Unprecedented declaration by Minister of Education raises questions that deserve answers

Newsflash for Albertans:

Effective August 16th, 2016, policy decisions made by democratically elected school boards can be unilaterally usurped by a Minister of Education Facebook note.

In what has been labeled as “unprecedented”, Alberta’s Education Minister published the following open letter to Alberta’s students through his Facebook page earlier this week:

Eggen Open Letter to students01

Eggen Open Letter to students02

This open letter raises questions of critical importance to all Albertans.

Consider the following:

  1. Minister Eggen does not have the authority to simply declare to all students in Alberta “You have the right to use the washroom that is consistent with your gender identity.”

Let’s rewind to January 2016.  Alberta Education released the Guidelines document which ignited controversy across the province.

In March, Minister Eggen wrote letters to respond to the concerns voiced by tens of thousands Albertans who had contacted his office, assuring them that the Guidelines document was a “resource” and “not legally binding.”

Furthermore, he acknowledged:

“each school community is unique and that school authorities are in the best position to create policies that will work for their students, staff and families. In addition to consulting the guidelines, school authorities are encouraged to engage with their communities as they seek to align their policies and procedures with legislation and with their own local context.”

Therefore, in the absence of provincial legislation regarding bathroom policies in schools, some school boards voted to implement new bathroom protocols as per the optional “best practices” of the Guidelines document, while others engaged with their communities and responded by not implementing specific bathroom policies.

This was all done in accordance to provincial legislation, democratic process and Minister Eggen’s guidance.

Which means Minister Eggen must now clarify the content of his open letter to students:

Is Minister Eggen lying to the students he claims to wholeheartedly support 100%, by promising “rights” to them that he does not actually have the authority to provide?

Or is he lying to Albertans and creating a farce out of our province’s democratically elected school boards, who apparently no longer have authentic autonomy to withstand his arbitrary Facebook edicts?

Albertans deserve an answer.

But wait – there’s more.

2. According to the Calgary Herald article about this open letter, “Eggen added the province will also fund special training and development for teachers and staff at schools, provided through a $200,000 provincewide grant.”

It is shockingly generous of the province to pledge a new grant of almost a quarter of a million dollars at a time when our province’s economy is tanking and other vulnerable populations of students have suffered recent cutbacks.

For example, according to a June 29th Medicine Hat News article, upcoming budget cuts of over $400 000 will “severely weaken special needs supports” when it comes to hiring specialists and providing support services “for students who may have complex communication needs, visual impairments, be deaf or hard of hearing, require physiotherapy, or need mental health support”.

Superintendent of Prairie Rose School Division, Brian Andjelic, warns that “if we cut this back even further it is going to put some of those most at-risk students more at risk,” adding that his board of trustees has communicated their concerns to the Minister of Education.

Surely Minister Eggen realizes that students are at-risk across the province, for a multitude of reasons?

Why is it that one specific vulnerable population of students is worthy of generous financial provisions and a special direct government support line, while other vulnerable populations are simultaneously suffering from cutbacks to their support?

Albertans deserve an answer.

Which brings me to one final concern for today.

3. Who will be the experts employed by the $200 000 of provincial grant money for teacher training and professional development?

Almost every article describing Minister Eggen’s Facebook letter also includes references to Dr. Kristopher Wells continuing to loudly assert his own opinions through the mainstream media.  As I wrote in my last article before summer break, all Albertans should be aware of Wells’ remarkable scope of influence on these issues.

Wells’ comments on Wednesday to the Calgary Herald regarding the open letter reveal his clear preference for systems of government that “impose” policy upon citizens.

The Herald notes that Wells is “asking the province to go one step further, making all gender diversity policies public and taking action against those who are not meeting guidelines” and that if “some policies are ‘still a patchwork’, the minister should impose a clear, across the board policy.” (emphasis added)

Minister Eggen’s announcement of $200 000 will go a long way to ensuring some people in our province will have a busy schedule of presentations and workshops to offer.

And it’s worth noting that there are few people in Alberta as qualified and eager as Wells to provide such training and professional development to schools across the province.

I would hope that school boards and administrators are wise when they make decisions of how to spend the $200 000 worth of professional development grant money and consider selecting people who do not vocally advocate for disempowering their authority and governing schools through imposed provincial government edicts that circumvent democratic process.

When it comes to questions of who will be employed by this generous provision of taxpayer funds, Albertans deserve an answer.

As is obvious from Minister Eggen’s open letter, these issues being foisted upon Alberta’s schools will not be going away anytime soon.

In fact, the open letter concluded with a promise that “In the coming weeks, Alberta Education will be promoting new resources to make sure that schools are safe and welcoming.”

And in this respect we ought to learn an important lesson from Dr. Wells’ example.

If Albertans expect to see the change that he has so successfully helped to influence over the past many years, then we need to commit to being just as vocal and persistent.

He won’t stop advocating about the issues that are important to him.

And neither should you.

Donna Trimble, Executive Director of Parents for Choice in Education (PCE), penned an open letter reply to Minister Eggen and has promised upcoming advocacy strategies to harness the collective voice of Albertans across the province.

It is also essential that we continue to encourage family, friends, coworkers and neighbours to become properly informed and engaged on these important issues.

We must continue to advocate on behalf of children, families, democratic freedoms and a respect for all human rights, ensuring that all students in Alberta schools experience a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment as they return to school in the upcoming weeks.

