Sticks and stones

Anti-bullying legislation might exacerbate the problem it's meant to correct, writes Randy Hillier

Published in the Ottawa Citizen on January 4th, 2012

Unlike many elected people, I don't believe in beating around the bush when it comes to discussing public policy. My concern is heightened when I come across a policy that is intentionally deceptive and crafted by wordsmiths for political spin.

Although all political parties have been known to use people's personal tragedies as a pretext to advance political agendas, as abhorrent conduct, the Ontario Liberal government's "Accepting Schools Act" reaches new depths. Bill 13 is public policy that rides on the coattails of the personal tragedies of recent teen suicides for political gain.

Bill 13 is little more than a poorly disguised pacifier intended to create a perception that not only is the government acting, but is also compassionate and sympathetic toward children who are bullied. However, this policy will have dire consequences for those it is intended to benefit.

Unlike many of those who have announced support for Bill 13, I have read the complete bill and the relevant sections of the Education Act that it amends. Not only do I find the bill wanting, I've come to the conclusion that this bill is likely to exacerbate both the frequency and the injurious harm of bullying.

First, Bill 13 presumes the behaviour of children will be altered by preventing them from experiencing adversity, while not providing schools with any additional tools to reward or punish behaviour. This premise, that we can shield all children from negative personal experiences with legislation, is both utopian and foolhardy.

Second, all people understand that everyone has or will be bullied some time in their life, or has been a bully themselves. The only trigger needed for a bully is a difference, regardless of whether the difference is significant, subtle or trivial. Bullying can be due to the colour of your hair; because you are short, tall, thin or fat; the clothes you wear or your laugh. Any and every difference can create a situation of bullying.

Bill 13 mandates creating a host of new school clubs which could identify people in the club as being: "lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gendered, transsexual, two-spirited, inter-sexed, queer (or) questioning." Believing these clubs will minimize or end bullying reaches the zenith of downright stupidity.

Bill 13 does the exact opposite of what is needed. Rather than minimizing differences, it helps segregate and highlight the differences between people. The last thing a vulnerable child needs is more differentiation from others in the schoolyard. The result will be nothing less than painting a bull's eye or target on their backs.

What I find most troubling of this bill is the premise on which it rests. Clearly, the government is attempting to prescribe mature adult remedies of legislation and public awareness to bullying. However, the bullies are not mature adults but children and teens. Politicians have either forgotten that children learn right from wrong through education, experience, observation, and consequence or are arrogant in the extreme to believe legislation can trump all of them.

Adults must remember that children don't understand the full impact of their actions until it has been learned through life's full spectrum of experience and observations. The depth of a child's understanding is amplified not only through reward or punishment, but by learning compassion and empathy. The difference between adults and children is that adults are expected to have already learned the lessons of life and developed conscience and compassion on their road to maturity.

Although we may not wish to admit it, we all know that even in maturity, adults can and do bully, and also be bullied.

Bill 13 fails to recognize these facts. People who try to legislate maturity into children to a level that is absent within adult society are not being honest to themselves or to the public.

I realize these views are not politically correct and will bring scorn from the more "enlightened class," but I also know that sticks and stones may break my bones - but names will never hurt me.