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Christian group critical of Bill 18

Points to other factors that cause bullying

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The Selinger government's anti-bullying bill doesn't recognize the true nature of bullying in Canada, a group that represents Canadian evangelical Christians says.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) said Wednesday its research shows children are mean to one another based on body image or appearance, school grades or marks, and cultural background and race -- bullying based on sexual orientation is far down the list.

The EFC says one survey showed body image alone accounted for 38 per cent of cases of bullying; grades or marks accounted for 17 per cent; and cultural background for 11 per cent.

EFC lawyer Faye Sonier said based on that, Manitoba's Bill 18 does not fully recognize those types of bullying.

Sonier said Bill 18 instead says school must accommodate pupils who want to establish and lead activities and organizations that promote gender equity, anti-racism, disabilities and gay-straight alliances.

"You have to ask yourself why then is the province focusing on these four clubs or showing more concern for them than the student who is bullied because of the way he looks," Sonier said.

"This can be interpreted as government expressing concern for some student over others."

Sonier said for Bill 18 to be more equitable, it has to be reworded to include anti-bullying clubs.

"Parents and teachers can tailor the clubs to the circumstances their schools and communities face," she said.

Bill 18 has been a hot-button issue in the province for more than a month with some critics, including Manitoba senior federal cabinet minister Vic Toews, saying it infringes on religious freedom because it requires religious schools to accommodate student-led gay-straight alliance activities.

Education Minister Nancy Allan said Wednesday Bill 18 does include all forms of bullying by its very definition of bullying. The bill says bullying is a behaviour that's intended to cause, or should be known to cause, fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other forms of harm to another person's body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property.

"We believe that our legislation will take action in regards to providing an opportunity for all students to feel safe," Allan said Wednesday.

Allan cited the work of University of Winnipeg education associate professor Catherine Taylor, who has found homophobia is widespread in many schools with some school officials turning a blind eye.

Progressive Conservative education critic Kelvin Goertzen said what the EFC has found regarding bullying corresponds to what parents and others have been telling him.

"Kids are bullied for a whole host of reasons," he said.

"We need a bill that will protect all kids who are bullied for any reason and this bill doesn't do that."

The Tories are currently conducting a survey on Bill 18 -- it's found on the party's website -- to get a sense of what Manitobans think and then to introduce amendments to the bill after the legislature resumes sitting April 16.

The Progressive Conservative's Bill 18 survey says:

Of the 1,401 responses so far:

-- 78 per cent say the NDP's definition of bullying in Bill 18 is too broad.

-- 83 per cent say any bullying legislation should apply equally to students, school staff and volunteers.

The Tories' survey is at www.surveymonkey.com/s/Bill18Questionnaire.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2013 A7

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