Subscribe to PCE’s Facebook page or their website newsletter for ongoing updates on how you can continue making your voice heard and refer to the “How to Respond” tab of this website to find the contact information of Minister Eggen, your MLA and school board trustees.

Demand the answers that you deserve from elected officials who are hired to represent you.

Your voice matters.

 

A name every Albertan should know

Dr. Kristopher Wells’ influence within education, politics, sports, media and academia is truly remarkable. Consider some of his contributions:

Youth & K-12 Education

  • Leader of professional development sessions for K-12 educators on topics such as diversity, inclusion and supporting LGBTQ youth GSAs Teacher Guide cover
  • Author of the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s Teacher’s Guide for Gay-Straight Alliances
  • Co-founder of Camp FYrefly, “Canada’s only national leadership retreat for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirited, intersexed, queer, questioning, and allied youth,” which has now also expanded to a Grade 7-12 school program

Politics

  • Contributor to several of the research studies and publications listed as resources
    in Alberta Education’s Guidelines document (pages 16-18)
  • Cited by several politicians as being a key influence in the promotion and content of Bill 10 (Hansard for March 10, 2015, pages 541, 545 and 548)
  • First person to have formal audience with PC Premier Jim Prentice after Prentice was sworn in as premier. In a Global News interview, Dr. Wells said “the fact that this was the first meeting on his very first day I think can’t be underestimated. It signals an important message.”


Sports

  • Member of the national Trans Inclusion in Sport Expert Working Group, which is completing a guide for Canadian sport organizations “to assist them in developing policies and practices for the full inclusion of transgender individuals in all levels of sport, including schools”
  • Co-founder of Pride Tape


Academia & Media

  • Faculty Director at the Institute for Sexual Minorities Studies and Services (iSMSS), reported to be “home to one of the world’s most influential and internationally recognized centres for the advancement of gay rights.” (Oct 8, 2014 Global News)
  • Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta, where he inspires and influences our society’s future leaders
  • Frequently interviewed by media as an expert authority on any issue related to sexual orientation and gender identity


Yet, in the midst of all his accomplishments and his fervent championing of human rights, it is astounding to witness the profound disrespect that Dr Wells freely and unapologetically parades through the public sphere.

Depiction of religious groups

KW Nazi cartoon
Not only do many Albertans find this image profoundly offensive on its own, but it is made even more disturbing because it is an altered version of the original image created to remember the 21 Coptic Christian Egyptians executed by ISIS  in Libya in February 2015:

Sheila Gunn Reid on alterations from original

KW original cartoon coptic Christians
After a backlash on Twitter, Dr Wells unapologetically posted the following:

KW block button2

The following dialogue ensued when Dr Wells was questioned on why he deleted the original tweet. Note the only apology he provided related to the image’s “authenticity”:

KW deleted because of authenticity part 1
Unfortunately, this complete lack of respect was not an isolated incident.

In March, an Albertan blogger shared her concerns regarding a comic that Dr Wells posted on Twitter, entitling her post “Dr. Kris Wells: Inclusiveness expert or anti-religion propagator?

this clearly shows his alignment with the hateful organization that came up with this comic and that his objective is not to prevent the bullying of the LGBTQ community, but rather to spread hatred and to bully the Christian community and persons with any sort of sexual morality that does not meet up with his own set of ideologies. Dr. Wells’ demands for ‘inclusive’ policies in Alberta schools clearly don’t extend to anyone who disagrees with his way of thinking in terms of sexuality or religion.”

I encourage you to read more from her post by clicking the image below:

Dr Wells from Clarissa blog

Mischaracterization of parental concerns

Dr. Wells’ public display of disrespect extends to other groups as well.

On May 14th Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) sponsored tremendously successful simultaneous peaceful rallies at the Legislature (Edmonton) and McDougall Centre (Calgary), with 4300+ in attendance who respectfully voiced concerns regarding parental involvement in education

However, Dr. Wells – who was not even present at the rally to hear for himself the perspectives that were shared – promoted an alarmingly inaccurate characterization of the thousands of Albertans who participated in the event:

Dr Wells stupid is stupid does2

But he didn’t stop there.  According to a June 13th Edmonton Metro article about the Mayor’s Pride Brunch, which took place the morning after the horrific Orlando shooting, Dr. Wells again made reference to those who attended the PCE rallies:

Kris Wells knew he had a captive audience Sunday at the Mayor’s Pride Brunch and he didn’t hesitate to use the opportunity… Many speakers alluded to the shooting but chose to concentrate on the celebration of youth. Wells did, too, but couldn’t resist pouncing ever-so-noticeably on some in the crowd, including leaders from political parties whose members sometime run off-message when it comes to strong support for the LGBTQ community. “We can’t forget that people still come to legislature to protest against the right of LGBTQ youth to be safe in their classrooms,”

…. “Just look at the legislature and look at those parties that still refuse to or won’t support the minister of education’s LGBTQ guidelines, or the parents groups that are protesting against the right of LGBTQ youth to be safe in schools,” he said.

“These kinds of messages of intolerance, prejudice and discrimination are what spawn into hate and what turn into violence.”

Notice that while other speakers respectfully chose to “concentrate on the celebration of youth”, Dr. Wells seemed to use the tragedy as a platform to advance a political agenda and to publicly malign parent groups.

In fact, his comments seem to imply an offensive and outrageous illogical association between the violence of the Orlando massacre and Albertans’ concerns about parental involvement in education (which he erroneously misrepresents as protesting “against the right of LGBTQ youth to be safe”).  

How can anyone of such tremendous influence within our government, media and the education of our youth be permitted to publicly misrepresent and vilify groups of people in our province and yet still be considered an “expert” on respect for diversity, inclusion and providing a “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment” in Alberta schools?

And why is it that mainstream media will devote days to exploring a supposed endorsement of a “homophobic” Facebook comment by Derek Fildebrandt, yet refuse to even acknowledge the repeatedly disrespectful public behaviour of an “anti-bullying” expert?

Now that the Minister of Education has confirmed that sexual orientation and gender identity will be part of the new curriculum, Dr. Wells is eagerly offering his expert assistance.

KW can't wait to assist with curriculum

As electors, parents and taxpayers of Alberta, we are each considered stakeholders in our publicly funded education system.

And we must demand better.

We all have a responsibility to ensure that the education of K-12 students in our province is undertaken by those who are most qualified -and that includes the consultants and experts who work behind the scenes to develop the policies, legislation and curriculum which shape our next generation.

I encourage Albertans to communicate with the Minister of Education  to insist that his office exercises wisdom, discretion and transparency in the selection of those responsible for positions of influence and authority within our education system (Email: edmonton.calder@assembly.ab.ca; Phone: 780 427 5010; Twitter: @davideggenAB).

Remind the Minister of Education that those who malign groups of people, while claiming to protect others, are not defending human rights – they are simply trading discrimination of one group for another. And this type of behaviour is not a solution to hate and bullying. It is a root cause.

Albertans must insist that those in positions of influence within our K-12 education system are committed to true equality – an equality that demonstrates that all people are equally worthy of respect.

Desmond Tutu quote about seeing others as enemy

Meeting with the Minister of Education, David Eggen

The following update was recently provided on the Parents for Choice in Education website and is shared here with permission:

On May 25, 2016 Parents for Choice in Education Executive Director Donna Trimble, Theresa Ng of Informed Albertans and Sara Baril of PRO Children Alberta and Expose CSE Alberta met with Education Minister, David Eggen.

We would not have received this 60-minute meeting if not for the courage, perseverance and love of parents, grandparents and concerned citizens from across Alberta – the tens of thousands of you who wrote letters and made phone calls to your MLAs, the 23,000+ people who have signed the petition so far and the 4500+ of you who showed up in-person from across the province to attend the May 14th rallies.  Your compassion, your love, your tenacity, and your courage can be seen in the pictures from May 14, 2016 at the Calgary McDougall Centre and the Edmonton Legislature. We sincerely thank you all for continuing to remind the Alberta Government that in order to protect ALL Alberta children, parental rights must be upheld.

Many of you have communicated with Donna, Sara and Theresa over the past months (and years) and we used this 60 minute opportunity to clearly represent your concerns. We are honored by the faith you put in us!

We are hopeful Minister Eggen will meet us again in the coming weeks – a promise given at the end of the meeting when Minister Eggen responded to our request for a follow up meeting with, “Sure, definitely.”  Donna will be following up with Jeremy Nolais, the Chief of Staff for Minister Eggen, to garner this meeting, and we hope for a thorough response to the information we provided, including a continued dialogue on the specific questions we provided for him on the Meeting Agenda.

We appreciated that Minister Eggen’s overall tone was positive, collaborative and receptive to our concerns. He stated rights must be “balanced”, that hearing our concerns was “helpful”, he was left with a lot to “think about”, and he wanted “to provide clarity and interaction”. He acknowledged that he sees the “hot spots”, and “need[s] to be conscious of people’s rights… work[ing] in harmony.”

First, Donna spoke to the importance of parental involvement in the care and counselling of at risk youth, especially those who identify as being associated with the LGBTQ population. We used studies procured by those in support of transgenderism and the LGBTQ as these studies repeatedly prove that the most important ally to these children are their own parents. Quoting from Trans Pulse, Impact of Strong Parental Support for Trans Youth, we read the following: “Knowing one has social and family supports is very important in the development of one’s overall sense of health and well-being. In Trans PULSE, parental support of youth’s gender identity and expression was directly associated with how trans youth rated their health and general well-being.”

On suicide risk: “Consideration of suicide was common, and was reported by 35% of youth whose parents were strongly supportive and 60 % of those whose parents were not strongly supportive. Particularly alarming is that among this latter 60%, nearly all (57%) had actually attempted suicide in the past year. In contrast, only 4% of those with strongly supportive parents attempted suicide. While 4% is still far too high, the impact of strong parental support can be clearly seen in the 93% reduction in reported suicide attempts for youth who indicated their parents were strongly supportive of their gender identity and expression.”

Finally, regarding how the government should be approaching these issues in schools we read that “…ultimately our data indicate that it is parents and caregivers themselves who provide the foundation for their children’s health and well-being with their support. Therefore, policy-makers and Service Providers need to ensure effective services are available directly for parents and caregivers of trans youth.”

Donna stated that parents must be notified and informed of the needs of their children in school, and if circumvented – in cases of genuine danger – there must be a formula by which other outside resources (e.g. Social Services) are engaged to provide a team of support for the child, with proper documentation. Donna said this must be written into Bill 10 and School Board Policies and quoted from Theresa Ng, “We must advocate for policies that encourage at-risk, vulnerable youth to strengthen child-family bonds, as this is a key protective factor identified by the research to increase their resilience in the face of challenges and adversity.”

In response to Minister Eggen’s mention that “only in extreme circumstances” would parents not be informed, Theresa Ng quoted directly from Calgary Board of Education’s Conditions to Thrive document (page 5-39), which clearly instructs that “should a student disclose that they are a sexual or gender minority to a CBE staff member, the information should be held in confidence. Unless a student provides permission to share this information, the staff member should not disclose this information to anyone else, including other staff members and parents/guardians.” Theresa pointed out that the messaging was very different from Minister Eggen’s assurances and asked how parents were supposed to reconcile these two very different messages – what Minister Eggen is saying with what the policies are saying – especially since what is written trumps what is said.

Theresa Ng, who worked as an elementary teacher for many years, then spoke to the fact that Bill 10 and the sexual orientation and gender identity policies put forth by many school boards, based on the Education Guidelines, disempower teachers and other school staff from using their professional judgement to most effectively support children because policies such as the one cited by the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) do not allow teachers to access supports, such as parents and the expertise of other staff and professionals, unless the child provides permission. She stated that factors of age, maturity and developmental appropriateness have not been considered in the application of these policies, as well as in the presentation of information in schools related to concepts of gender fluidity (quoted definition on page 5-35 of CBE’s document) and the Genderbread Person.  She also said that encouraging private conversations of a sexual and sensitive nature between a school staff member and a child from 5 to 18 years of age raises red flags for educators and parents alike. Teachers are already over burdened just trying to educate a wide range of students in a classroom and these expectations put them under additional strain.

Sara Baril spoke next, and she spoke for children and specifically about Comprehensive Sexuality Education. She stated that parents are described as ‘partners’ in the Education Act, and that ‘partners’, in the care of children, do not keep secrets. She spoke about the need to consider the diverse individual needs of children in relation to club attendance, counselling, and Sexual Education. She also explained that families in Alberta hold a wide range of values on gender and human sexuality, from secular to deeply religious, emphasizing that freedom of religion, belief and association must be respected and that these changes must balance freedoms.

As Alberta’s curriculum for Sexual Education and Career and Life Management (CALM) will soon be undergoing revisions, Sara expressed that it is essential parents are engaged in the process, with a seat at the table of discussion. She emphasized that children are not miniature adults and information must be age appropriate.  Sara explained the concept of an ‘opt-in’ for parents, where no child should ever be engaged in study or counselling of a sexual nature (including matters regarding gender identity and expression) without explicit permission of the parents. Furthermore, that it is essential any curriculum of a sexual nature be provided to parents. This being key as all children are different, and with a class of 20-30 students a teacher may not know and/or be able to address all the needs and sensitivities of every child considering factors such as: maturity, temperament (shyness), past or present sexual abuse (post traumatic responses in abused children), developmental or social disabilities (1 in 10 students have developmental challenges), the cultural beliefs of families that may be in opposition to the activities of clubs, counselling and Sexual Education, etc. Sara also mentioned that encouraging private discussions on sexuality between a troubled student and school staff is not only contradictory to the Alberta Teachers Association’s advice in a handbook Teachers’ Rights, Responsibilities and Legal Liabilities (page 34), but fosters increased risk of sexual abuse – which, while rare, can and has happened.  Sara provided a letter outlining these concerns to Minister Eggen for his future reference.

Donna ended the meeting by reminding Minister Eggen that Parents for Choice in Education does not hold a position on Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) in and of themselves. That being said, GSA’s and many activities that would take place in these “student-driven” clubs are in contradiction to many school cultures and to families who send their children to non-faith based schools like public schools. Donna reminded Minister Eggen that prior to Bill 10, there were already support groups in many schools – including the Catholic Separate School Board – that supported youth at risk very well while being cohesive to sensitivities of families and school culture. Bill 10 mandated clubs and how they could be named, and removed the rights of parents and administrators to ensure that any activities in these clubs would be cohesive to the school setting or beliefs of parents. She explained this is in contradiction to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Education Act, where parents are the primary directors of their children’s education. She also explained how stripping the right of school administrators and parents to work with students in the development of clubs, as was the case prior to Bill 10, is liable to create more distress for children as this will likely create battles between children and parents or students and school staff, parents and schools, or schools and the government. Consequently, this will leave already at-risk children at the centre of a battle ground, and suffering the ramifications of such conflict. Donna asked that amendments be made to ensure that parents and schools can work with children to ensure that clubs are cohesive to the needs of children, while respecting the culture of their families and schools. Supporting children need not create contradiction between a child’s struggles and their faith traditions.

Throughout the meeting Minister Eggen often replied to the information with comments such as “that is interesting”, “that is very helpful”, “I can understand”, “will look into that”.

This meeting was a positive start to what Parents for Choice in Education hopes will be an ongoing dialogue with Minister Eggen and the Government of Alberta on how to create and provide a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment for all students in Alberta schools. This will be accomplished through supporting active parental involvement and participation.

