By Collin Gallant on June 21, 2018.
Lawyers for two dozen private schools in Alberta argued Wednesday for an immediate injunction against a requirement they sign attestations by the end of June that they are following regulations to promote gay-straight alliances.
They told a court proceeding in Medicine Hat that the “murky” regulations not only could offend their religious convictions, but also their responsibilities as educators charged with protecting children.
Attorneys for the government responded in Court of Queens Bench that new portions of the School Act are specifically written to allow local schools to develop programs in line with their own standards but which must promote inclusion of non-hetereosexuals.
Justice Johnna Kubik told the court after a full-day hearing that she would issue a ruling in a “timely manner” considering the deadline for end-of-school-year paperwork filed with the province. The full hearing of the case would proceed after that.
This week lawyers for the schools implied missing a month-end deadline could mean changes in funding next September, threatening their financial viability.
“It’s an ideological, coercive step to cling to legislation that should go back to the drawing board,” said lawyer Jay Cameron, a staff member with the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
Conversely, Alberta government lawyer John Carpenter said the applicants’ argument ignores the basis of the legislation, and the government typically works extensively with non-compliant schools before funding is at risk.
“They’re saying we won’t do it, so please, court, don’t make us do it, and also keep the money coming,” he told the court, later adding that the rights of parents must be balanced with the rights of homosexual minors.
“At private accredited schools, there is a board, there is a principal, and it’s up to that (school) community to set standards and parameters of GSAs when a student asks that one be established.
“If there are 5,000 kids at these schools, there are LBGTQ kids (enrolled).”
The issue was brought forward by the schools, as well as lobby group Parents for Choice and nine unnamed individuals who feel the legislation denies parents’ right guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act.
They argue the results of Bill 24, which states school administrators much prepare a policy to create a GSA if requested by a student, have created unclear expectations for staffing qualifications and age requirements, and leaves parents in the dark about serious issues.
A key but contentious part of the legislation is that parents are not informed of their child’s attendance or interest in a GSA, which the government and majority of the medical community says is key to building trust.
“Parents have a right to be involved in the process, and they’re not,” said Cameron. “They have a right to be concerned, but they’re being condemned as alarmist or worse.”
He said a lack of age restrictions could lead to children as young as five being exposed to explicit material or being counselled on issues of gender identity more appropriate for teens and those beyond puberty.
As well, impressionable or less intelligent children and those who specifically suffer from autism should be treated differently.
“At minimum there should be special protection for children … who are more vulnerable,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, which works with schools to develop GSA programs, argued and was granted intervenor status in the case.
CSHC lawyer Emilie Cox, of the firm Blake, Cassels & Gordon, said programs help youth that are as a group at higher risk of suicide. Most possible problems described in the applicants’ submissions would relate to poor application in individual programs, she submitted, not whether they are constitutional.
“Helping a person feel safe and secure in their own identity cannot be harmful in a free, democratic society,” she said.
The Schools involved in the suit include the several non-Christian religious schools, the Newell Christian, the Coaldale Canadian Reformed School, the Calvin Christian School Society several in the Red Deer Area, Stony Plain, Slave Lake, Rimbey. As well, the Association of Christian Schools International – Western Canada, which represents 73 schools in the four westernmost provinces.
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