More than 20 people spoke against Bill 13, the Liberals' Accepting Schools Act, during the first of four committee hearings. The committee is also looking at Bill 14, the Progressive Conservative anti-bullying legislation. Education Minister Laurel Broten says the best elements of Bill 14 will be incorporated into Bill 13.
Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College, was the first to speak and said Bill 13 “embraces a radical sex education agenda” and children will be taught “about oral and anal sex.”
“My daughter is a precious little 14-year-old girl. I beg you not to do this to my daughter,” he said. “This bill goes against the Bible. The Bible is a very important document.”
Ekron Malcolm, director at the Institute for Canadian Values, called Bill 13 “a form of slavery” because students will be exposed to positive messages about being gay. “You are forcing your ideas on my family values, my black family values
. . . How dare you take away my right to teach my children my heritage.”
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, from the Chabad Flamingo synagogue, said the government is forcing schools to go against religious doctrine. “I was bullied in school. I don’t believe sexual orientation is a cause of bullying.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who didn’t attend the hearing in person, told Xtra afterward that the committee was a “very unpleasant space for a lot of people.
“People came out of there just reeling today, and I think it really speaks to why we need to have this bill in the first place,” she said.
Throughout the nearly three hours of presentations it became clear to committee members that many of those present misunderstood Bill 13 or had not read it. The bill is aimed at tackling bullying, including anti-gay bullying, in Ontario schools. Many told the committee the reason they oppose Bill 13 is because it will teach radical sex and gender education to their children.
At several points committee members challenged the speakers, asking them to point to any section of the legislation that mentions sex education.
“So, the GSA component in the bill is the sex education you’re referring to? When you talk about sex education, you mean the word gay?” NDP MPP Peter Tabuns asked. “Gay means sex?”
To this, presenter Jim Kwan, from the Markham Voice website, replied, “Yes.”
Liberal MPP Kevin Flynn asked if Kwan had actually read Bill 13. Kwan said he had not, adding, “GSAs promote the gay lifestyle.”
GSAs have been a lightning-rod issue in Ontario Catholic schools since Xtra revealed last year that the student support groups have been prohibited by many Catholic administrators. Since then, students in Catholic schools across Ontario have requested GSAs and been denied repeatedly.
NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, who is also a United Church minister, said the speakers do not represent the majority of faithful Ontarians. “This is a particular faction of these faiths. They do not represent the mainstream of any of those groups, and we have to keep that in mind.”
Meanwhile, Kim Galvao, the director of Concerned Catholic Parents of Ontario, rejected the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans youth are bullied more than other students, like “fat kids, short kids or kids with glasses.” She said Bill 13 “smacks of social engineering.”
“Bill 13 provides too much sexually focused information,” she said. “Our children don’t need more sex education. They need less.”
Galvao attempted to downplay the bullying experienced by queer youth by pointing to a 2006 Toronto District School Board student census for grades 7 to 12 that found students were primarily bullied for other reasons, including their physical appearance and cultural background.
Casey Oraa, vice-chair of Queer Ontario, says the study is not accurate because it did not include data from Catholic schools. Egale's 2009 Canadian Climate Survey on Homophobia states that more than 60 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans students reported they felt unsafe at school.
Egale, too, says the numbers could be much higher because the survey doesn’t include Catholic schools. “We were not given permission to implement the survey in any Catholic school divisions,” the document states.
“LGBT youth are at great risk of bullying and suicide, and they need explicit protections,” Egale executive director Helen Kennedy has said.
Committee hearings continue May 8 at 4pm. The list of speakers can be found here. It’s not too late to get on the list.
This Saturday, members of the Ontario GSA Coalition are planning a 1pm rally at Queen’s Park to show support for Bill 13.
For anyone interested in reading Bill 13, a copy of the legislation can be found here.
Follow Xtra reporter Andrea Houston on Twitter at @dreahouston.