Opening Statement



Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Bill 13 + GSA's 2: What Was Said?


The following OECTA press release explains OECTA's support for the provincial government's recent Bill 13 GSA Amendment.  OECTA agreed to provide "a supportive statement given the importance of this matter to the well-being of our students". OECTA's talking points supporting that statement are added afterwards for your further consideration. Also see the legislation itself and Cardinal Collin's statement in my Bill 13 + GSA's 1 blogSome points to consider are provided at the end of this blog.

May 29, 2012: Catholic Teacher's Support Students Naming GSAs

TORONTO – The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) supports the amendment to Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, which would allow students to name a club a Gay Straight Alliances (GSA), if they choose. 

“For our Association, the bottom line is to always meet the needs of our students,” says Kevin O’Dwyer, OECTA president. “Providing safe, inclusive environments and eliminating bullying wherever we can is paramount. If the students feel that a club should be called a GSA – that it makes a difference to them – then, we respect and accept that choice.” 

GSAs are student clubs that provide an opportunity for students, regardless of their sexual orientation, to work together on fostering schools that are respectful and safe places for all students. The primary goal of GSA clubs is to undertake discussion and engage in activities that will make schools more welcoming places for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered (LGBT) students and prevent bullying. 

“Many adults have commented on what should be done in schools to help prevent discrimination and victimization of marginalized students,” says O’Dwyer. “The reality is, this isn’t about the adults – it is about the students and student relationships – and we need to empower the students who are a key part of this equation.”

Research has shown that:

• students who identify as LGBT are at higher risk of experiencing bullying and are three times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual students;

• not using the word ‘gay’ leads to further marginalization of students for whom the word speaks to the core of their identity;  

• in schools where GSAs exist, students have more favourable outcomes related to their school experience and the level of psychological distress they encounter and lower rates of suicide.

“As Catholic educators, we believe that EVERY student is worthy of respect, dignity and love, and we affirm the sanctity of all human life,” says O’Dwyer. “We cannot expect to address a problem if we cannot openly discuss that problem, regardless of how difficult that conversation may be.” 

OECTA represents the 43,000 professional women and men who teach all grades in publicly funded English Catholic schools in Ontario.

For more information, contact:
Michelle Despault, Director of Communications
416-925-2493 Ext. 509
 Email: m.despault@oecta.on.ca  

The following message was sent on behalf of our OECTA President Kevin D'Wyer. It contains OECTA's main talking points for the association's support of the GSA Amendment. The key messaging is:

OECTA supports the amendment to Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act

For our Association, the bottom line is always meeting the needs of our students and providing safe, inclusive environments and stamping out bullying wherever we cannot about what name a club has.

These clubs are really about students supporting students in the fostering of respectful and safe school environments ­ and if the students want to call their club a gay-straight alliance then we respect and accept that choice.

If having a club called a GSA will help, in even the smallest way, to foster a culture of understanding, encourage respect, and prevent students from being isolated, marginalized or bullied then how could we not support that?

As Catholic educators we believe that EVERY student is worthy of respect, dignity and love and we have an obligation to ensure that our hallways, cafeterias and classrooms are physically and emotionally safe places for ALL students.

These clubs are not about us, the adults, they are about the students so it's not really about what we think these clubs should be called. What matters most is that these clubs, these safe spaces, do exist in our schools.

We know it is not good enough to tell a student that it will get better when they leave school ­ we need to do everything we can to make our schools physically and emotionally safe spaces for our students today.

In addition to the above OECTA legal counsel is examining the matter.

This matter will be addressed further during a special  session of the COP. 

OECTA [Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association]
65 St. Clair Avenue East, Suite 400
Toronto, ON  M4T 2Y8

Tel:  416-925-2493 
Fax: 416-925-6940

Points to consider:

OECTA seems to be stressing that much stronger measures are needed to make our gay students safe at school, than those Cardinal Collin's refers to in his statement [See Bill 13 + GSA's 1: What Was Said blog below]. Our teacher's association is clearly supporting the government's position rather than Cardinal Collins. The only point all three parties can seem to agree upon is that we all want what is best for our Gay students so they are safe from bullying at school. Unfortunately there isn't any similar agreement on the best methods for doing so.

