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No substantive changes contemplated: Allan

Minister says she's satisfied with bill, despite opposition

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Manitoba's education minister reiterated the government's unwillingness to alter its anti-bullying bill despite increased pressure on Friday from federal Conservative politicians and religious communities.

Nancy Allan wouldn't absolutely rule out amendments to Bill 18, but she said the government is comfortable with the proposed legislation and unwilling to make any substantive changes.

"We are not in the process of making any exceptions for faith-based groups. We have faith-based groups that support the legislation," Allan told reporters after participating in a funding announcement for a community arena.

"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."

Bill 18 was introduced in the legislature in December. It will be debated this spring.

On Friday, Winnipeg Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge said he believes the NDP's Bill 18 could infringe on the religious freedoms of other faiths besides some Christian groups.

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

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

He said in a statement he's written a letter to Selinger, detailing the concerns from those faith communities.

"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.

Allan introduced Bill 18 last fall in part in response to last fall's suicide of Amanda Todd, a Grade 10 student from British Columbia who had been blackmailed, taunted in person and online and physically attacked. Prior to her death, Todd, 15, had posted a video on YouTube in which she used flash cards to tell of her experience of being bullied.

Allan's bill 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 opposition to Bill 18 is not just confined to some Christian groups.

"The debate is much wider than has been suggested by the (education) minister," Goertzen said, adding that alone should tell the Selinger government significant changes are needed before the bill becomes law.


Manitoba faith leaders on anti-bullying bill

"Parents choose a faith-based school with the expectation of a certain faith-based environment. This reduces that choice."

-- Ismael Mukhtar, president of the Manitoba Islamic Association


"There is an important distinction between the respect that must be given to every human being, as opposed to the notion that we must somehow embrace every opinion and every behaviour."

-- Rabbi Avrohom Altein, director of Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Learning Centre


"We are very concerned that Bill 18 infringes upon our constitutionally protected right of freedom of religion and conscience by removing the discretion faith-based schools have regarding the activities that happen within their schools."

-- Amarjeet Warraich, president of the Manitoba Sikh Cultural & Seniors Centre


"As you know, many new Canadians in Manitoba and many of our province's early settlers came to Canada because of the freedom of religion it provides. We believe Bill 18 erodes that freedom and we ask that you make the appropriate changes to safeguard freedom of religion."

-- Adel Shenoda, secretary of the Coptic Heritage Society of Manitoba

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2013 A7

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