I can’t decide whether the media is just lazy in their failure to do proper research or whether they are deliberately deceptive in how they are framing Bill 24.
Either way, they discredit themselves and should be ashamed by their blatant disregard for providing accurate information to the public.
Here is an excerpt from a Calgary Herald article called “Stumble on GSAs could come back to haunt Kenney” (originally titled “Misrepresenation (sic) of GSAs muddies debate, traps UCP”), followed by the personal message I sent to its author Mr. Rob Breakenridge and the Calgary Herald Managing Editor.
There was one UCP amendment voted down last week. Yet that motion merely proposed addressing a bizarre conspiratorial hypothetical about GSAs potentially teaching sex ed curriculum and then doing so without parents’ awareness.
Even Kenney himself suggested GSAs are teaching curriculum and even raised the prospect of five-year-olds being caught up in all of this. GSAs, however, are merely peer support groups that exist in various junior high and high schools in Alberta. There are no GSAs for five-year-olds. There is no curriculum being taught in the club or being imposed by the club on the rest of the school.
There seems to be either a lack of understanding or a misrepresentation of what GSAs are. That seems especially unhelpful given some of the usual suspects coming out of the woodwork and warning of kids being indoctrinated in sex clubs and whatnot. This only serves to further poison the debate, and the UCP risks become tainted by it.
The UCP has also suggested Bill 24 imposes a “blanket ban” on any and all parental notification. Not so. Bill 24 merely clarifies that participation in a GSA is information that can only be shared with the students consent. So obviously there are circumstances where that information can be shared with parents, and the bill also contains other exemptions.
It all boils down to this: If a child joins a GSA and says “please don’t tell my parents, I’m afraid of their reaction,” what should happen? The obvious answer is to respect the student’s wishes, which is essentially all Bill 24 does. We have mature minors in this country who have been allowed to make life and death decisions regarding their own medical care, and we’re losing our minds over this?
LETTER TO THE CALGARY HERALD
Dear Mr. Breakenridge,
It is is alarming that you would use your position in the media to perpetuate inaccurate information regarding GSAs and the content of Bill 24.
In light of the many false claims you have made in your column, I would ask that you immediately edit your column to properly reflect facts in regard to GSAs and Bill 24, as well as issue a public apology and follow-up column to help set the record straight.
FALSE CLAIM #1
“GSAs, however, are merely peer support groups that exist in various junior high and high schools in Alberta. There are no GSAs for five-year-olds.”
[Dr. Kristopher] Wells sees [Bil 10] as an important and historic step that made Alberta only the third province in Canada to legislate support for GSAs and the only province whose law imposes no grade restrictions, meaning that GSAs here can be started by students in any grade from elementary to high school.
“Children as young as five and six are coming out, so it’s important that school environments offer supports to students at these younger ages; students are demanding this, and their parents are standing behind them,” Wells said.
2. Read the government-recommended Alberta GSA Network which clearly states that it is intended for K-12 children.
3. Read about the sessions offered at this week’s GSA conference including a session entitled “GSAs and QSAs in Elementary and Middle Schools”
4. Read about the four types of GSAs on pages 30-31 in the Alberta Teachers’ Association GSAs and QSAs in Schools: A Guide for Teachers which makes clear that GSAs are not “merely peer support groups”, but extend to types that push for “educational and social change”.
Most people have little issue with peer-support, however they do have reservations when introducing K-12 clubs with a focus on “political activities” and pushing “organizational change”.
Furthermore, it doesn’t take much research to learn that the type of “social change” being advocated by GSAs is focused on fighting “homophobia” and you can read more about concerns with that stance here.
Your article would be more accurate to say “there are many types of GSAs, including those offering peer support, as well as those characterized by political activities and effecting social change.”
FALSE CLAIM #2:
“The UCP has also suggested Bill 24 imposes a “blanket ban” on any and all parental notification. Not so. Bill 24 merely clarifies that participation in a GSA is information that can only be shared with the students consent.”
1. Read Sec 50.1 of the School Act:
50.1(1) A board shall provide notice to a parent of a student where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, include subject-matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality.
Next, read page 7 of Bill 24 which proposes an amendment to this parental notification/opt-out section of the School Act:
Section 50.1 is amended by adding the following after subsection (3):
4) For greater certainty, this section does not apply with respect to the establishment or operation of a voluntary student organization referred to in section 16.1 or the organizing or holding of an activity referred to in section 16.1.
