A year in review 2016: The BC Liberals grow a conscience

Why the sudden shifts on education and trans laws in 2016?

Thirteen years after BC’s Safe Schools Task Force documented homophobia but did nothing to address it, the BC Liberals finally decided to show some leadership.

Not that they lacked opportunity to lead sooner.

As LGBT activists began the slow process of lobbying school boards themselves, without government support, the BC Liberals took four long years to pass a toothless safe schools act, even voting down two NDP attempts to strengthen the bill in 2007.

Five years later, the BC Liberals introduced their generic ERASE Bullying strategy (to much self-serving fanfare), but activists and LGBT students said it too would do little to change the homophobic status quo in schools.

That didn’t stop the BC Liberals from using the strategy to deflect all questions on homophobia for another four years.

Until Sept 8, 2016.

That’s when the latest education minister, Mike Bernier, suddenly surrendered the party line and conceded that leadership is required after all.

It’s time to enhance Erase Bullying to directly address homophobia, he told reporters.

“By the end of 2016, we’re asking all schools — that’s including independent schools in the province of British Columbia — will all be required to update and have full anti-bullying policies in place, with clauses that specifically reference sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“You know, I look at this, and I wish we had these policies when my daughter was in school,” Bernier said, choking up for a moment before continuing.

“We’ve all heard sad stories, we’ve all witnessed them, we’ve all experienced them, and we need to be showing leadership,” he said.

You don’t say. Too bad Bernier wasn’t education minister 13 years ago. That was now-Premier Christy Clark.

Speaking of Clark and the BC Liberals’ latest election aspirations, this wasn’t the first sudden swerve in LGBT policy in 2016.

After five years of resisting, the BC Liberals suddenly added trans rights to the province’s Human Rights Code in just one sitting.

In a rare move, the government introduced the bill and passed it through all three readings in a single day on July 25, 2016.

Why the sudden rush, especially after rejecting four private member’s bills since 2011 that sought the same change?


Could it be because the BC Liberals wanted to march in the Vancouver Pride parade six days later, having lost their spot the previous year for refusing to support trans rights?

Speaking to reporters on July 20, Suzanne Anton, BC’s attorney general, described the anticipated change to the Code as an easy but important step to ensure trans people know they’re protected by law.

Quite the about-face for the province’s senior legal officer who, as late as April 25, had insisted that the change was unnecessary because existing law was sufficient — indeed “crystal clear” — to protect trans people from discrimination.

With BC’s next election looming quickly in 2017, I wonder how many more about-faces we can expect to see.

We better make a wish list to capitalize on the BC Liberals’ sudden spurt of self-interested generosity. PrEP coverage, anyone?

This story is part of Xtra’s A Year in Review news picks for 2016.

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