Once again, we want to thank each of you for making this meeting possible with your involvement in confronting Bill 10, school board policies based on the Education Guidelines, and the upcoming revision of Sexual Education and CALM Curriculum in Alberta. Thank you also to Jackie who took notes during the meeting!

We are proud to be working with each one of you, protecting the children of Alberta, by defending parent rights. We will not relent.

Donna Trimble, Sara Baril, and Theresa Ng

PDF: Minister Eggen Meets with Parents -Through PCE

PDF Summary: Minister Eggen May 25th meeting summary

Life in a land of carnival mirrors

We live in a world increasingly lost in the midst of distortion – where relatively minor issues are magnified and critical concerns are relegated to public obscurity.

Consider recent examples involving our elected officials in Alberta.

This past week the media spotlight shone brightly upon Derek Fildebrandt, MLA for Strathmore-Brooks.

Interestingly, it wasn’t what Fildebrandt directly said that became problematic, but rather his perceived support of a Facebook comment made by someone else.

He claims the error was unintentional. Most agreed it was an honest mistake.  He apologized profusely and it should have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t.

Fildebrandt’s online actions were construed as “homophobic” and the events were distorted and magnified to such a degree that Fildebrandt was temporarily exiled from his own Wildrose party. For some of the extensive media coverage, see my “Articles & Links” page.

Meanwhile, little public attention has been given to the online behaviour of Sandra Jansen, the PC MLA for Calgary-North West.

4000+ Albertans gathered for simultaneous peaceful rallies in Edmonton and Calgary on May 14th, concerned about how educational legislation and policies are impacting children in schools across the province.

Many in attendance were families with children, along with grandparents and representatives of many different cultural communities. The crowd included some of Jansen’s own constituents, as well as numerous people who drove several hours from across the province with the hopes of making their voices heard.

As the Progressive Conservative Education Critic, Jansen has a democratic responsibility to engage in respectful, informed and thoughtful dialogue on educational issues in the public sphere.

Instead, Jansen used her Twitter account to personally and deliberately label the crowds of concerned Albertans as fearful, misinformed and intolerant.

Electors fund her salary and look to her for leadership to represent and address their concerns, not to dispense condemnation and disrespectful labels.

Her office was inundated with hundreds of emails and phone calls, including two messages I shared publicly.

I invited Sandra Jansen to provide an explanation for her Twitter comments that could be passed along to Donna Trimble, Executive Director of Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) and posted publicly on the PCE website to be accessible to the tens of thousands of rally supporters.  However, I have not yet received a reply.

When we cut through all the distortion and media noise, there is an important underlying question that must be addressed:

How is it that we live in a province where an inadvertent error is magnified to the level of a multi-day news cycle, while another MLA is unapologetically and unmistakably disrespectful to thousands of Albertans and there is zero personal and public accountability?

Derek Fildebrandt had a lapse in judgement. He apologized.

Sandra Jansen?  Well, maybe she needs a reminder.

Remind her of her own advice regarding how people should be received at the Legislature, as well as the lessons that we want to model for our youth. Both of her comments were made just a few days ago, in reference to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s visit to the Legislature last week:
Jansen respectful reception at Legislature

Jansen students learn from us

Sandra Jansen expresses laudable sentiments. But do these same standards apply to her own behaviour?

Thousands of Albertans showed up to the doorsteps of the Legislature and Jansen made them feel quite unwelcome by her comments.

And does Sandra Jansen actually believe youth should follow her example – that they should feel fully justified in disrespecting others for whatever reasons they deem appropriate?

Regardless of whether a person happens to agree or disagree with a particular opinion or policy does not give them license to disrespect others, especially from a position of public office.

In a pluralistic, diverse, supposedly democratic society, it is the job of the people to respectfully hold their elected officials accountable.

Albertans must demand better.

Sandra Jansen has had ample time to provide public explanation for her comments and has chosen not to do so.

Please contact Ric McIver, Interim Leader of the Progressive Conservative party (email: calgary.hays@assembly.ab.ca, phone number: 403.215.4380 or through Twitter: @RicMcIver), requesting him to make an alternate choice for Education Critic – someone who will actually represent public concerns on educational issues, rather than exploiting a position of public office to malign and belittle Albertans.

In the end, we must demand that all of our MLAs devote more focused energy to informed, responsible governance, and less attention to carnival-like antics.

Warped lens of the media distorts reality for Albertans

media framing story changes story

How the media chooses to frame a story will change the story.

In fact, defining reality for the collective public consciousness is often based less on what actually happened, and more on what the media says happened.

It has been two weeks since the Parents for Choice in Education peaceful rallies in Edmonton and Calgary, where over 4300 people joined together to advocate about the protection of Alberta children through upholding parental rights.

Since then, hundreds of people who attended the rallies have filed complaints with various media outlets and the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council because of the inaccurate reporting of the event.

Some people have shared their messages with me.  Here are two of those messages – one is from a Central Alberta grandmother who drove to the Edmonton rally and the second is a media “report card” written by a teacher who attended the Calgary rally.

Thank you to these two Albertans for their willingness to help publicly set the record straight on the truth of the PCE rallies, especially after the strikingly distorted portrayal of the event through the warped lens of the media.

EDMONTON

Saturday May 14th, 2016 I traveled from Central Alberta to the Parents for Choice in Education peaceful rally in Edmonton, attended by over 4300 people in both Edmonton and Calgary.

