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MP Bruinooge says Bill 18 could infringe on religious freedoms

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Winnipeg Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge said today he believes the NDP’s Bill 18 could infringe the religious freedoms of other faiths besides some Christian groups.

But Manitoba’s education minister Nancy Allan says she is unwilling to make exceptions to the government’s anti-bullying bill to accommodate faith-based groups.

Bruinooge also said the anti-bullying bill should provide exceptions for religious schools from the parts of the bill they feel violates their religious freedom.

He said letters sent by leaders Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, and Coptic communities to Premier Greg Selinger detail their concerns that Bill 18 could trample their religious freedoms in what they preach and teach.

He said in a statement he’s written a letter to Premier Greg Selinger, detailing the concerns from Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, and Coptic communities on Bill 18 that share a concern their religious freedoms could be infringed upon.

"I think they have valid concerns and I support them," the Winnipeg South MP said.

Bruinooge is the second MP to enter the debate on Bill 18. Last week Public Safety Minister and Steinbach MP Vic Toews said court action might be required to see if Bill 18 violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms on religious grounds.

Nancy Allan said Friday that Bill 18 is going to provide "safe and caring learning environments for all students."

And she’s not prepared to make changes to accommodate some groups who claim the proposed legislation infringes on their religious freedoms.

"We are not in the process of making any exceptions for faith-based groups. We have faith-based groups that support the legislation," Allan said Friday in the face of increased pressure to amend the legislation from federal and provincial Conservative politicians and religious groups.

Allan said she wouldn’t absolutely rule out amendments to the bill, which was introduced in the legislature in December and will be debated this spring.

But she said no substantive changes are being contemplated — and certainly not any that would allow some schools to be exempt from the legislation.

"At the end of the day, we’re going to provide a safe and caring learning environment for all of our students in all of our schools in the province of Manitoba," the minister said.

Allan introduced Bill 18 last fall in part in response to the suicide of Amanda Todd, a Grade 10 student from British Columbia who had posted a revealing picture of her breasts and then was hounded on the Internet.

She took her life Oct. 10 last year. Todd, 15, posted a video on YouTube in which she used flash cards to tell of her experience of being bullied.

Allan's bill, which is not yet law, says schools must promote gender equity, anti-racism and the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

It also says schools must 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."

In one letter to the premier, Rabbi Avrohom Altein of the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Learning Centre said while he supports efforts to protect children from bullies, Bill 18 should not come at the expense of embracing "every opinion and every behaviour."

"We each have different and often opposing beliefs in politics, religion and moral," he said in his letter. "Orthodox Judaism believes in the sanctity of the Bible that rejects homosexuality, as do other great religions. That is not because of intolerance of people that have a natural inclination towards such lifestyles."

Progressive Conservative Education Critic Kelvin Goertzen said the four letters demonstrate that opposition to Bill 18 is not just confined to some Christian groups.

"The debate is much wider than has been suggested by the minister," Goertzen said, adding that alone should tell the Selinger government that significant changes are needed to Bill 18 before it becomes law.

The Tories are currently soliciting opinions on Bill 18 on their web page.

Goertzen said these changes include a better definition of bullying — that it’s a series of events, not just a single instance—and that consequences to bullying are also properly defined in the bill.


Updated on Friday, March 15, 2013 at 12:12 PM CDT: updates

4:44 PM: updates with comments from Nancy Allan

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