ORDERS OF THE DAY — An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters 

May 1, 2012

Mr. Ernie Hardeman: I’m pleased to rise today to speak to Bill 13, An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters. I’m happy to have the opportunity to participate in this debate.

Bullying is a serious issue that is affecting our children, their ability to learn and in some cases impacting every part of their lives. Madam Speaker, we have too much bullying in schools and too many young people starting each day dreading what the bullies will do to them.

I’ve heard from many constituents who are concerned about bullying-from Norwich township, parents in Tillsonburg and parents in Ingersoll. In some cases, the situation is so intolerable that the parents felt that their only option was to remove their children from the school and do home-schooling.

I’ve written to the school board and we’ve tried to work with parents and schools, but clearly we need to do more. We need to give schools and school boards the tools they need to deal effectively with bullying and give children the support they need to feel safe in schools. I think that’s something that all three parties would agree on.
This session, two bills were introduced that addressed this problem: Bill 13, which we are debating today, and Bill 14, which was introduced by my colleague the former member from Kitchener-Waterloo. I want to commend her for all her work on this important issue.

Bill 14 was the culmination of two years of work with educators, stakeholders and parents. The bill was intended to raise awareness and prevent bullying to make our schools a safer place for our children to learn. Although Elizabeth Witmer is no longer a member of this Legislature, we can still learn from her work on bullying and we can still look to the bill she introduced for ideas on how to improve Bill 13. This isn’t about partisan politics; it’s about making sure that we have the best possible legislation to help students who are being bullied.

Madam Speaker, shortly after I was elected, I had a very sad situation in my riding. A young girl was being bullied at school. She was attacked by four bullies who forced her to the ground and burned her hand with a cigarette. The bullies were charged by the law, but they were allowed to go free and to continue to attend the same school. The victim was expected to go back and sit in the same classroom with them, but she was unable to do that.

We worked with the school board to try to find a solution. After much work, we were able to separate them, but it was the victim who had to be moved to another school and it was the victim’s parents who then had to drive her each morning to a location where she could catch a bus to go to the other school. We need to ensure that when bullying occurs, it is the bully rather than the victim who is punished.

But more than that, we need to address the cause of bullying to prevent situations like the tragedy where young people feel they can no longer face another day at school. That’s why we need to compare the strengths and weaknesses of Bill 13 and former Bill 14 to ensure that we provide the best possible solution for our young people.
Bill 14 was a comprehensive anti-bullying bill that focused on prevention, accountability and awareness. It would have provided students, parents and educators with a strategy to raise awareness and prevent bullying as well as a process to resolve it, collect data and report to the ministry. Unfortunately, Bill 13 does not include these things and therefore does not address the root causes of bullying.

We believe in tackling bullying head on. Unlike the government bill, the bill introduced by the member from Kitchener-Waterloo did so in four critical areas: (1) reporting and investigating bullying, (2) accountability of school officials and boards to the ministry, (3) education and public awareness to prevent bullying, and (4) remedial education for bullies to teach them that bullying is unacceptable.

Bill 14 required anti-bullying lessons to be incorporated into the provincial curriculum from JK to grade 12-again, something that is missing in Bill 13.
Bill 13 limits the focus to a few groups, but that would eliminate many of the young people who need our help. In contrast, the definition in Bill 14 was more thorough and focuses on what constitutes bullying and how it affects the victim.

Just a few months ago, Amanda, a staff member in this building, had a devastating experience when her young cousin took her own life because she was bullied at school. Amanda wants what happened to her cousin to help others. This weekend, she is participating in a walk to support Kids Help Phone, and she is sharing her cousin’s story to raise awareness. I want to read what Amanda wrote:

“Chalyce was an incredibly bright, talented, witty and beautiful individual-inside and out. She was in the international baccalaureate program, a community volunteer, a talented singer and photographer, and had the best sense of humour.

“Of all the admirable qualities Chalyce possessed, it was her kindness and sincere concern for others that were her strongest. Chalyce had the ability to make anyone she came in contact feel special and valued.

“On January 13, 2012, Chalyce took her life; she was 17.

“During her visitation and funeral services, our family learned that while Chalyce’s own struggle with depression and bullying had turned out to be insurmountable, she had touched the lives of many other youth who were dealing with similar issues.

“More than one person shared with Chalyce’s family that Chalyce had `saved’ them from a similar fate.”

Madam Speaker, I want to express my sympathies to the family and thank them for sharing that story.

We need to find ways to help young people like Chalyce, but unfortunately, the government’s bill would have excluded her. I hope that as we move forward, we can work together to create the strongest, most effective anti-bullying legislation possible.

Again, I want to say how pleased I was to participate in this debate today. I think it is important that we are open to amendments or looking at ways to once again put Bill 14 forward as an option.

I hope that the government really is willing to work with us on this important issue. I’d like to believe that they are. But we have to look at their record. The Minister of Health told us repeatedly in this Legislature that she would support a select committee to investigate Ornge if it was the will of the Legislature. In democracy, the government should listen to the will of the Legislature, and yet they refuse to do so. The majority of members of this Legislature voted to create a select committee of all parties to investigate Ornge, but the government still refuses to move forward with the committee. It is for that reason that I move adjournment of the debate, Madam Speaker.