There were many parents with small children, as well as many concerned grandparents such as myself.  Together we represented thousands more Albertans who couldn’t make it physically to the rally but have shown overwhelming support through social media and emails.

We are Albertans who are able to see past the transgender issues of Bill 10 and the Guidelines – and find it incredibly alarming.

The majority of people against Bill 10 agree the transgender group is one of many minority groups that experience bullying. That’s not in dispute.

Unfortunately, there are still many more Albertans who are not aware of the extent of Bill 10 and the Guidelines and the implications they have for families.

Why do so many Albertans remain oblivious to these tremendous concerns?

As I discovered, the biggest fault by far lies with the media.

While I watched the news on Saturday night, and again the next day, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing.  I couldn’t even sleep because the injustice of it all outraged me so much!

EVERY SINGLE TV STATION WAS LYING TO THEIR VIEWERS!!

There were many reporters at the event. They had cameras. They had a good view of what was happening.  They could hear just as well as anyone else there what was being talked about.

But what did they come up with? EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM? That the rally was about transgender rights, and how all these thousands of people were against transgender people.

WHAT?? What about the parts of the event they chose NOT to report?

NOT about parental rights being compromised.

NOT about the schools being legally obliged to now keep secrets of children from their own parents.

NOT about the hundreds of signs that had been printed declaring the importance of parents and family in a child’s life.

Certainly NOT about the very small – but very vocal – group of transgender supporters that day who spewed vulgar language and bitterness to be heard clearly by all around them, including many young children (how ironic that they claim to be supporting “safe, welcoming, caring” schools!).

NOT the courageous presenters at the rally who had to face the full onslaught of these aggressive verbal attacks for the entire 2 hours of the rally, and try to speak to us in spite of it. I even know of at least one of the presenters who asked to be escorted to their vehicle because of fear for their safety.  How’s that for human rights?

NO!! The only thing I heard from the news was that all these thousands of concerned Albertans were against transgender people.  EXCUSE ME??

And what footage did they show?

NOT any of the excellent presenters giving their talks about parental involvement, freedom to teach their values and the importance of family.

NOT the angry and vulgar transgender activist group trying to disrespectfully interrupt the speakers with their obscenities and loud chanting.

Instead the media stories focused on two people who had a verbal disagreement – one person out of 2300 from the peaceful rally who was unfortunately goaded to the point that he responded.

And GUESS WHAT??  THAT small little clip was shown as the main event!   Our supporters were shown with their signs, but the voiceover on the footage only talked about how all these people were so against transgender people!

WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?  I know as well as the next person that the media will skew stories to their advantage, but to make the story into something it completely wasn’t?

THAT is unacceptable.

I have no idea why all the media appears to be scared to tell the truth, but I do know it’s something that should scare everyone else.

All these TV stations have now lost any credibility with the thousands of people that know what really did happen that day.

Sorry CTV, sorry CBC, sorry Global and CTV national news, and every other news station that can’t or won’t provide the public with the truth.

Shame on you all!

So sad you think your viewers will continue to be so gullible and believe anything you say.

Anyone seen a National Enquirer lately?  I’ve heard they report ‘news’ as well.

CALGARYblog post - media awareness - CTV report card

PDF: CTV report card

Is MLA Sandra Jansen listening to Albertans?

My blog post yesterday regarding Ms Jansen’s recent Twitter comments was not inflammatory or accusatory. I simply shared information that had already been posted publicly and requested clarification regarding her remarks.

Explanation is the very least that is owed to the people of Alberta when a person entrusted with a position of public office, whose salary is funded through taxapayer dollars, chooses to brand tens of thousands of Albertans as misinformed, fearful and intolerant.

I continue to await Ms Jansen’s timely response clearly demonstrating how she came to her conclusion.

In the meantime, I know she has been inundated with many emails and phone calls from those who supported the PCE rallies. Several people have shared their responses with me and I would like to post two of them publicly.

According to Twitter remarks generated by my blog post shortly after it was posted, Ms Jansen assured people she has listened.

Hopefully her listening continues…  because there are a lot of Albertans who have something to say.

Jansen listening

 

LETTER #1

May 16, 2016

Hello Ms. Jansen:

I am emailing you today to express my concern and shock in regards to your Twitter comments made regarding the recent rallies supporting Parental Choice in Education.

Not only did your comments completely miss the point of the rally (which was not to debate the human rights of those who identify as transgendered), but then to completely alienate and vilify close to 4000 Albertans and their families, on the basis of misinformation given to you by a secondary source over unreliable social media, is asinine. As a Provincial politician, I would expect that you would uphold a more rigorous standard for vetting the content of your comments on social media before posting, and investigate both the source of the information before passing judgement. Your position is an influential one, and as a 23 year old recent Bachelor of Science graduate, I would honestly expect more professionalism and impartiality from my elected officials before labeling a group “intolerant” who’s motives you couldn’t even be bothered to investigate before spreading the “misinformation” you claim to be wrong.

Now, let me set the record straight on my end. I voted PC in the first provincial election I was eligible for at age 18, and my family voted PC steadfastly for 3 generations, until recently. Unfortunately, your party continues to move in a direction which I cannot support. A direction which continues to cater to “progressive” rhetoric, and a direction which erodes both the fiscal and social policies that made this province a beacon in an otherwise dark world.