Despite protests to the contrary, the provincial Conservatives actions in the Bill 13 debate at Queens Park, and indeed with their own alternative Bill 14, does not match the public rhetoric of Party Leader Tim Hudak and his MPP's. NDP support in the legislature would most likely see it passed anyway, despite the Liberal government's minority position, and the political posturing of the provincial Conservative party.

OECTA Lawyer Paul Cavalluzzo has pointed out that any teacher assisting with these clubs could face a legal challenge in court. They could possibly lose their teaching certificate if a complaint was lodged at the OTC [Ontario College of Teachers]. The complaints could just as likely come from proponents of either of the side of the GSA issue; for or against.

The Ontario College of Teachers is investigating how to set up a Equity AQ [Additional Qualification] course for teachers who wish to work with the GSA groups. It is far from finished and numerous Catholicity issues for our faith based schools will most likely arise.

The central flaw in the legislation, from a legal point of view, is that it is too vague. Ultimately then, we can assume GSA's in the Catholic Schools will become a Supreme Court of Canada Challenge. It would need to be proven that our denominational rights would be at risk if GSA's were to be allowed in Catholic schools. The separation of church and state would be one issue. Denominational verses human rights would be another. Our denominational rights would need to be clearly defined and then tested in a court of law. This is far from clear cut. Objectively speaking the outcome, either way, could be very uncertain.

The issue of public funding for our Catholic school system has gained much attention from those who would argue that the government is funding a discriminatory religious group, as a result of the current debate. The BNA [British National Act] of 1867 would protect our right to Catholic schools, but continued funding or how we fit within the Ontario school system is less certain. Until 1985 we did not have full secondary funding. During the Harris years the Catholic trustee association agreed to trade off our right to privately collect taxes for Catholic schools in exchange for a promise to extend our per student funding. Unless the Catholic schools decide to revert to being a private system we would not be able to continue as we now exist should funding be removed. Even Cardinal Collins has not been in favour of that happening. [See my blog list below]

In Newfoundland and Quebec Catholic school rights were removed in a public referendum. Would the majority of Ontarians, including Catholics, continue to support our publicly funded schools if the debate were to result in a referendum here in our province?

The Liberal government remains adamant that it will continue to support funding for the Catholic school system. In the past the provincial Conservatives have fared poorly with their plans for Charter Schools and multi faithed funding  for the other religious groups in Ontario. Will other religious groups rally to Cardinal Collins call to protect our faith based rights in Ontario when their own schools do not receive public funding like we currently do? What other political options might be proposed to resolve the Catholic school funding issue once and for all, one way or another, if it arises in our next provincial election, which could be anytime within the next 3 1/2 years?

Of course there are no easy answers, and in the meantime our gay student population need our help, which according to all concerned, is a situation we need to fix. Only one thing is certain: We are all faced with a rough ride ahead!

For more info on the GSA issues please see the following blogs in my archives below this column.

They are:

May 5: RAC Religious Affairs Update: includes my notes on OECTA Lawyer Pal Cavalluzzo's summary of the implications for Bill 13 at the OECTA Respecting Differences Equity Conference.

March 27: Bill 13 Accepting Schools: includes a link to a video explaining the arguments against Bill 13. There is also a link to info on the OECTA Respecting Differences Conference.

March 13: Windsor AGM: Rights and Sexual Identity: includes the other approved OECTA resolutions for Equity and Inclusivity, the arguments given both pro and con, and some discussion on the democratic process at our AGMs.

March : PDT, GSA, Inclusivity + Fee Excitement Ahead: includes info on how Equity Issues have played out at past OECTA AGMs.

January 9 Archbishop Tom Collins Appointed Cardinal: includes my own observations, discussions and experiences with the cardinal, whom I respect very much.

Oct 5 OECTA Diversity, + The 3 Party Platforms: includes an overview of the provincial party platforms and support for our separate schools.

I hope this helps! As Catholic teachers we need to keep very informed on this issue!

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