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FOI about government action on anti-bullying comes up empty

'What I got were four blank pages': Chandra Herbert

Four blank pages.

That’s what Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert says he received when he filed a provincial access-to-information request to find out what the government was doing to stop bullying against gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans youth.

Chandra Herbert requested all briefing notes, records and emails between Education Minister George Abbott and Premier Christy Clark.

The time period covered was May 1, just after Clark became premier, and Dec 7, 2011. He received the response Jan 30.

“You know how much of a priority this is for the BC Liberal government? What I got were four blank pages. That’s it – four blank pages to deal with the crisis facing our youth,” Chandra Herbert said in the provincial legislature Feb16.

As both Clark and Abbott were absent from the House that day, Chandra Herbert asked Margaret MacDiarmid, a former education minister, if the response was acceptable. He questioned if the Liberals were serious about dealing with homophobic bullying.

“We take this issue very seriously,” MacDiarmid responded in question period. “As to the specifics of the member opposite’s request, freedom of information requests are handled by staff according to policy that we have, and the minister is not involved in that in any way.”

Chandra Herbert told the House he asked for documents between Abbott and Clark because ” the premier claimed this would be the top priority for her education minister.”

That’s exactly what Clark told Xtra when she was running for the Liberal Party’s leadership more than a year ago.

“If I become premier, one of the very clear directives I am going to give to the education minister is I want you to deal with bullying in schools as a top priority,” Clark told Xtra Jan 8, 2011. “I want to know where it’s not being dealt with, we’re acting.”

At the same time, Clark said codes of conduct specifically prohibiting homophobic bullying would be mandatory in BC schools.

“School boards have to be held accountable. I don’t have a set-out plan yet for how we would do that,” she said.

So far, anti-homophobia bullying policies continue to be created on a district-by-district basis, with 15 districts having  implemented them so far.

However, Chandra Herbert did have a meeting with Abbott on Jan 23. He asked if the ministry had done any studies or surveys on homophobic bullying. “The answer was ‘no,'” he says.

Chandra Herbert says he then asked how the ministry thought it could stop the problem if it had no studies to indicate the size of the problem. “They didn’t answer that question,” he says.

Abbot was unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, members of West Coast Women’s Legal Education & Action Fund (LEAF) sent a letter to Clark and Abbott Feb 13 calling on the government to implement a provincewide anti-bullying policy that specifically addresses homophobic and transphobic bullying in BC schools.

“The government has a legal obligation to provide an education system that is inclusive of all students,” says West Coast LEAF’s legal director Laura Track. “Schools are important institutions for fostering the values of our society, including diversity, equality and respect for human rights. School boards have a legal duty to provide a discrimination-free environment in which students can learn and experience these values. We are concerned that they are not living up to these legal obligations.”

In the letter from West Coast LEAF, it was noted that Ministerial Order 276/07, issued in October 2007, requires school boards to establish and ensure the implementation of a code of conduct for schools within their district. “Disappointingly, data gathered by the BC Federation of Teachers and its locals indicate that school boards across the province have failed to comply with the ministerial order and that the majority of school districts in British Columbia have failed to implement these important human rights requirements,” Track says in the letter.

Track says the failure of the majority of districts to create such a policy “speaks to the need for province-wide anti-bullying legislation that works specifically to protect LGBTQ youth from bullying and discrimination in our schools.”

However, the education ministry maintains that all 60 districts have reported that codes of conduct are in place.