It’s quite humorous to me, actually, that you claim any sort of alliance to a conservative moniker, when the very nature of your statements moves towards an ideology which has long abandoned that of conventional (and healthy) societal norms, which include abandoning the rights of parents to be informed about their child’s struggles within the public school system and be the sole decision maker for their child’s well-being.

Funnily enough, the very nature of the rally that you so egregiously vilified with your comments sought to preserve the very institutions that remain in the sphere of conservatism – the rights of the parent to their child. Let me put it plainly – your party long ago abandoned any sort of fiscal conservatism, as we are all well aware, and really, the only conservative part of your party left over was the preservation of tried and tested conservative elements of social policy – again, the United Nations enshrined rights of the parent to be the sole caregiver and provider for decisions surrounding their child. I guess I know where the PC’s stand on this issue. Maybe you should ask your interim party leader, the Honorable Ric McIver, where he stands on this issue. I guarantee it’s not where you seem to stand.

Bottom line, this is what the rally was about. Give back the rights of parents to determine the best practices for their children, rather than allowing the education system to begin subscribing to the dangerous ideology of the NDP government and “popular culture” that vilifies any sort of opposition to the “transgender movement.” It’s not about “bathrooms” – the movement on Saturday was about the erosion of parental rights.

Transgender adults have the same rights as you and I, enshrined in our constitution since before you and I were both born. Parents of children that are struggling with their gender identity have a God-given and United Nations- granted right to be informed and consulted when their children are struggling with gender identity issues. They do not need to have their government’s permission to decide what information is disseminated to them about their child’s gender identity struggles, through the voice of the government via the state educational institutions.

That, Ms. Jansen, is a true violation of human rights.

That is what one member who spoke at our Calgary rally escaped communist China for. If you were at the rally in person, rather than hearing about it through the grapevine of social media, you would have heard his testimony. You have a responsibility to stop this erosion of rights as a legislative member of a conservative party that stands for the freedom of the individual, and the sanctity of the family unit, which is being attacked by the New Democrats at this point in time.

Unless, you don’t believe in the right to determine your own child’s education, and the information they learn about as they form their world-views. If that’s the case, I challenge you to stop representing the PC party and cross the floor to the New Democrats. At least then, you would be honest in your convictions, and your constituents would know where you stand on this issue.

That’s a move I could respect.

With respect,
Mike Stacey

 

LETTER #2:

May 17, 2016

Dear Ms. Jansen,

I am writing you this email to address your public comments made on Twitter. Specifically:

“The misinformation presented there is undeniably sad. Fear and intolerance have no place in my Alberta.” in response to a tweet by Progress Alberta, and

“This. A thousand times!!!” in response to another tweet by Richard Einarsenwho which suggests that the people who attended the rally do not view LGBTQ people as full and equal citizens.

I attended the rally in Edmonton with my wife and two children. I am a professional engineer, she is a family doctor. Our two sons are 10 and 8. It was peaceful and respectful, and dominated by families.

What was not peaceful and respectful was the behaviour of the counter-demonstrators. They heckled, they shouted down speakers, and they repeatedly cursed the crowd. I was near the front with my kids, and thankfully they were oblivious to the constant use of the F-word in our direction. At no time did the Sheriffs have to step in and remove participants attending the rally, but they repeatedly had to remove or talk to the counter-demonstrators.

Secondly, the Tweet from Progress Alberta regarding “luring” was taken out of context. The speaker at the rally has 5 children, 3 of which are Autistic, and he was discussing the disproportionate attention given to transgender kids (who number 1 in 35,000) while not enough is being done for the 1 in 10 children with disabilities. His concern was that an Autistic child, who typically is far more impressionable than a non-Autistic child, would join a club and be open to suggestions about their sexuality and gender identity, without their parents’ knowledge. This is a pragmatic issue, and worthy of a thoughtful response.

This entire thing could be ended by the government if they simply would pass a motion that affirms that parents, when providing a loving and nurturing home, know what is best for their children. And this extends to education. The Alberta PC Party, of which you are a member, introduced a private members motion urging the government to affirm parental rights in deciding what kind of education is best for their children – be it public, private, or home schooling. This was gutted by an NDP amendment that affirmed that choice in education is the government’s prerogative, not parents. My father is a concentration camp survivor. My mother’s side hid resistance workers during the Second World War. They have both lived in times when governments controlled what people believed, especially through education. This is why the UN Declaration of Rights confirms the rights of parents to choose their children’s education, so that governments are forced to relinquish the ability to indoctrinate the population. And this is what the rally on May 14 was about.

As an elected politician, you are not just the representative of LGBTQ constituents, but of cultural and religious groups that do not share the same ideas of what constitutes healthy sexuality. Your tweets are insensitive, as they call the very people you represent as intolerant. Thus, people have good reason to be fearful. If you truly believe in tolerance, you will foster an environment where Albertans are free to express their beliefs without their elected representatives resorting to name calling on social media.

Sincerely,
Benjamin van den Berg

MLA Sandra Jansen offends thousands of Albertans with claims of misinformation, fear and intolerance

Sandra Jansen, MLA for Calgary Northwest, is considering running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party.

With that in mind, it astounds me that Ms Jansen feels at liberty to offend the 4000+ concerned Albertans who attended the Parents for Choice in Education rallies in Calgary and Edmonton this past Saturday.

