|Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. (Brett Clarkson/QMI Agency)
TORONTO — The Ontario legislature has passed Bill 13 — a bill mandating that students be allowed to form Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in public and Catholic schools.
Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday he is convinced his government's anti-bullying legislation will become accepted in all schools, despite concerns raised by Catholic educators.
"There are values that transcend any one faith," McGuinty said. "And if you talk to parents, they'll tell you. They want their kids to be respected and accepted, they want their schools to be caring places, ideally we'd like to see them as a bit of an extension of the home in terms of the comfort level that our kids might enjoy inside their school."
The bill passed easily 65-36, and Education Minister Laurel Broten said the expectation is that it will be law when students return to school in September.
"I'm very, very pleased we had the support of Catholic teachers, Catholic support workers who work in our schools, families and students and student trustees in our Catholic schools," Broten said.
Ontario Catholic school trustees had asked politicians not to pass the amendment to Bill 13 that strips them of the power to prevent students from calling their anti-homophobia clubs GSAs.
Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, has said the GSA movement in the U.S. conflicts with Catholic beliefs.
Campaign Life Coalition, which has rejected Bill 13, claiming it is the government's backdoor attempt to implement its controversial sex education curriculum, called on all Catholic ratepayers to encourage their school boards to invoke Section 93, which provides constitutional protection for their religious beliefs in education.
"Dalton McGuinty and those MPPs who voted in favour of this legislation have declared war against faith communities and made all Canadians vulnerable," Mary Ellen Douglas, the group's spokeswoman, said in a statement. "They've now set a precedent which all Canadians should find alarming. The state interference in Catholic and public schools takes away fundamental rights and puts all Canadians at risk."
McGuinty said he believes Catholic parents, teachers and principals will understand that the Accepting Schools Act is about building a cohesive society and preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation and other grounds.
Tory Leader Tim Hudak and his fellow Conservative MPPs voted against Bill 13."Our position is that principals run the schools with the parents and school boards, not students," Hudak said.
Tory MPP Christine Elliott said the legislation fails to include parts of her party's anti-bullying bill that would have made it much more effective.
"We want to make sure that there's a strong anti-bullying bill," she said. "We want to make sure that all of our children are safe."
NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, whose party pushed for the amendment to Bill 13 permitting GSAs, said the legislation will save lives.
There have been high profile suicides of Ontario teens who were bullied.