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Monday, May 25, 2009

Alberta Government Says Bill 44 Will be Amended

So the Stelmach government announced today in Question Period we can expect amendments to Bill 44 parental opting out provisions around issues of religion, sexuality and sexual orientation in Alberta classrooms. The public pressure has been mounting against Bill 44 and Minister Blackett admitted as much today.

Our government might have gotten the message from the majority of Albertans want an inclusive, diverse and respectful society. Our government might have come to realize that it is unacceptable to institutionalize bigotry against homosexuals and put teachers and school trustees at risk to prosecution by rights reactionaries. None of this undermines the current law and public policy that preserves a parent’s right to have their family views on religious beliefs and the reality of how they see their values on human sexuality prevail. That is still to be respected and preserved but not elevated to a right.

The bottom line is there is no compromise on recognizing sexual orientation in Alberta Human Rights laws, because it is the law of the land. Sexual orientation is part of human sexuality and when those matters are scheduled for classroom discussion as part of the curriculum prior notice should still be given and parental exemption wishes honoured.

It is also not appropriate for public education to provide religious instruction to those who do not wish it. The current provisions and practices under the School Act deal very effectively with that legitimate concern as well. Note that religious instruction is not the same as religion. Religion has to be an integral pat of any modern and forward thinking course of study in the Alberta public school system. There is Separate and other religious affiliated private schools in Alberta that are able to serve those faith based wishes around providing religious instruction.

The amendments to Bill 44 that are acceptable are the elimination of section 11.1 that created all these problems. I hope the Alberta government also revisits and eliminates Section 3 on hate speech too. Those provisions are not necessary either in Alberta’s updated human rights legislation.

Then teachers can continue to teach and school districts can provide the proper notice when required, as is the case today without Bill 44 “fixes.” Human sexuality includes sexual orientation so discussions can proceed with children of those parents who accept and respect differences. We can use public education as a means to expand our understanding of our differences without demonizing anyone.

The most appropriate amendments must eliminate any reference to sexual orientation as distinct from human sexuality and retain the latter as an option to opt out but only from pre-scheduled curriculum based class time. It must eliminate any reference to religion as a subject of opting out and stay with religious instruction only. Religious instruction is not part of the Alberta curriculum as far as I know. Catholic schools and other denominational schools can teach religious instruction but students in those schools whose parents wish them to be excused from participating can do so and still attend the school for all other purposes. That is the current reality and it should stay.

Am I optimistic this will be the amendments we will see tomorrow? I expect something less based on an incremental retreat from a very faulty public policy and governance stance articulated in Bill 44. This is about foundational social values and principles. It is not the stuff of compromise. A compromise on faulty principles will not fix the fault. It will perpetuate it. This is not the time to put forward the Canadian propensity for compromise by allowing incidental an incremental discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It is the law of the land that no level of discrimination based on sexual orientation is acceptable and therefore any compromise on that principle is also unacceptable.

This is not the time to ease any public pressure to get this matter totally and appropriately resolved. I am waiting to see what happens tomorrow and will decide then if I am optimistic or not about the amendments.