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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 4, January/February 2006

Victory for bullied student sends message to schools

On October 25, 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to allow the North Vancouver School Board leave to appeal in the human rights complaint brought by Azmi Jubran. The decision of the BC Court of Appeal siding with the harassed youth is final and binding. The ruling states that school boards have a duty to make significant efforts to provide students with a "discrimination-free school environment." It sends a strong message to schools across the country and requires them to take action to address bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bi, and trans-identified (LGBT) students.

In June 1996, Azmi Jubran, a student at North Vancouver’s Handsworth Secondary School, filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Commission. Year after year, he had been incessantly taunted and teased by his peers, bombarded with homophobic slurs like gay, faggot, and queer; he was punched, pushed, and spat upon, and had various objects thrown at him. Jubran wasn’t actually gay, but was harassed as though he was.

The school took disciplinary punishment following each incident, but failed to address the problem in a systemic or pro-active fashion.

The BC Human Rights Tribunal initially sided with Jubran and against the school board. That decision was appealed and overturned by the BC Supreme Court because Jubran was not actually gay. On April 6, 2005, the BC Court of Appeal reversed the BC Supreme Court’s decision and restored the initial decision by the tribunal. In its decision, the BCCA confirmed that it is not good enough for school boards to wait for bullying to occur and then discipline the bullies afterward.

"Schools must take action so that they are no longer breeding grounds for intolerance and hatred," said Gemma Hickey, president of Egale’s board of directors. "This court decision underlines the continuing problem of homophobic bullying in schools, its significant and detrimental impact on all students, and the challenges of addressing it. School boards must play an active role in providing a safe learning environment, free from harassment." In addition to her position as president of Egale, Hickey is project co-ordinator for a youth outreach project in Newfoundland and Labrador, aimed at countering the negative messages youth receive around sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Canada’s school boards need to sit up and take notice of this precedent setting case," stated Egale education committee co-chair and BC teacher James Chamberlain. "They can no longer ignore the plight of any student who is targeted for harassment based upon their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. If they do so, it will be at their own peril and could involve expensive litigation."

"School boards need to address bullying when it happens," said GALE BC’s Steve LeBel. "Whether or not the victimized student is gay is irrelevant."

"There are school boards in BC taking action against homophobic and transphobic bullying, notably Vancouver, Victoria, and Prince George," added Mr. LeBel. "It’s time for school board trustees to speak up."

"What happened to Azmi Jubran is deplorable," said Gilles Marchildon, executive director of Egale. "Egale is committed to ensuring school boards across the country take action to provide a safe school environment for all students."

The link to the BCCA judgment is www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/ca/05/02/2005bcca0201err2.htm.

For more information and resources on homophobia and heterosexism, visit bctf.ca/social/homophobia/.

Egale Canada advances equality and justice for LGBT people, and their families, across Canada. Founded in 1986, Egale has over 4,000 members including people in each and every province and territory of Canada. Its work includes political action, legal interventions, and public education and awareness.

GALE BC is a provincial group advocating for change in the educational system that will result in a positive environment for LGBT people in education, whether they are students, educators, or family members.

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