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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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Jewish, Christian groups pan anti-bullying bill

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Steven Shulman

TORONTO — Representatives of Jewish and Christian groups gathered at Queen’s Park last week to denounce anti-bullying legislation that they said contains a hidden sex-education agenda that goes beyond its protective aims.

Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Chabad @ Flamingo and a member of the Council of Orthodox Rabbis, Charles McVety of Christian Canada College and Jack Fonseca of the Canadian Life Coalition of Canada, a Catholic pro-life advocacy organization, all chastised Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty for the bill.

They spoke out against the legislation – Bill 13 An Act to amend the Education Act With Respect to Bullying and Other Matters – which they characterized “as a vehicle to indoctrinate children into embracing a new sexual revolution.”

Among other things, the bill’s wording calls for each public school board to support the establishment of so-called “gay-straight alliance” clubs, where both heterosexual and homosexual students can interact in a safe environment.

The Jewish day school system will not be affected by the legislation, according to Steven Shulman, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s campaign director and counsel, who spoke on behalf of federation’s Centre for Jewish Education.

Shulman noted that many of the Jewish day schools have already implemented anti-bullying policies and procedures.

“We’re proud of the fact that a number of Jewish day schools have been proactive and did not wait for legislation on this subject,” he said.

The proposed bill also obliges school boards to provide help to students who request “activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.”

“To force, especially Christian, classrooms or schools to have homosexual clubs would of course be an affront to their family values,” McVety told a joint news conference. “And what does this have to do with bullying? Nothing.”

Rabbi Kaplan shared his worries about the legislation in an e-mail to The CJN.

 He wrote that as “Torah Jews,” Chabad believes that all people are created in God’s image and as such deserve respect, dignity and security.

While lauding the spirit of the anti-bullying legislation, Rabbi Kaplan said he had “serious concerns” about the sex-education component that he said “encroaches on the religious freedoms guaranteed to all Canadians” under the Charter of Human Rights.

“[The bill] further calls for children to be indoctrinated to reject the faith of their parents and the family values they have been taught,” he wrote.

“Let me be clear: we strongly support the need to protect our children from bullies. What we cannot, in good conscience, support is a law that calls on those of faith to abandon beliefs considered sacred all in the name of political correctness.”

He added: “There are those who will disingenuously and cynically attempt to cast our defence of biblically ordained moral codes, teachings and doctrines as a phobia or form of bigotry. Such deliberate distortion is deceitful, libelous and simply wrong.”

Rabbi Kaplan noted that while Jewish school boards might not be affected by the legislation, any Hebrew school or synagogue that rents space in a public school would be at risk of falling under “the direct censorship of the McGuinty Liberals and/or their appointees.”

According to the Ministry of Education, the province does not inspect private elementary schools and they’re not obliged to use the provincial curriculum, while private secondary schools that grant credits are only subject to inspection for their standard of instruction.

Ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler clarified that the bill would not force Jewish schools and synagogues that rent space from a public school board to “to abandon their own standards.”

Bill 13 would only require such organizations to follow standards “that are consistent with” the Provincial Code of Conduct for schools, Wheeler said.

The code’s purpose, among other things, is to ensure that all members of a school community are treated with respect and dignity. It also aims to maintain an environment in which conflict and difference are addressed with respect and civility, and to promote the safety of people in schools.

If Bill 13 passes, the code will be amended to include the line “to prevent bullying in schools,” Wheeler told The CJN.

Meanwhile, Shulman said the federation doesn’t require Jewish day schools that it funds to offer courses or activities for students on the topic of sexual orientation. Instead, he said, the federation leaves it up to schools to determine their own policies on the issue.

In a statement, the coalition said that it supports anti-bullying legislation in theory, but the aspect of the bill regarding sex education has nothing to do with bullying. It said the law would require schools to accept curriculum that “undermines” Jewish, Catholic and Muslim “morality on sexuality and marriage.”

Howard English, senior vice-president of the Greater Toronto region and university affairs for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said his organization “supports” all efforts to protect students from bullying, but, “in implementing measures to ensure the safety of students, we urge the government to take into consideration the diverse religious views of Ontarians.”

Fonseca claimed the bill was drafted without consultation of parents groups and was heavily influenced by “radical” lesbian and gay activist organizations.

Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten dismissed the concerns, telling CTV News on Dec. 6 that opposition to the legislation was “homophobic.”

“There’s absolutely nothing radical about working hard as a community to make sure that every single student in our schools can be safe and accepted and succeed,” Broten said.

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