Monday, 25 March 2013

The "Discretion" issue

Image obtained from the
Green Market Oracle
The Frontier Centre for Public Policy - a hard right, "independent" think tank - has a policy note out opposing Bill 18. It's authored by think tank personnel Rodney A. Clifton and Michael Zwaagstra, as well as retired U of M education professor John C. Long.

The paper repeats two standard rightwing canards about Bill 18, the Safe and Inclusive Schools amendment.

  • It's definition of bullying is vague and could include "single off-handed quip[s]".
  • It interferes with the "religious freedom" of 50% publicly funded Independent Schools.

Now I'll try to focus on the first issue right now. So, how is this bill's bullying definition problematic?
Retired U of M Professor &
policy note author
John Long.

Image Source

Specifically, Section 1.2(1) defines bullying as behaviour that “is intended to cause, or should be known to cause, fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other forms of harm to another person's body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property.” This definition is so encompassing that if students inadvertently hurt another student’s feelings with a single off-handed quip they could be charged with bullying.

Compare this definition with North Dakota’s law that describes bullying as conduct “so severe, pervasive, or objectively offensive that it substantially interferes with the student’s educational opportunities or benefits” and “places a student in actual and reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or … property.” North Dakota’s definition makes it clear that bullying is harassment and not off-handed comments.

("Manitoba’s Bill 18 Fails the Test of Good Legislation". Clifton & Long & Zwaagstra. (Mar. 22, 2013). Frontier Centre for Public Policy)
How the hell is the North Dakota definition less vague than Manitoba's??!! The "is intended to cause or should be known to cause" requires just as much use of judgement and interpretation as "severe, pervasive, or objectively offensive". Calling something "objectively offensive"doesn't make it any easier to judge, discern, or measure. Nor does describing a student being placed in "reasonable" fear.

Bullying: Hard to define perfectly,
important to deal with nevertheless

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As a matter of fact, both bills rest on a standard of "reasonableness". The Manitoba bill essentially asks students to avoid doing stuff that could reasonably be construed as bullying, whereas the North Dakota bill defines it from the victim side as being actions that cause reasonably fear. Same damn interpretation and judgement issues from either the bully or victim side. Such is the ambiguity of real-world situations.

And the Manitoba bill provides just the type of flexibility that will allow the use of sound judgement in assessing potential cases of bullying. The Manitoba Association of Rights and Liberties, a group dedicated to protecting our freedoms, explains:

Let's be clear; the opponents' assertions that the amendments contained in Bill 18 will make it "more difficult for school administrators to use common sense and to ensure that any disciplinary measures are appropriate and effective" is simply false.

The bill defines bullying, it does not set out specific forms of discipline and it does not require the administrator to act in a certain way – in other words, it explicitly protects common sense and discretion.

What it does require is that schools have written policies in place to deal with bullying and other abusive behaviours. It does not mandate that schools treat "offhand quips" the same way they treat direct threats to safety. The bill provides administrators with the tools they need to make informed and evidence-based decisions about how to deal with bullies and bullying behaviour.

("Letter to the Editor: The bullying Bill 18".The Manitoba Association of Rights and Liberties)
The "off-handed quip" and "restrictive definition" bromides being thrown around by the Frontier Centre, the religious far-right, and the Pallister CONs have no basis in reality.
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1 comment:

  1. I'm against anti-bullying legislation. If you don't grow up and deal with bullying, you'll end up without the knowledge of what to do when the Conservatives gain power.