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‘I want you to deal with bullying in schools as a top priority’: Clark

Former education minister says she would deal with homophobia now

Former MLA Lorne Mayencourt (left) backed Christy Clark's (right) Liberal leadership bid at an Oasis event aimed at the gay community on Jan 8. Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth photo

The woman who wants to be provincial Liberal leader and the next premier of BC says codes of conduct specifically prohibiting homophobic bullying should be mandatory in BC schools.

“If I become premier, one of the very clear directives I am going give to the education minister is I want you to deal with bullying in schools as a top priority,” Christy Clark told Xtra on Jan 8.

Clark, who as education minister oversaw the 2003 Safe Schools Task Force, which produced no recommendations to address homophobia, now says she wants action taken wherever homophobia is not being dealt with in schools.

“You have to deal with it properly, and you have to have consequences for bullies,” she says.

“But second, you have to change the cultures of schools,” she adds.

Clark was courting the gay community at the Oasis pub on Davie St on Saturday night. The event drew a boisterous crowd of about 50 supporters.

A Facebook site dedicated to the event invited community members “to share details of Pink Shirt Day and how we as a community can make British Columbia the safest place on earth for kids to go to school! This is our chance to have a say in the future of our province, so come out, wear pink if you’ve got it and have a good time.”

Clark was elected to the legislature as a Liberal in 1996 and again in the provincial Liberal landslide that swept Gordon Campbell to power in 2001, leaving the NDP with two seats.

She was appointed minister of education and deputy premier in 2001 but took a break from politics in 2005 to spend more time with her family. She became a columnist with The Province and commentator on CTV Newsnet. In 2007, she began the Christy Clark Show on CKNW.

Clark received a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award for her work in politics and for creating the local anti-bullying Pink Shirt Day through CKNW.

Former Vancouver-Burrard MLA Lorne Mayencourt is supporting Clark’s bid for the leadership. He headed the Safe Schools Task Force when Clark was minister of education and attended the Jan 8 event before heading back to the Caribbean, where he has been working with Healing Hands for Haiti doing relief work.

The task force’s seven recommendations focused primarily on encouraging schools to review and amend their own bullying policies, and to share their findings amongst themselves. They also recommended that schools be required to report all bullying incidents publicly. But they didn’t give the schools any standard anti-harassment guidelines to implement. And they didn’t mention homophobia at all, despite anecdotally reporting that homophobia was a problem.

“In nearly every community visited by the Safe Schools Task Force, no matter how large or small, individuals made presentations about the issue of harassment and intimidation based on sexual orientation,” the report notes.

“Many gay and lesbian youth told us that they dreaded coming to school,” it adds.

Clark says that needs to change.

“I think school districts have to fight every kind of bullying that’s out there. Homophobic bullying is the number-one form of it, so, yes, they have to make sure that’s part of what they’re targeting when they target bullies,” she says.

Almost eight years after Clark was education minister, the majority of school districts in BC are without anti-homophobia guidelines.

What’s more, many have not lived up to the letter of the understanding won in the Corren case.

In 1999, Peter and Murray Corren filed a human rights complaint against the education ministry, alleging the curriculum’s failure to reflect queer realities amounted to discrimination by omission and suppression.

The Corren settlement in 2006 led to the introduction of a new elective course, Social Justice 12, and the promise that regular curriculum reviews will now be conducted to flag areas where queer content can be introduced.

In October 2008, the Correns filed another human rights complaint, this time against the Abbotsford School Board after it refused to offer the Social Justice 12 course in its district, even after students had signed up to take it.

The school board relented and now offers the elective course but with the proviso that students must get parental consent to take it.

Clark says that the board should not have had the ability to withdraw the course.

“I don’t think you should make it mandatory for every child to take it, but it has to be available. That’s the deal the government made,” she says. “That is the obligation the government took on out of that court case.

“The government has to live up to its obligations,” she says. “This idea that the government can say one thing and do another is past its best-before date.