Critics say Premier Christy Clark’s new anti-bullying strategy, promoted to protect all children regardless of gender, race, culture, religion or sexual orientation, will do little to protect queer youth and is mainly a rehash of previously announced policy.
“We need to change our culture,” Clark announced as she unveiled the BC Liberals’ ERASE Bullying (Expect Respect and a Safe Education) initiative at a Surrey YMCA on June 1. “People who are bullies in school grow up to be bullies in the workplace. Every child in school will know that there is someone in school that will stand by them.”
“The victim needs support and the bully needs consequences,” Clark said. “This is a beginning.”
“Homophobic bullying is wrong and will not be tolerated,” she added. “That’s part of what we’re doing.”
“Gay and lesbians kids are more bullied and more likely to commit suicide than other kids, and it’s going to be a big part of the program,” Clark said.
NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert doesn’t think Clark’s new strategy goes far enough.
Clark’s $2 million 10-point program calls for:
• creating stronger codes of conduct for schools that includes language consistent with the Human Rights Act. The enhanced codes must include the following wording: “The prohibition of discrimination on the basis of an individual’s or a group’s race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex or sexual orientation, or age”
• establishing a five-year, multilevel training for 15,000 educators and community partners
• using a new smartphone app and online tools for kids to report bullying anonymously
• designating a safe schools coordinator in each district to monitor the online site, have direct communication with the Ministry of Education, manage the ongoing relationship with community partners, and coordinate the delivery of the training
• creating provincial guidelines for threat assessments and a template for district-level threat assessment protocols
• enhancing online resources, including new multimedia information for parents
• developing formal protocols in each district to guide and coordinate work with community partners, such as Ministry of Children and Family Development childcare workers, police and mental-health professionals
• creating a provincial advisory committee, with representatives from police, schools, social agencies and other community partners
• focusing one of the six teachers’ professional development days on anti-bullying and a safe school culture within a personalized learning environment
• sending anti-bullying and threat-assessment training material to university education programs for their inclusion in training curricula for new teachers
“I wish homophobia was being addressed directly,” says Floyd Van Beek, a Grade 12 student from South Delta Secondary’s gay-straight alliance who attended Clark’s announcement. “We feel homophobia is much more than bullying.”
“Something is better than nothing,” suggests Grade 10 student Rachel Garrett, who attended with Van Beek.
Ryan Clayton, co-coordinator of the Purple Letter Campaign, which saw Education Minister George Abbott receive hundreds of letters last year calling for anti-homophobia policy in schools, was also at the announcement.
“Everything on here is wonderful,” Clayton says. “It’s just some of it already exists.”
Both Clayton and Chandra Herbert question the language suggested to strengthen the codes of conduct.
They say that language has existed since the 2003 Safe Schools Task Force report and is also referenced in 2007 legislative changes that mandated school boards to develop codes of conduct specifically referencing the BC Human Rights Code. Clark oversaw the task force as education minister under former premier Gordon Campbell.
Indeed, the 2003 task force report recommends the ministry “provide schools with a framework to assist school boards in ensuring their policies and procedures are consistent with the values and categories detailed in the BC Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
While Chandra Herbert welcomes the phone app and the safety coordinators, particularly for rural areas, he says much of Clark’s new strategy is from work done years ago.
“She’s reannouncing herself,” Chandra Herbert says.
“There’s a whole lot more that could be done,” Clayton agrees, “a lot of things that advocates have been asking for.”
Asked what the strategy will do to specifically address homophobia, Abbott says, “You have to now refer to it. We’ve left it to the districts.”
Asked if the strategy is pretty much the status quo, Abbott concedes, “It is the status quo of a couple of years now.”
In announcing the policy, Abbott named a multitude of people and organizations, none of which included the Pride Education Network (PEN) or the BC Teachers’ Federation, which have been trying to address homophobia without government support for years.
Asked why they were not involved, Abbott says, “There will be room across the province to include agencies and organizations that represent gay, lesbian and transgendered students.”
Both Clayton and Chandra Herbert questioned why PEN and Out in Schools were not consulted on the strategy. “Given their expertise, it’s concerning,” Chandra Herbert said. “You’d think you’d go to the experts to develop policy.”
“A lot of these actions that are being proposed are already occurring,” he reiterates. “I don’t see a lot of newness.”
Chandra Herbert says the Vancouver and Burnaby school boards’ anti-homophobia policies provide more protection for queer youth than the new strategy.