OTTAWA - The father of suicide victim Jamie Hubley made an emotional plea May 22 at an Ontario government social policy committee hearing that legislators adopt an anti-bullying bill that does not single out any group for special treatment.
The openly gay teenager's suicide last Oct. at the age of 15 became a driving force for the McGuinty government's Bill 13.
The bill mandates student-led gay-straight alliances (GSAs) even in Catholic schools and elevates homophobia as a main cause of bullying.
"I ask you to protect every child equally," Allan Hubley, an Ottawa city councillor, told public hearings in Ottawa on two proposed anti-bullying bills that include Bill 13.
But Hubley's plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears. On May 25 Education Minister Laurel Brouten announced the government would amend Bill 13 so "no school board or principal can refuse to allow students to use the name 'gay-straight alliance' to describe their clubs."
Hubley said his son was the only openly gay person at his high school. Having a GSA for just one student "would have made him a target."
The bullying Jamie endured began after he began figure skating at the age of five, often by boys who played hockey, Hubley said. "He was picked on relentlessly."
His son would befriend those who were bullied or hurting and that also brought attacks. He came out as gay in the months prior to his death and had the full support of his family.
Hubley played down the idea that the Rainbow Club Jamie set up was a GSA or had a gay activist agenda. His son saw it as a place for everyone who was bullied for whatever reason, he said.
"Jamie spiraled into depression" and on his blog, he identified bullying and "relentless verbal abuse" as the cause, Hubley said. "He was broken."
"It's important that all kids go to one group to learn how to respect each other," he said.
"This kind of club would provide safety in numbers."
Hubley urged the government to abandon contentious elements in its bill that would give special status to some groups and not others.
The grieving father's testimony seemed to touch hearts, but it may not have changed minds of Liberal and NDP legislators who support the contentious Bill 13.
The Ottawa hearing opened with a salvo against Bill 13 from the Coalition for Parental Rights in Education, presented by constitutional lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos who submitted an inch-thick document on various Supreme Court decisions protecting religious freedom.
Polizogopoulos outlined the problematic areas of Bill 13 that would invite a court challenge on constitutional grounds.
"Nobody has a right to insist Catholic schools become non-religious or non-Catholic," he said.
The Ontario provincial council of the Catholic Women's League (CWL) endorsed the Ontario Catholic School Trustee's Association's (OCTSA) Respecting Difference anti-bullying policy on behalf of its 53,000 Ontario members.
The CWL brief raised several concerns about Bill 13, especially unsupervised student-led activities on sensitive subjects such as sexual orientation.
The bill would give the minister of education too much power regarding anti-bullying measures and policies, said Colleen Randall, chair of the CWL's Ontario legislation standing committee, and Anne Madden, chair of the Ontario resolutions standing committee.
They argued that this power could be used "to implement in our Catholic schools various groups, committees or policies that are contrary to our Catholic faith and to the philosophy of our Catholic school system which has been guaranteed to us by our constitution."
The CWL also raised concern over the unclear definition of homophobia.
"As Catholic women, we, of course, are opposed to bullying of any kind in the area of same-sex orientation in our schools," Randall said.
The issue should be handled confidentially by qualified adults and counsellors, she said.
Psychiatrist Tim Lau told the committee statistics show "bullying is twice as likely to occur for religious reasons than reasons related to sexuality."
Lau warned Bill 13, if implemented without changes, could be used to attack people of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths.
He produced a quote from a website promoting GSAs called mygsa.ca that said "Catholics are fundamentally homophobes."
Four out of five of the more than two dozen presenters supported Bill 14, which is a more general anti-bullying bill, and opposed Bill 13 for giving special status to only some victims of bullying.