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Missing Bill 18's point

As a teacher since 1990 and as president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, I agree that bullying is a serious matter requiring serious attention. The 15,000 public school teachers working in Manitoba classrooms recognize and address bullying every day in our schools and welcome legislation that assists schools in addressing this issue. Unfortunately, Hendrik van der Breggen's March 9 column, Why not anti-bully clubs? misses the point of Bill 18.

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The Safe and Inclusive Schools legislation introduced by Education Minister Nancy Allan recognizes what parents already know -- a text, an email or a Facebook posting can and does inflict harm. This expansive definition of bullying in Bill 18 follows the best practices of other provinces. Despite what van der Breggen alleges, this is not about an "off-the-cuff" comment; this is about cruel and hateful words that can and do cause emotional damage in our schools every day.

Bill 18 also empowers students to take action to make their schools safe, respectful and accepting of all students. It requires that schools accommodate students who want to create student activities or organizations that promote safe and respectful schools, much like the "anti-bullying clubs" the author suggests.

The activities or groups may be focused on addressing any number of things -- sexism, racism, homophobia, discrimination against people who are disabled. It also specifically permits student activities and organizations that use the name "gay-straight alliance."

If any student asks for a safe space -- for help -- then the school needs to say "yes" and make it happen. By specifically including "gay-straight alliance," schools can no longer deny the right of gay students to form support groups in their schools. We can't teach our students tolerance and respect for diversity, then deny them the right to hold activities or form organizations that promote these values.

PAUL OLSON

Winnipeg

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Hendrik van der Breggen makes an excellent suggestion. No one is safe from bullies. Children and adults suffer alike. Schools need a safe place for anyone who feels victimized to get help and feel safe.

Kids could be emotionally supported and helped to develop measures to stop bullying at their school while demonstrating respect for all body shapes, colour, ethnicity and religious beliefs.

We would be taking a better path to helping our vulnerable and young people if we make these schools' clubs inclusive and not divisive.

LUCIE LUKACS

Winnipeg

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It is fitting, in some dark way, that Hendrik van der Breggen winds down his article with a nod to Mark Yarhouse's book Homosexuality and the Christian. Yarhouse, as it turns out, has tried to prove that sexual orientation can be changed. He is also a man whose "research" (using the term loosely) has been publicly panned by the American Psychological Association.

This is exactly the kind of pseudo-scientific discrimination that our friends and family in the LGBT community deal with daily. It doesn't matter what your religion is; being gay is an essential part of who someone is. Giving them a safe space should not, and will not, cause a crisis in your religious beliefs.

KRISTOPHER BONE

Winnipeg

Impossible to clear

Re: West End snow ridge 'absolutely ridiculous' (March 12). Twice this snow-clearing season, I have opened my garage door in Linden Woods in the early afternoon to find my driveway completely blocked by a solid wall of packed snow and ice more than three feet high.

Not only was it impossible for me to clear the snow to enable driving out, but it would have been dangerous to attempt to scale the wall of ice on foot. I called the city help line to report that there was no safe way for me to leave my property, nor for anyone else to enter it.

I was told that city policy allows snow-removal crews to block access or egress to a residence for up to eight hours by creating what the 311 operator euphemistically referred to as a "windrow."

This is absurd. Also, anyone expecting to park their car in front of their own property would risk being towed if they parked on the street. And what about access difficulties for ambulance crews if there was an emergency? I don't recall any similar difficulty relating to snow-clearing in this area over the past 20 years.

LOUISE LAMB

Winnipeg

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Yes, there are ridges here and there and higher-than-normal snowbanks. But where can you put the snow after a certain point?

We boast some of the most beautiful parks and green spaces in Canada. I can't wait to see some of those green spaces and start puddle jumping!

MINDY BARSKY-VEITCH

Winnipeg

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I'm thrilled that the skating rink in the neighbourhood park is being cleared and flooded once a week and the refuse cans surrounding it are regularly being emptied by the city.

Now if only the sidewalks and roads leading to it could be accorded the same consideration, we might actually see people utilizing it. Am I missing something here, or have road conditions become secondary to the plight of the city councillors' expense accounts?

DAN DONAHUE

Winnipeg

Failures of Chávez

Alf Warkentin needs to get his facts straight before he cites the "great achievements" of Hugo Chávez (Chávez deserves respect, Letters, March 9).

The dearth of the most basic food staples on store shelves just goes to show how poorly managed Venezuela was under Chávez. Inflation sits at more than 20 per cent and is expected to rise. The Venezuelan economy has a fiscal deficit of 8.5 per cent of GDP and it's getting worse.

The state oil monopoly provides 94 per cent of the country's foreign earnings, and yet Venezuela's foreign reserves have been reduced from $42 billion in 2008 to $30 billion, most of which are in hard assets.

Chávez's government forecast a production rate of 5.8 million barrels a day, whereas actual production is somewhere between 2.8 and three million barrels a day.

Chávez was a bully. His elections were far from fair, and he left the country in a ruinous state.

RAY DUBOIS

Winnipeg

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Thanks to Alf Warkentin for having the courage to say what I would have liked to have said -- especially for pointing out that Hugo Chávez was elected "with a much higher percentage of the popular vote than Stephen Harper has ever got."

JEAN PALMER

Winnipeg

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 13, 2013 A10

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