the Accepting Schools Act is attempting to deal with the bullying epidemic through a single, simplistic technique which ignores the reality that homosexual students are not the sole victims of this epidemic. Your reference to gay students as the "historic victims of bullying" is also misleading, and implies that they are the only victims. They are far from the only kids taunted, assaulted and abused by bullies. Indeed, if judged by absolute numbers as opposed to the percentages broadly quoted in the media, they are in the minority.

You fail to note (as does bill 13) that heterosexual students are bullied every bit as often as gay students. The current form of bill 13 defines bullying victims solely as members of "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, two-spirited, intersexed, queer and questioning people", while lumping together all other victims with a broad array of school issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with bullying. A serious problem with the language as written is that most of those terms have no clear legal definition in Ontario and will restrict the definition of bullying victims to only students who self identify as a member of one of these groups. Effectively this means that to get help, a student will have to declare that they are gay! The bill even goes so far as to deliberately deny victims and their families any legal standing in the suspension/expulsion process, except as "... other concerned parties, as may be allowed ..." This is appallingly unfair.

Bill 14, introduced by the Conservatives, defines bullying and its victims based on the act of abuse involved, rather than by the description of the victim. This is an approach used extensively in other laws, with thousands of well tested precedents. Bill 13, as currently written, will almost certainly fail any constitutional challenge as a result of this badly written clause. The McGuinty government has demonstrated that despite the show of allowing committee hearings, they steadfastly refuse to even consider the sensible and workable suggestions of bill 14. Your editorial also completely ignores these legal problems with the bill, which even Mr McGuinty's own advisor on the issue has publicly stated his concerns with and opposition to.

The law also attempts to make the claim that "homophobia" is behind the bullying problem. Homophobia has no legal definition in this province, meaning that any challenge to it will certainly succeed, based on a lack of legal precedent to support it. This leaves the vast majority of bullied kids treated as second class, with no voice. My son was not gay, and neither are thousands of students bullied every single day in this province. This bill, if passed into law, will do absolutely nothing to help kids like him. Your editorial statement that "leaving out one group of victims defeats the law's purpose" contradicts the point you are trying to make. What about the other "group" - all the heterosexual students that are pointedly and deliberately ignored by this law? Are you attempting to suggest these other students are not deserving of protection?

Your editorial goes on to claim that the law will "allow ... that express name [for such clubs] if students so wish." This too is misleading. The bill actually states that if even one student demands this, it must be done, removing the authority of principals and other school administrators to have any say in the matter. This is allowing a minority of one to dictate school policy for all, which goes against the very foundation of a democracy.

Solving a complex problem with such narrow definitions and simplistic "progressive" methods is useless in the extreme. If, as your editorial states, that "public money [must] not be put to discriminatory uses", how does that not apply to this situation, where the largest group affected by a law is discriminated against?

Mike Urry

Founder and Director, His Name Was Steven