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Speaking up on bullying a bittersweet experience

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Community correspondent Sonya Braun was one of the Manitobans who presented at public hearings on Bill 18.

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Community correspondent Sonya Braun was one of the Manitobans who presented at public hearings on Bill 18. Photo Store Photo Store

On Sept. 6, I had the privilege of speaking before a committee of  11 Members of the Legislative Assembly on Bill 18, a new provincial law attempting to fight the problem of bullying in schools.

It was a long, hot night as I was 24th of 26 presenters and we met in an non-air-conditioned south room. It was clear that everyone in attendance supported the idea of doing something to deal with bullying.

Some were there to affirm the government’s solution, but many came with genuine concerns over the wording of the bill. These concerns ranged from the broad definition of bullying (which will likely cause problems in the courts), to the way the bill seems to protect particular groups of kids, rather than all kids.  

Specific mention of the mandating of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools to any who requests one, rather than something more directly related to bullying, like an anti-bullying club, was also a concern. In general, there were concerns with this bill interfering with freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

I was impressed by the amount of empathy and respect for all people shown by the majority of the presenters. There was great care shown for the gay community. We remembered those who have lost their lives. We told stories of how we or others we know had been bullied: stories of injustice, courage, and pain. We learned how schools and parents have failed students, and how they’ve made a huge difference in helping students.

Here are some ideas I came away with:

1. Stand with a victim and demonstrate that no one deserves to get beaten up.

2. Report bullying incidents to a specially-formed group in addition to the chain-of-command to ensure that proper action is taken.

3. Make counselling part of the plan for dealing with bullies, as they are hurting too.  

4. Bring bullies and victims and parents together and encourage mediation.

5. Have more adults in the halls and grounds at recess and before/after school.

6. Remember as parents and teachers to make strong relationships with kids a No. 1 priority.
I don’t understand why the government spent 50 hours listening to 300 presenters only to pass the bill exactly as it was written.

I feel betrayed and disheartened by the whole process. However, I will continue to do my best to advocate for kids, to listen to them, and to each them how to treat others; whether in my home or on the playground during lunch supervision. I encourage all adults to do the same.

If you’d like to see transcripts of all the presenters, go to: http://www.gov.mb.ca/legislature/hansard/2nd-40th/committee_calendar.html#September or google "hansard" and find committee debates for September.  Information on Bill 18 can be found at http://web2.gov.mb.ca/bills/40-2/b018e.php or google "Bill 18".

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