The day has finally come – Education Minister David Eggen has officially issued a ministerial order to enforce Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) at “defiant” Christian schools.
As stated in an Edmonton Journal article:
“An outside adviser has urged the education minister to close a “significant gap” in law that sets different expectations for public and private schools’ accommodation of LGBTQ students and staff.
Education Minister David Eggen issued a ministerial order Thursday based on the adviser’s report, telling two defiant Edmonton-area Christian private schools they must allow students to create a gay-straight alliance if they request one.
Eggen received the report from lawyer Dan Scott in November 2016 — it was released publicly Thursday.
Scott said private schools are exempt from a law that requires schools to provide a “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment” for students. He recommended the minister amend the School Act to change that inequity.
“I’m assessing it very carefully,” Eggen said Thursday. “I want to make sure that we are both applying the law in an equitable way, and that people will … understand the importance of having this right afforded to all students regardless of where they go to school.”
The order should also send a message to all schools that the government will “pursue the letter of the law” in how they treat LGBTQ students, Eggen said.
Scott recommended the minister order the schools to submit an updated policy spelling out students’ rights to form a gay-straight alliance, or appoint a trustee to oversee that task if the society refuses. If the society still resists, he should revoke the schools’ accreditation — but only after the end of the school year, Scott said.”
I encourage you to read the report published by lawyer Dan Scott for yourself.
Worthy of attention – and not mentioned by any of the media articles so far – is a footnote on page 23 with the following caution for the Education Minister:
“if the Minister intends to revoke accreditation based on non-compliance with section 16.1, and if that non-compliance is based on honestly held religious beliefs, then the Minister will need to assess the impact any decision to cancel accreditation will have on the rights of the Society and the students under section 2(a) of the Charter, balanced against the broader objectives of the Act and the rights of any LGBTQ students who may be attending the schools. The issue of accreditation for private schools, and any rights engaged under section 2(a) of the Charter, are outside the scope of this inquiry, but I raise this as a question / issue for the Minister to consider.”
While this footnote is easy to miss, it is impossible to ignore.
On numerous occasions I have referenced the expert informative analysis prepared by a constitutional lawyer 2 years ago – only one month after Bill 10 was passed into law.
That report urged elected representatives to “review and amend Bill 10 to bring it into compliance with the Charter” with a warning that:
“costly, lengthy and unnecessary litigation could be required to enforce the constitutional rights which protect Alberta’s religious schools, and the right of parents who choose to have their children attend these institutions.”
Legislators refusing to do their job?
For two years MLAs of every political stripe have known that amendments are necessary to ensure this legislation is in full compliance with the Charter – and they have done nothing.
I have personally spoken to MLAs who know the legislation passed through Bill 10 is likely unconstitutional, but they just shrug their shoulders and insist that the courts are the only way to deal with this poorly written legislation.
But that is a lie.
The truth is that there are two ways to change poorly-written legislation:
1. The court system
2. Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs)
Strong democracies elect representatives to their Legislature who are supposed to write and amend legislation to best reflect and balance the needs of the people. It is the job we pay them to do.
However, when we allow elected representatives to abdicate their role and forfeit their responsibilities into the hands of a few unelected individuals within the court system then we undermine the very foundations of our democratic system.
And we end up spending a lot more money.
We need legislators who will actually do the job they are already paid to do – to amend poorly written legislation to properly uphold the rights and freedoms guaranteed for all of us under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Imagine: What if MLAs actually did their job and listened to the expert guidance of constitutional lawyers who told them two years ago to make amendments to section 16.1 of the School Act and then we could avoid a potential court challenge altogether?
The result would be more cost-effective and would achieve freedom and justice in the area of education for everyone.
Ironically, regardless of which advice the Minister of Education chooses to listen to, amendments to the School Act seem to be in order. This means our legislators may soon be faced with a choice of which amendments they will support:
1. Amend section 16.1 of the School Act, based on the advice of a constitutional expert two years ago, saving both time and money on a potential constitutional battle
– OR –
2. Amend section 45.1 of the School Act, based on the advice of the report released publicly yesterday, which will do nothing to avert a looming constitutional court case and only further undermine the freedom of many independent schools to hold to their foundational raison d’etre
Who moves legislators? YOU DO
I’ve said it before: Politicians are not leaders as much as they are followers.
If we actually care about our taxpayer money being used effectively and efficiently and if we care about upholding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for all Albertans then we will take action.
Invest some time to read the reports I have linked to in this article.
Contact your elected representatives to make them aware of these reports and your concerns about unnecessary time and taxpayer funds being directed to a potential court challenge in the near future:
1. Send an email (always cc Leela Aheer, Education Critic for Wildrose: firstname.lastname@example.org)
2. Post your concerns on their Facebook pages and in the comments section
3. Get on the phone with them
4. Invest some time for an in-person meeting.
5. Attend forums and information sessions hosted by politicians, including registering for telephone town-halls and other events where you can ask specific questions about these educational issues
Understand the profound risks to our democracy and to our pocketbooks when legislators and the electorate become too willing to defer decisions to the courts instead of becoming properly informed and engaged in the legislative process.
Also understand that the erosion of freedom for some has an inevitable impact on us all. Consider a quote by John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms:
“Freedom is a seamless garment. You cannot unravel only one thread of this garment and expect it to remain intact. A violation of one person’s fundamental freedoms threatens everyone’s freedom. The respect – or lack of respect – that a government has for parents’ rights in education impacts every child and every family.”
If there is one lesson I have learned over the thousands of hours I have invested in this issue it is that both our democracy and our freedoms are fragile and require effort to maintain and courage to defend.
I urge you to continue to advocate for a thoughtful and balanced legislative approach, which upholds the Charter and balances the constitutional rights and freedoms of everyone – a result that is well worth our efforts.