A response to the high-profile suicide of BC teen Amanda Todd due to bullying, Manitoba intended to strengthen its anti-bullying laws with Bill 18, a bill that initially received little attention. Now, Bill 18 has become a heated topic, as opponents say it threatens religious freedom by broadly defining bullying and protecting gay-straight alliances (or GSAs), but not mentioning faith groups.
Bill 18 allows schools to respond to bullying taking place after-hours, including mobile text messages and social media, while GSAs would be specifically permitted. The face for the proponents of Bill 18 is 16-year-old Evan Wiens, who is trying to start a GSA at the public Steinbach Regional Secondary School. He is the only student who has come out as gay at his school. Although the school policy already allows the creation of a GSA, he says current rules ban him from putting up any posters, while church groups are not banned from doing the same. He says, “They already have all the freedoms. I’m just trying to put up a poster.” When asked about the big named-opponents who are against Bill 18, he simply laughed and said it was empowering. He stated, “I’ve gone through a lot of hard times, but I’ve grown as a person. I want [bullied teens] to know that it’s not a bad thing to be yourself, and you don’t have to be ashamed to walk down the hallway and say, ‘Hey, this is who I am.’”
The opposition is felt strongest in Steinbach, a city of around 13,500. There, the local MP and cabinet minister Vic Toews has united with the local MLA and religious leaders in speaking out against Bill 18. Steinbach pastor Ray Duerksen of the Southland Church called Bill 18 “the biggest challenge the Canadian church has ever faced.” He argues that the bill protects homosexual children more than religious ones. In his sermon last month, he said, “It’s going to be the beginning of an incremental attempt to destroy the Christian church. That’s what’s taking place. That’s the agenda behind the scene.”
For the full article from The Globe and Mail: