Spencer Chandra Hebert, BC Provincial MLA for Vancouver-West End. Photo contributed.
Canada is regarded around the world for having created an environment of equality. Thanks to the Constitution of Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides same-sex couples equal rights to employment, health benefits, adoption, immigration, housing, finances and pensions, and marriage. Even with all these rights, bullying, specifically in schools, remains a sensitive and important issue today.
There are number of recent cases in Canada that have received international media attention where youth have committed suicide because they were faced with bulling by their school classmates. The public has been outraged and has are now calling on governments to take action.
Studies have shown the rate of suicide and depression of LGBT youth is higher than non-LGBT youth. To date, it has been the responsibility of schools to provide a safe education environment for students, free of discrimination and harassment. Most schools in Canada, public or private, can be held liable for harassment, name-calling and bullying of both students and staff under the Humans Rights Act.
Across Canada, most schools have not implemented specific anti-gay bullying or name-calling policies. The Yukon has excluded minors from protection of sexual orientation under the Human Rights Act, leaving youth vulnerable and at the highest risk of any other jurisdiction in Canada. Polar-opposite is British Columbia, which in updating school curriculums to incorporate LGBT topics; however, many believe more work needs to be done.
Without having specific policies or laws in any Province or Territory in Canada, some schools have taken action by setting up gay-straight alliances.
“One thing we’ve called for, for a long time now, is ensuring Codes of Conduct in all school districts across the province explicitly protect LGBT youth, and to ensure there are steps to deal with homophobia and trans-phobia,” said BC Provincial MLA for Vancouver-West End, Spencer Chandra Hebert.
“It’s not good enough to say we don’t think people should bully,” Spencer explains. You actually have to name the grounds of discrimination and explain them because people will sometimes discriminate against someone just because they don’t know any better, not because they actually hate gay people or because they’ve been told that gay people are bad.”
The BC Government is an advocate for Pink Shirt Day, a public awareness day in Canada asking for everyone to put a stop to bullying for both youth and adults. While the movement has sparked media attention and has raised awareness of the issues around bullying, the fundamental issues remain. The public is asking for new legislation to protect youth in British Columbia, and across Canada.
“A one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work,” Spencer said, explaining how new legislation needs to be specific. “It’s not one-size-fits-all bullying. It is explicit targets on LGBT kids back, and thus you need to respond to that specific action. The approach so far of ‘don’t do it, don’t be a bully’ hasn’t been all that successful.”
The Vancouver School District has been the most progressive district in the province, hiring an anti-bullying coordinator. School Boards are also working through co-governance, to find ways to help share knowledge around the province, educating both students and teachers. Other organizations, including, Out in Schools, are working with school districts on programing and resources to provide education and facilitate safer environment in public schools.
LGBT youth need the same rights as any other child in British Columbia. They deserve an opportunity to learn in a safe and welcoming environment, free of harassment and bullying. Although the BC Liberal Party has been in power for the last three consecutive terms, spanning 12 years, they have yet to announce plans to move forward with legislation or an all-encompassing strategy, and have left the duty and responsibility to the local school districts.
The BC Liberals were given the opportunity to respond to interview requests, however, at the time this post was published, all interview requests were denied citing it was too risky.
Since when is the protection of youth in British Columbia a risky subject? Leave your comments on this blog post.