Conservative Leader Brian Pallister says he fears Manitoba's proposed anti-bullying law, if passed, will be pounced on by schoolyard bullies to make false accusations against teachers.
Pallister said Friday he has met with "dozens of teachers" who are worried about being labelled a bully themselves if Bill 18 goes forward without amendment.
He said the bill's broad definition of bullying, which includes behaviour intended to harm someone's feelings or self-esteem, can be employed by bullies to turn the tables on teachers and administrators.
"(Teachers) need to be empowered, not disempowered," said Pallister, a former teacher. "This bill is dangerous if not amended."
Pallister invited reporters to his office Friday morning to discuss his reservations with the bill. Public hearings on Bill 18 begin Tuesday evening at the legislative building, and 317 Manitobans have registered so far to speak on it.
Pallister said his concerns about false allegations grow out of the personal experience of a friend. He said he knows of a teacher who was falsely accused of inappropriately touching a student. Although the accuser later admitted to lying, the educator's life was destroyed and he wound up committing suicide.
Although the Tories have voted against Bill 18 in the house, Pallister said he would support an amended version of the bill. He said the Conservatives have prepared several draft amendments but will not release them until the legislative committee hearings are completed.
Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson said while he appreciated the Conservative leader's concern for teachers, he disagreed with his thesis.
Bullies may well try to use the legislation to deflect teachers from challenging them on their own behaviour, as Pallister suggests, he said. But there are "legitimate processes" in place to deal with accusations against teachers.
The MTS is very supportive of the bill, he said, and teachers are not living in fear it may be used against them.
"Overwhelmingly, Bill 18 is something teachers are living in hope of," he said. "We need to know that when we are trying to step in and prevent the bullying of students... that the law and the minister and the Department of Education have our back."
He said that's what Bill 18 does.
Education Minister Nancy Allan said the Conservatives have opposed the bill from the beginning, and she disputes Pallister's contention they would support an amended document.
"This is another stonewalling tactic because they do not support Bill 18 and they don't support gay-straight alliances," she said.