The recent suicide of Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley has once again shone a spotlight on the often catastrophic impact of severe homophobic bullying in schools. A bright young person facing an unbearably toxic environment with little hope of respite except through ending his life: sadly, BC teachers have seen this tragic drama before.
That’s why the BC Teachers’ Federation has been at the forefront of the effort to challenge the stigma and discrimination LGBTQ youth face in schools and society. Despite the controversy that can accompany these initiatives, BCTF members are determined to continue this work to make schools safe for all students, regardless of their real or perceived sexual orientation.
On November 1, 2011, the BC Court of Appeal will hear arguments from the BCTF and the BC Public School Employers’ Association regarding a complaint that the majority of school districts in British Columbia have failed to implement important human rights requirements.
The BCTF and its locals gathered evidence that school districts and their schools have failed to fully implement Ministerial Order 276/07, the Provincial Standards for Codes of Conduct Order, which was introduced in the fall of 2007. These standards were established in the wake of the Azmi Jubran vs. North Vancouver School District case and the province’s Safe Schools Task Force, which found that harassment on the basis of sexual orientation was a serious concern in school districts around the province.
“Homophobia, racism, and other forms of harassment and discrimination persist in schools throughout British Columbia,” said Susan Lambert, president of the BCTF. “Teachers and students have been willing to take a stand on these issues, and so have trustees in some school districts. Now it’s time for the ministry to enforce its well-intentioned, but so far rather toothless, order.”
The Ministerial Order specifies that boards must ensure their codes of conduct contain one or more statements that address the prohibited grounds of discrimination set out in the BC Human Rights Code. A Freedom of Information request by the BCTF revealed that a handful of school districts have codes of conduct in place that address the anti-discrimination requirement, the majority of boards do not.
The matter was brought to Arbitrator John Hall in June 2010, but earlier this year he decided he did not have jurisdiction. The issue of jurisdiction is what is being brought to the Court of Appeal to review. The BCTF is asking that the courts recognize that the arbitrator does have jurisdiction.
“BCPSEA is opposing our ability to enforce the codes of conduct standards,” Lambert said. “We should be able to enforce the provincial ministerial order, and the grievance/arbitration process is a logical place for this to occur. It is unfortunate that BCPSEA seems reluctant to tell districts to do it right.”
Arbitrator John Hall’s decision can be found here: http://bit.ly/sAgRHp
Ministerial Order 276/07 (Provincial Standards for Codes of Conduct Order) can be found here: http://bit.ly/ehFZTV.