Ontario's proposed anti-bullying legislation received a huge boost from the Canadian Union of Public Employees on Saturday.
"Bill 13 is an important step forward towards the elimination of bullying in schools across Ontario," CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn said in a press release issued Saturday afternoon. "CUPE Ontario supports this legislation and will do everything in our power to see that it passes."
If passed, Bill 13, which is known as The Accepting Schools Act, would mandate that school boards across Ontario support students who want to form organizations that promote equality and advocate for a learning environment free of discriminatory bullying.
That includes organizations like gay-straight alliances, which the province's Catholic schools have fought against.
In a recent document, the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association recommends allowing groups with less controversial names, such as Respecting Differences, to address bullying related to sexual orientation. Bill 13, however, puts naming rights in the hands of students.
On the last day of its annual conference, a "Day Against Bullying," more than 350 delegates of the union's school board co-ordinating committee were joined by Hahn, Ontario Minister of Education Laurel Broten and Ontario Student Trustees' Association (OSTA) president Jenny Williams.
"We all have a responsibility to make our schools safe and inclusive places," said Broten. "I am proud to work with partners like CUPE and OSTA to say that bullying and intolerance are not acceptable in our schools."
Hahn said that every day, "thousands of children across Ontario avoid school because they fear bullying.” “CUPE members are not only supporting this legislation, but are here today to tell students who are being bullied that we have their backs,” said Broten.
"School secretaries, custodians, educational assistants and other support staff are an important part of ensuring a safe school environment and our members are anxious to stand up and do their part," he said..
At the conference, the OSTA said that almost 46% of students in Ontario schools have suffered at the hands of bullying.
"We want to ensure that all issues surrounding bullying are addressed," said Williams. "We look forward to working with political parties and education stakeholders like CUPE Ontario to move forward this legislation to protect students in the future."