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A sign of good faith amid the uproar

Response to criticisms of anti-bullying bill

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A north Winnipeg church has waded into the debate over the NDP's anti-bullying law.

But Rev. Mary Best said a sign posted outside the Atlantic-Garden City United Church is intended to calm the waters, not stir the pot.

It's also in response to criticism against Bill 18 from some Christian groups, which claim the proposed legislation infringes on their constitutional right of religious freedom by stipulating Manitoba schools accommodate activities and clubs that promote understanding of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Best said that kind of thinking doesn't ring with the words of Jesus Christ.

"In the United Church of Canada, we feel that all people are created in God's image," she said Thursday. "We also believe that Jesus would not discriminate."

Best said the recent debate over Bill 18, particularly the position taken by some evangelical churches, does not represent the view of all Christians.

"We as Christians need to take a stand against bullying," she said, and noted the debate has sidetracked discussions in congregations and among the public on the real purpose of Bill 18 -- the need to protect children.

Best said she made the decision to put up the sign in discussion with several parishioners. The church recently celebrated its 85th anniversary at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Arlington Street.

Education Minister Nancy 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 relentlessly 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."

Late last week, federal Public Safety Minister and Steinbach MP Vic Toews said in a letter to his constituents he believes that last provision violates the Constitution by infringing on freedom of religion.

"If the provincial legislature does not amend Bill 18 to address concerns of faith-based organizations, school and communities, the only remedy may be an application to the courts to decide if the legislation is compliant with Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Toews said in the letter.

At a news conference Thursday at Pinkham Community School to announce supports for parents in dealing with child bullying, Allan refused to comment on Toews' criticisms.

But the education minister did say the province would be ready for any legal challenge of Bill 18.

"Obviously, we have legal drafts people looking at our legislation, and we will be prepared for whatever comes our way," she said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2013 A3

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