Education Minister Nancy Allan says Bill 18 is "great legislation" that will help create a respectful environment for school children.
Speaking to reporters hours before public hearings were to begin this evening, Allan also reiterated that she would not entertain substantive amendments to the bill.
"I won’t make any amendments that gut the bill," she said, adding she has yet to receive any proposed amendments from the Opposition Conservatives.
The NDP introduced its anti-bullying bill nine months ago. Yet it only passed second reading in the Manitoba legislature on Thursday. As of this afternoon, 318 presenters had registered to speak at committee hearings that could last for 10 days. Tonight’s hearings begin at 6 p.m. at the Legislative Building. About 25 Manitobans are scheduled to speak this evening.
Bill 18 attempts to prevent bullying in schools and promote equality based on gender, race, sexual orientation and other factors. A provision that would require schools to allow gay-straight alliance groups if students wished to establish them has drawn the most criticism.
Some religious schools have criticized the proposed law, saying it infringes on their religious freedoms.
The Opposition Conservatives have criticized the bill’s definition of bullying as too broad. They also deride it as lacking teeth to punish bullies.
On Friday, Conservative Leader Brian Pallister even expressed the concern that the proposed law could be used by bullies to make false accusations against teachers. However, the Manitoba Teachers Society said the same day that its members are supportive of the bill and are not unduly concerned at how bullies might use it to try to deflect their own behaviour.
Allan rejected the suggestion that Bill 18 infringes on religious freedoms. "Funded independent schools that are part of our education system have been our partners in creating safe and caring school environments since we introduced the Safe Schools Code of Conduct in 2004. It will not affect how religious schools teach the tenants of their faith in their school," she said this today.
Allan said the government is "comfortable" with its definition of bullying, and noted that the bill has received broad support.
"I have got almost every education partner in this province in support of this legislation. I have got school divisions from across this province in support of this legislation..." she said. "This is great legislation. It is going to support young people so that they can reach their full potential in school."
Among the presenters scheduled this evening are representatives with the Winnipeg School Division, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, the Manitoba Federation of Labour, the Manitoba School Boards Association, the Manitoba Bar Association, the United Church of Canada Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, the Two-Spirited People of Manitoba Inc., UNESCO Associated Schools Network, Augustine United Church, King’s School (a Winnipeg Christian school) and several private citizens.