Editorial: Stop playing games on anti-bullying bill

It’s hard to imagine that politicians would play politics with something like an anti-bullying bill.

But according to the Toronto Star, that’s what’s been happening at Queen’s Park as the parties fight over differences in how the legislature is handling its investigation into the ORNGE air ambulance scandal.

The Conservatives, the Star reported, have been using delay tactics that have stalled the accepting schools act due to their concerns about the committee looking into ORNGE.

The anti-bullying bill is certainly not the one to be holding up. When it comes to protecting kids at school, there’s no justification for political games preventing action.

To be sure, there are substantive differences over the bill. While the government has emphasized provisions calling for escalating discipline up to and including expulsion of bullies, the language in the bill is rather soft.

Instead of mandating specific measures, it provides that the education minister may establish policies and guidelines on matters such as what the discipline should be. Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer, meanwhile, has introduced her own private member’s bill on the issue calling for stringent measures such as mandatory reporting of bullying to the parents of both the victim and the perpetrator.

Critics have also taken issue with provisions in the government bill that require schools to support students wanting to lead or set up gay-positive activities and organizations.

The latest machinations come as bullying has been making the news a lot lately. In New Jersey, for example, a school district has agreed to pay $4.2 million to settle a lawsuit launched by a middle school student paralyzed following a bully’s punch.

In fact, that case comes from a state that has taken particularly aggressive action on bullying. New legislation there mandates training of staff and students; school safety teams; and investigations of every allegation of bullying within a day.

That law clearly goes beyond what Ontario is doing with the government bill that largely outlines what may happen in cases of bullying.

A concern with taking the New Jersey route, of course, is the cost. At the same time, while that state’s approach clearly mandates taking bullying cases seriously, the investigations and responses that result must also provide for due process for the alleged perpetrator.

Clearly, then, bullying isn’t an easy issue, which isn’t all that surprising given that it involves kids at delicate stages of their lives.

But in Ontario, it’s time to move on from a culture and an approach that for a long time have left bullying victims to fend for themselves.

The parties at Queen’s Park, then, should get their acts together in order to combine the best features of the government’s and Witmer’s bills and get the legislation passed in time for the coming school year.

— Glenn Kauth

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