Anti-Bullying Legislation Often Fails

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. This week’s is specifically about proposed anti-bullying legislation in Ontario, but it’s a common issue throughout North America, so see what you think.

It’s now 2012, which means that we’re supposed to move forwards, not backwards. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at the Ontario legislature’s new anti-bullying legislation.

Instead of treating everyone as equals, this legislation is fighting old battles, and runs the danger of reinforcing old hatreds.

Before I explain why, let me take a detour to Winnipeg, another provincial capital, which is currently embroiled in a brouhaha over a $100 million new Human Rights Museum. Millions of dollars of government money has flowed into the project, but unfortunately, instead of producing peace and harmony, it’s produced squabbling. One of the things hampering the project is that people can’t agree on what human rights abuses should be highlighted. All the groups who have endured genocide are volleying to have their particular tragedies front and centre. Instead of fostering a sense of shared humanity, it’s fomenting more ethnic grievances.

Often what sounds well-meaning, then, ends up doing more damage.

I would put “hate crime” laws and much anti-bullying legislation, like this proposed “Accepting Schools Act”, in that category. Any legislation that identifies certain groups as more worthy of protection than others is fundamentally flawed. Why not crack down on all violence and intimidation, and not just violence against certain classes of people?

Highlight certain groups as more needing of protection, and anti-bullying legislation inadvertently creates a race to see who can be the next protected class.

You pit special interest group against special interest group, and you propagate this idea that we are primarily members of certain groups, not sharers of a common humanity. It’s silly, it’s counterproductive, and it’s wrong.

It also really doesn’t work. Running the whole gamut from bullying to genocide, the common thread is thinking of the victim as someone “other”—as distinct from me, and therefore not deserving of respect. Why would we entrench that view in the name of defeating it?

Why would we not instead fight against it by promoting what unites us, rather than what divides us?

We are all human. Everyone, regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation, deserves respect. Should that not be our main message?

In fact, the underlying methodology of much anti-bullying efforts is strange. The Accepting Schools Act gives more leverage to schools to expel bullies, which is wonderful. But modern anti-bullying efforts, of which this is a part, also fundamentally operate in terms of group identities, which is what has caused the problem in the first place. Specifically, the act is concerned with bullying of LGBT students. By teaching and educating kids about the LGBT lifestyle, it’s supposed to stop kids from bullying them. But let’s take this to its logical conclusion. This philosophy believes, then, that bullying stems from a lack of education and understanding about each group. If we educate students about the marginalized group—in this case LGBT students—kids will then treat their members better. But what about natives? Or the Roma? Or Jews? By this line of thinking, the only way to stop bullying against those groups is to similarly teach everybody about them.

That’s an impossible task. We can never educate kids about each and every marginalized group.

The far better solution is to teach kids what unites us, not what divides us. It’s time to stop thinking in terms of groups. It’s not groups that deserve respect; it’s people—all people. No one deserves to be ostracized, or ridiculed, or attacked, for any reason whatsoever. Let’s work to preserve human dignity, rather than entrenching what divides us.

If people can’t agree on that, then I question their motives.

Is this really about ending bullying, or is it about demanding acceptance and special status for their own group?

If it’s the latter, then it’s fundamentally anti-human rights, not pro-human rights. After all, that’s what human rights are: “Human” rights; not LGBT rights, or Christian rights, or white rights, or native rights. We are all people. End of story.

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