Read directly from Hansard page 1848-1849 from the Thursday Nov 5 Legislature discussion during Committee of the Whole to learn about the actual reason why UCP MLA Mr. Ellis proposed an amendment to strike that parental notification/opt-out exemption from Bill 24:
Mr. Ellis: Madam Chair, the presence of section 9 in this bill has caused considerable confusion and anxiety for parents across this province. We have heard from many parents who are wondering what this means for their ability to know when their children are learning about sexuality at schools, which is their right under the law. In fact, the NDP appears to acknowledge this right since they are not repealing section 50.1(1) outright. If GSAs aren’t instructing children in any way, there is simply no need to exempt them from this provision. It just doesn’t make sense.
Thankfully, there is a simple, common-sense solution to this problem, which is to strike out section 9 from this bill. That would eliminate any doubt or confusion about the government’s motivations or intentions when it comes to the parental rights enshrined in section 50.1 of the School Act. It would be a significant improvement to this legislation, and I would urge the government to support it. I would also caution the government to seriously consider the implications of defeating this amendment. Exempting GSAs from being subject to section 50.1(1) of the School Act while at the same time claiming that nothing that would require parents to be notified under existing law occurs within GSAs is a contradiction so obvious that it invites suspicion.
Did the government seriously think that nobody would notice when they try to legislate something that they say isn’t a problem in the first place? What are parents supposed to think when your actions are so out of step with your words? Now is the time for the government to reassure Albertans that they have no intention of coming after their rights as parents. Now is the time for the government to prove that it doesn’t have anything up its sleeve.
Once again – and thank you, Madam Chair – I urge the government and all my hon. colleagues in this House to accept our common-sense amendment to Bill 24. Thank you.
The question is obvious and logical: If there is zero intention for GSAs to include “educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, include subject-matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality” then why would this special exemption to circumvent the long-standing parental notification/opt-out even be needed?
2. Read this blog article I wrote in March 2017 and answer this question: If there was no intention to provide sexual content in GSAs then why were so many “community support” links on the “expert” government-recommended GSA Network focused on sexual content?
And why shouldn’t parents be concerned when the very individuals responsible for providing this obscene sexual content are the same ones who stood behind Minister Eggen as he lauded Bill 24 and are pushing for the combination of exemption from parental notification for sexual content, along with unprecedented secrecy?
You refer in your column to a “bizarre conspiratorial hypothetical about GSAs potentially teaching sex ed”.
What is bizzare, not to mention reckless, is that you would entirely disregard the fact that obscene sexual content was provided in the past by GSA “experts” while completely ignoring the very real – not hypothetical – risks associated with allowing these clubs to circumvent parental notification/opt-out provisions on sexual content with zero age restrictions.
FALSE CLAIM #3
“It all boils down to this: If a child joins a GSA and says “please don’t tell my parents, I’m afraid of their reaction,” what should happen? The obvious answer is to respect the student’s wishes, which is essentially all Bill 24 does. We have mature minors in this country who have been allowed to make life and death decisions regarding their own medical care, and we’re losing our minds over this?”
1. Read Bill 24 for yourself. There is no mention of “mature minors” or any exemptions for age, meaning that this legislation applies just as much to five-year-olds as it does to “mature minors”.
If you expect Bill 24 to apply only to “mature minors” then you should be opposing Bill 24 until it includes amendments that specifically define this constraint.
2. Your hyper-focus on one aspect of Bill 24 and claims that “it all boils down to this” demonstrates an blatant disregard for the full content and implications of Bill 24.
Bill 24 changes many aspects of the School Act, and if you want to read more of those concerns from people who have actually taken the time to consider Bill 24 in its entirety then I suggest you read this summary as well as this legal analysis on how Bill 24 is unconstitutional.
Members of the public expect better from those such as yourself whose voice is amplified through mainstream media.
You occupy a role of tremendous importance and responsibility in our public sphere by contributing to the shaping of public perception and I would hope that you feel some sort of obligation to ensure that the information you are providing is based in facts.
Again, in light of the many inaccurate claims you have made in your column, I would ask that you immediately edit your column to properly reflect facts in regard to GSAs and Bill 24, as well as issue a public apology and follow-up column to help set the record straight.
I will be publishing this letter publicly on my Informed Albertans blog later today and will ask that members of the public voice their own concerns to you via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and cc the Calgary Herald’s Managing Editor Martin Hudson at email@example.com.
Theresa Ng, B.Ed