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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Canada Family Action Coalition Says Bill 44 to be Interpreted Broadly

I am reading the Edmonton Journal piece today by Trish Audette and Sarah McGinnis on Bill 44. Given the quotes in the story attributed to Brian Rushfeldt of the Calgary-based Canada Family Action Coalition, my worst fears about the implication of section 11.1 of Bill are reaffirmed.

The Stelmach government is naively clinging to mistaken delusion that the insertion of the word “exclusively” to pertain to education around religion, sexuality and sexual orientation somehow inoculates this inept law from a legal challenge. The defense the government offers are rhetoric about the role of parents in education, which is not disputed nor undermined in the current School Act provisions.

Mr Rushfeldt says he thinks the proposed human rights provisions “can be more widely interpreted. I agree with him. That is exactly what is going to happen and some poor teacher is going to be made an example of for the purposes of promoting intolerance. Mr. Rushfeldt is quoted as saying “it’s up to the parent to make (the legislation) as broad or as narrow as they want.” If that isn’t a foreshadowing of some aggressive advocates taking on the place and purpose of the school system and victimizing teachers and trustees in the process, I can’t imagine how it could be made any clearer.

The question is ought these section 11.1 provisions in the proposed Human Rights Act be more widely interpreted? If the government of Alberta intends otherwise, they have not been clear enough in the working of this section to ensure a narrow interpretation. This is the kind of fuzzy headed vaguely worded law making that invites legal challenges.

The government side debaters are reported as saying that fears about teachers being dragged before the Human Rights Commission by disgruntled or religious activitist out to prove a point as mere “conjecture and nonsense.” If the GOA was so confident in that assertion why are they declining to indemnify teachers and trustees for legal costs and other expenses in the event such unlikely events actually occurred? If the GOA is right that this would not happen, they have no risk in providing such indemnification, so why not offer it now. The reality is the legislation is flawed, reasonably intelligent and clear thinking members of the PC Caucus know this. So why are they are holding their noses and letting this litigation in waiting become law? Albertans are entitled to know.

We saw the same ineptness in 2006 with the Ted Morton private member’s sponsorship of Bill 206 entitled “Protection of Fundamental Freedoms (Marriage) Statues Amendment Act 2006.” Here the social conservatives, were trying to use the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, specifically the freedom of religion, to exempt clergy and licensed marriage commissioners in Alberta from being required to perform same sex marriages based on their personal “religious beliefs and moral values.”

The Morton Private Member’s Bill also attempted to amend the School Act to exempt students and teachers from attending or being required to teach “…that part of a course that has in its curriculum that marriage may be a union between person of the same sex.” There was a further requirement of advanced notice to parents is the subject of same sex marriage were going to be part of course material and class discussion.

That private members bill caused a public stir and was defeated for good reason. If you are licensed to perform marriages under Alberta law, then any one legally entitled to be married in Canada, and that included same sex couples, is entitled to expect you to perform the solemnization of the marriage. End of story.

This Morton Private Members Bill is also the Genesis of the current section 11.1 proposed new “Human Rights Act (sic). But some newly Stelmach government so-cons have taken up the cause again but this time it is even more pervasive and distasteful. The topics now go beyond same prejudice over sex marriage and include religion, sexuality and sexual orientation as topics. Are those merely code words for some fundamentalists for evolution, homosexuality, and same sex marriage? It would sure appear so.

I have not listened to the debate yesterday on Second Reading yet. Relying on media reports all we see is red herrings quoted from the government defenders of the proposed law. This faulty and unnecessary law is not undermining existing parental rights in the School Act to exempt children from “religious instruction.” It expands and elevates parental rights to the point where prejudice is normalized and makes allegations of breaches or perceived breaches legally actionable through complaints in the Alberta Human Right processes. This is an invitation to religious fundamentalist to impose their values on the rest of us. I support freedom of religion just as much as much as I support freedom from religion.

Of course parents are central to the education of their children and have the right to be informed and have personal religious beliefs tolerated. That toleration also extends equally to homosexuals and same sex couples. That is the law of the land in Canada. One head of tolerance is not more equal than the other in the Canadian Carter of Rights and Freedoms.

We have significant funding for charter, religious based and private schools in Alberta where parents can opt to educate their children and escape from the messiness of inclusiveness, differences, plurality and diversity. The public school system is just the opposite of that isolationist inclination. It is designed and intended to be all inclusive and all encompassing in its teaching and content. Alberta’s tolerant, inclusive and adaptive public school system is one of the great strengths of Alberta society. But we taxpayers contribute significantly to funding alternative schools as we show our respect for choice, but not for intolerance.

This Bill 44 fiasco is politically motivated and mostly about fault lines within the PC Caucus. As a result those caucus members who are giving it a pass for peace in the party are failing in their duty to the great good of Alberta. Blackett and Hancock as Cabinet members are caught having to defend this sloppy law making because it is a government Bill.

How about a free standing vote on this at Third Reading? It is not a confidence vote so defeat will not bring down the government. However, if it passes as is, that ineptness may stick to the Stelmach government and erode the public’s confidence in this government.