Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Bill 13's passage, GSAs and the Catholic Church

Bill 13, Ontario's anti-bullying legislation, passed third reading in the legislature today.  The bill obtained 65 votes in support from the Liberal and NDP members, and 36 votes against from the Conservatives.

I'm quite pleased that this legislation passed in the final form that it assumed, which incorporated amendments giving students the right to call their clubs "gay-straight alliances" if they so chose.  This measure, of course, has infuriated the Catholic hierarchy, as one might well expect.  One can certainly expect that there will eventually be a court case pitting the denominational rights of Catholic schools in Ontario against this legislation and the rights of the students that the province seeks to protect.

What makes me quite pleased is that if there is to be a court case, the province has now made it quite clear where it stands on the very sensitive issue of explicitly using the term "gay", which the Catholic church rejects.  This means, I believe, that the province will be in the thick of it in a court case, defending its own law, rather than forcing a student group to try to make the case in court against a school board that they should be allowed to call these groups gay-straight alliances, in the absence of clear wording in the legislation to support their case.  I expect that now the financial burden of defending this legislation will rightly fall to the provincial government, rather than students and their supporters who should not have to shoulder the heavy burden of court costs to defend their position.  (And of course, if the courts do rule in favour of the Catholic boards, there always exists the option of a constitutional amendment to remove public funding for the Catholic schools, which would require the consent of only the Ontario and federal governments.)

I'm sure that the next few years will be tumultuous ones on this front as the Catholic hierarchy in Ontario lurches about like a wounded bear, aggrieved by this legislation.  I can only hope that the tide of public opinion, which currently seems to support the students and the province's legislation, holds firm as we move forward.

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