One would think she would be more careful when labeling thousands of Albertans with claims of misinformation, fear and intolerance.

Jansen rally tweet1

Jansen rally tweet2

 

Using such bold, sweeping overgeneralizations, especially on the basis of one tweet with a quote of eight words taken completely out of context, is a questionable decision when attempting to garner support of Albertan voters.

As someone who was actually present at the Edmonton rally, as both an organizer and the MC, I would like to question Ms Jansen’s conclusions:

On what basis is “Progress Alberta” making claims of our rally being “anti-Trans”?

And based on what evidence is Richard Einarson claiming that those in attendance at the rallies “don’t support acceptance of LGBTQ people as full & equal citizens in Alberta”?

And, most importantly to Albertans, on what basis does MLA Sandra Jansen feel justified to base her understanding on such claims?

In advance of the rally, constituents hand-delivered printed rally information packages to many MLAs across the province, including to Ms Jansen.  She cannot claim ignorance of our purposes and goals.  Provided in the overview letter of that package is the statement from Donna Trimble, Executive Director of Parents for Choice in Education:

Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) does not oppose or support Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools. PCE opposes Bill 10 because it fundamentally and profoundly disrespects the right of parents to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children, imposing GSAs on every school in Alberta, including Catholic, public, charter, private and independent schools.

 Every parent wants Alberta’s schools to provide a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment. A law requiring this is redundant and unnecessary, but otherwise not harmful. When it comes to the best way(s) to achieve a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment in schools, there are as many different opinions as there are parents. All of these opinions should be considered and respected. None of them should be imposed on every school in Alberta as the only way…

 In a free society that respects parental rights, and in the context of legislation governing education, PCE believes that no one should have the right to impose their views about sexuality (or any other topic) on others by way of mandating a certain gender ideology on everyone. We believe that authentic diversity, maximum choice for parents, and the health, protection and well-being of our children are undermined by Bill 10 and the Guidelines.

Personally, I fail to see any reasonable connection between advocating for all parents to have “maximum choice” and the “right of parents to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” with claims of being “anti-trans”.

Do not trans students need support of their families too?  Do not trans students benefit when parents are given the freedom to exercise the “right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”?

Wouldn’t any parent agree that mandating a specific ideology onto every K-12 student in Alberta, with a complete disregard for a family’s values and cultural sensitivities, is an over-reach of government authority into the sphere of the family?

Ms Jansen now owes all of us a public explanation for her conclusions. She should also be cautious of who she relies on as her sources of information.

Interestingly, at the end of the day, Ms Jansen and I both reach the same conclusion: fear, misinformation and intolerance have no place in my Alberta either.

It is the reason I started this blog and my motivation to advocate so publicly about this issue.

Albertans deserve to know what their elected officials are saying about them. As the adage says “Knowledge is power” – and it is only when we are fully informed that we can make the best decisions for ourselves, our families and the future of our province, especially when it comes to decisions of who to support in positions of public office and the best candidates for potential leadership roles.

Politicians like Ms. Jansen need to remember that (thankfully) Twitter is not representative of most of Alberta. And that popularity contests on Twitter will not necessarily get politicians re-elected. Listening to Albertans, hearing their voices and addressing their concerns would certainly help.

Or at least it should – if we as Albertans take seriously our responsibility in a democracy to make our concerns known and hold those in public office accountable for their public remarks.

I’ve been listening to thousands of Albertans across the province and there is an uprising of voters in this province who are frustrated with lack of representation and beginning to mobilize and activate.  As evidenced by the overwhelming support for our rallies on Saturday, increasing numbers of people are becoming aware of the concerns represented by our rallies. And these Albertans will not stop spreading awareness about these issues until their concerns are addressed.

MLA Ric McIver received a groundswell of support for his recent advocacy supporting parental choice in education.

By contrast, Ms. Jansen has just opened a chasm between herself and a huge, politically activated group of concerned Albertans that she has labeled instead of listened to.

I would strongly encourage every one of those 4000+ people who attended the rallies in person, as well as the tens of thousands of concerned Albertans from across the province who were unable to attend in person, to send Ms Jansen a message, loud and clear.

Since she is not a fan of misinformation I am certain she would welcome Albertans respectfully setting the record straight.  Her phone number is 403 297 7104 and email is calgary.northwest@assembly.ab.ca   (cc: Interim PC Leader Ric McIver at calgary.hays@assembly.ab.ca).  Feel free to even just send her the link to this article as representative of your concerns with her claims.

Furthermore, with all due respect, I invite Ms. Jansen to provide further explanation to her claims and conclusions regarding her tweets of Saturday’s rallies.  Upon receipt of her explanation I would be happy to publicly share it with the tens of thousands of families who supported the rallies across the province, through posting it on my blog and passing it along to Donna Trimble, the Executive Director or Parents for Choice in Education.

One last piece of advice to elected officials across the province: if you want to garner support of voters, give up trying to appeal to the Twitter-sphere.

Instead, start listening to the concerns of the thousands of Albertans showing up on your doorstep and begin addressing their concerns.

rally2016 (27 of 42)

At least 2300 people gather at the steps of the Alberta Legislature on Saturday for the Parents for Choice in Education peaceful rally.

rally2016 (9 of 42)

Calgary march

At least 2000 people march through downtown Calgary following the Parents for Choice in Education rally at the McDougall Centre.