Anti-bullying bill like 'persecution' in Steinbach
City council passes motion asking Manitoba government to review Bill 18
The city of Steinbach, Man., wants the Manitoba government to make changes to its proposed anti-bullying bill.
The Manitoba government plans to survey students about how to prevent bullying.
Education Minister Nancy Allan announced the launch of the "Tell Them From Me" survey on Thursday.
The survey will ask students from Grades 4 to 12 how often bullying happens, where and when, and what they think would make students feel safe at school.
"This is about hearing students' voices," Allan said.
"This is about having an opportunity for them to really tell educators and the leadership in their schools about what is going on."
The survey will be sent out to 550 schools across the province this fall.
City councillors passed a motion this week to ask the province to review Bill 18 because they feel it infringes on their religious beliefs.
"We want them to change it to say independent faith-based schools do not have to have groups that are in conflict with their beliefs," Coun. Susan Penner told CBC News on Thursday.
The biggest concern is a clause in the bill that would force schools to accommodate students who want to start specific anti-bullying clubs, including gay-straight alliances.
Last week, about 1,000 staff, students and parents met in the gymnasium at Steinbach Christian High School for a prayer event in opposition to Bill 18.
People at the meeting were also asked to write letters to provincial politicians with their concerns.
Steinbach was founded by Mennonite families fleeing religious persecution in Russia.
Penner said Bill 18 is like being persecuted for their beliefs again.
At Steinbach's Southland Church, pastor Ray Duerksen told parishioners during a service on Feb. 24 that God will judge those who don't oppose the anti-bullying bill.
The church, which has published its position on Bill 18 on its website, is holding a prayer session on the proposed legislation on Friday night.
Education Minister Nancy Allan said she will listen to what people in Steinbach have to say about Bill 18.
Bill defines bullying too broadly, says Pallister
Manitoba's opposition leader joined the chorus of voices criticizing Bill 18 on Thursday.
Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister told reporters that the bill is sloppy legislation that defines bullying too broadly.
Pallister warned that under the bill, even normal interactions between students and teachers or coaches would fall under the definition of bullying.
"Have compassion for students who jeer an opposing team's foul shooter or quarterback. What about the director of the school play who selects a cast, or the co-ordinator of a musical who chooses a choir?" he said.
"By this definition, accusations of bullying may be extremely plentiful."
Pallister also said the bill does not adequately address the consequences of bullying.
However, he refused to comment on the opposition to Bill 18 by faith-based schools that say the legislation violates their religious freedoms.
Pallister said the Progressive Conservative Party is planning to conduct its own survey of bullying in the province.
Steinbach city council's motion regarding Bill 18
Support for Safe Schools and Religious Freedom
Whereas: Bullying is a serious problem in schools that needs to be addressed.
Whereas: Representatives of Steinbach Christian High School have expressed concern that Bill 18 (The Public Schools Amendment Act) is not an effective measure to reduce bullying and will, if passed in its current form, undermine their ability to uphold their faith perspective.
Whereas: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirms freedom of conscience and religion as a fundamental freedom for all Canadians.
Whereas: A significant number of people from Steinbach and the surrounding area have expressed opposition to Bill 18.
Whereas: Some education experts have expressed concern that the definition of bullying contained in Bill 18 is too loosely worded.
Therefore, be it resolved that the City of Steinbach express support for the principle that every student deserves a safe and caring learning environment that is free from bullying.
Be it further resolved that the City of Steinbach express its citizens' concerns over Bill 18 in its current form. The city officially requests that the Minister of Education review Bill 18 as it pertains to the definition of bullying and also ensure that freedom of conscience and religion for students and staff is safeguarded in all schools.
Be it further resolved that copies of this resolution be sent to the Premier, Minister of Education, Leader of the Official Opposition, Leader of the Liberal Party, Steinbach MLA, and all other municipalities in Manitoba.