Addressing Violence in Ontario Schools: Past, Present and Future

  • June 11, 2023
  • Brittany Ross-Fichtner

On May 29, 2023, the Education Law Section of the Ontario Bar Association held an informative and engaging virtual program titled, “Addressing Violence in Ontario Schools: Past, Present and Future.”

The program’s Chairs and Panelists are all leaders in education law who brought a wealth of experience to the hour-long discussion. The program was Co-Chaired by Renata Antoniuk, Education Law Associate at Miller Thomson LLP, and Alex Battick, Principal Lawyer at Battick Legal Advisory. Panelists Nadya Tymochenko, Partner with Miller Thomson LLP, and Jane Stewart, Litigation Lawyer with Justice for Children and Youth, drew on their extensive experience practicing education law to discuss the various factors that lead to incidents of school violence and how schools are attempting to prevent and address them.

At the outset, Nadya Tymochenko provided an overview of the amendments to the Education Act introduced by the Safe Schools Act, 2000. She noted that the Safe Schools Act, 2000 changed the landscape for addressing violence in schools, including through establishment of mandatory student expulsions in certain scenarios. The Panelists then discussed how the original “zero-tolerance” approach initiated by the Safe Schools Act, 2000 has evolved over the years. They noted that today schools exercise more discretion when considering disciplinary responses. Jane Stewart suggested that while this evolution has been positive overall, there is some evidence that higher levels of discretion have led to unequal student outcomes that disproportionately impact racialized students and students with disabilities.  

The Panelists also commented on trends that they have observed in their respective practices, including relating to the influence that the Covid-19 pandemic and the prevalence of social media have had on student behaviour. For example, Nadya Tymochenko discussed how the pandemic has led to changes in student routines, social skills, and their sense of safety and predictability. Building on Tymochenko’s comments, Jane Stewart observed that as students transition back to attending school in-person, a diminished sense of safety or connection with their schools can lead to an increase in violence.