Like virtually 100 per cent of Manitobans, I despise bullying. Ironically, if you asked a bully whether he or she considered it an acceptable practice, they would say "no." Despite a general abhorrence of the practice, there is no doubt it will take place. Children, like adults, can be mean.
There are many ways of being mean besides bullying. Although society has tried throughout the years to encourage people to be good and to respect one another, we have never met with ultimate success. Just because we cannot finish the job doesn't mean we should stop trying. Any efforts to decrease bullying and other forms of human disrespect for others should ordinarily be supported.
I was away from Manitoba when the so-called anti-bullying legislation was introduced. By the time I returned, a storm of controversy had arisen.
Why should there be controversy about a statute the purpose of which is to reduce a despicable practice? Although a good deal of the objections are based on religious grounds, I believe there are more significant objections that make the legislation ineffective and possibly counterproductive.
Bill 18 is an attempt by the legislature to impose morality and particular beliefs, an endeavour that has no place in a law-making body. To the extent that the bullying involves physical maltreatment or threats and intimidation, such conduct is already prohibited by the Criminal Code.
To the extent that the legislation attempts to impose morality, experience shows it will be futile and to some extent counterproductive, in that it will provide a false sense of security and lessen the need to create a climatic and attitudinal change in society generally.
Ever since I can remember, there has been in the schools and elsewhere a negative attitude to bullying. I do not believe that in our school system, the teachers have been indifferent to bullying. If the authorities became aware of bullies, they would be chastised and disciplined. Unless the bullies stop wanting to do it, the legislation will have no effect and would simply challenge them to find a way of doing it without getting caught. If legislation of this kind were effective, we could simplify the process. We could simply pass a statute with two sections.
Section 1 would read: "You must love your neighbour as yourself." Section 2 would require: "You must not do unto others that which you would not have others do unto you."
As we all know, an ordinance to these effects was passed at least 2,500 years ago, but human inhumanity has not been much affected.
I suspect the government has in mind a specific group whom the legislation is intended to protect. The bill specifically mentions gays and lesbians, which must refer to male and female homosexuals.
The bill requires the schools to create a school environment that accommodates gay-straight alliance clubs. I know of no existing impediment to students forming gay-straight alliance clubs or forming gay clubs or forming straight clubs or forming any other non-criminal clubs.
When I was at school, I belonged to several clubs and was aware of numerous clubs that existed. They were not prohibited or encouraged by the school and were the normal outgrowth of a free society.
To require the school division to direct its attention to a particular club orientation is to put such a club in a special and favoured position, something the school should not be involved with.
There is nothing to prevent a group of students from now organizing a gay-straight alliance. If a school attempted to prohibit such a club, such action could easily be corrected by administrative action of the Department of Education.
Bill 18 is a perfect example of the principal legislative rule: Do not legislate unless it is necessary to do so.
Steps to reduce bullying could be taken by policy decisions of the Department of Education. Most of what is in the bill can be done administratively. The part that cannot be done administratively is better left undone.
Sidney Green is a Winnipeg lawyer and former NDP cabinet minister.