A year to the day 15-year-old Amanda Todd hanged herself in her Port Coquitlam, B.C., home, the Manitoba government's anti-bullying legislation was put into law.
Bill 18 is, in part, the province's response to Todd's death -- the teenager took her own life after being relentlessly bullied. "It's kind of a bittersweet day," Education Minister Nancy Allan said Thursday following an event at Kelvin High School to mark Bill 18's proclamation.
'We heard very clearly from teachers that this bill will save lives' -- Education Minister Nancy Allan
"The genesis of Bill 18 started with her death when the nation was rocked by what happened. We realized we needed to up our game in regards to our laws in regards to cyberbullying.
"We heard very clearly from teachers that this bill will save lives."
Under Bill 18, the Safe and Inclusive Schools Act, schools in Manitoba are required to report and act on cyberbullying incidents even if they take place outside of school or after-hours; expand policies on the appropriate use of the Internet in schools to include social media, text messaging and instant messaging, and accommodate students who want to establish and lead activities and organizations, such as gay-straight alliances, that address all forms of bullying.
Allan said it was a coincidence the province picked the one-year anniversary of Todd's suicide to proclaim a bill that was passed Sept. 13.
The controversy surrounding Bill 18 erupted shortly after Allan introduced it on Dec. 4, 2012. Within days, it became a debate about whether it violated the constitutional rights of faith-based schools, fell short of properly defining bullying or outlined the repercussions for it.
"It's been an amazing journey," an emotional Allan said. "It's going to make a difference for young people."
Kelvin student John Manning, a member of the school's gay-straight alliance, said students in a GSA can become a voice for a school to educate what language and behaviour are not allowed, such as one student calling another a "faggot."
"Twice a week I hear that in the classroom," Manning said. "It's no better than the 'N' word, which is terrible to say, but people are apparently still OK with the saying the 'F' word, which I think indicates something about how society still treats the idea. It's one of those insults people still use.
"The statistics are that one in 10 people is not straight. That means there are two people in every classroom who are not straight and insulted every time you use that word."
He also said the bill is needed because there are still schools in Winnipeg that are loath to set up a gay-straight alliances because students fear being outcast and bullied. "Before we had a GSA, the GSA members had to meet underground," he said.
Under Bill 18, the province wants Appropriate Use of the Internet and Human Diversity policies to be in place in all school divisions and funded independent schools by June 30. Many schools already have policies that relate to respect for human diversity and homophobic bullying.
The anti-bullying plan will ask grades 4 to 12 students in 550 schools across Manitoba, in an online survey, what they would like to see in a more developed anti-bullying plan. It will also introduce a new provincial code of conduct that outlines the disciplinary consequences for bullying.