Alberta legislators passed legislation early Tuesday that will give parents the option of pulling their children out of class when lessons on sex, religion or sexual orientation are being taught.
The Alberta legislature held a seven-hour debate on Bill 44 Monday night before it passed third and final reading about 1:30 a.m. MT Tuesday.
"People of Alberta are better off for it and we had the courage to actually bring it forward," said Lindsay Blackett, the government minister responsible for the bill.
A clause in the bill, which is an amendment to the province's human rights legislation, requires that school boards give parents written notice when controversial topics are going to be covered in the curriculum. Parents can then ask for their child to be excluded from the discussion.
There will be no restrictions placed on casual classroom discussions that might arise about the topics.
The parental rights clause is included in a bill intended to enshrine gay rights in Alberta's human rights code.
'There are thousands and thousands of parents, the silent majority, severely normal Albertans that are extremely happy with this legislation.' —Rob Anderson, Conservative MLA
But the buried clause had drawn objections from teachers, schools boards and human rights groups, who argued Bill 44 makes it possible for parents to file human rights complaints against teachers and school districts, creating a chill with regard to what is taught in the classroom.
However, the changes reflect what the majority of Albertans want, said Rob Anderson, Conservative MLA for Airdrie-Chestermere.
"There are thousands and thousands of parents, the silent majority, severely normal Albertans that are extremely happy with this legislation, that believe it's right to affirm the right of parents as being the primary educators of their children on these subjects," Anderson said during the debate.
"And I think it's a credit to this government that it has stood up for what is right on this matter despite the inevitable cries of foul that come from the opposition."
Critics fought for clause to be scrapped
But Alberta Liberal house leader and Edmonton Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman dismissed the idea that the Conservative government has done anything courageous.
"It takes courage to write crappy legislation where you take something that belongs in the School Act and ram it into something that's about human rights? That doesn't take courage."
Critics had argued the clause should be scrapped and the issue should be dealt with under the Schools Act rather than being enshrined as a human right.
A small group of gay rights activists held a rally outside the legislature in Edmonton to oppose the bill on Monday.
The government has said the effects of the legislation on the education system will be minimal and is meant to allow parents to be more involved in their children's schooling.
Teachers' union lawyers prepare to defend educators
Attention must now shift to making sure the legislation is implemented in the best possible way for teachers and schools, said Alberta School Boards Association President Heather Welwood.
"We want to nail down exactly what's required for notification — when it's required, exactly on what topics it's required, how often, and we'll be seeking our own legal advice … on that," Welwood said.
Frank Bruseker, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, said he's advised the group's lawyers to prepare to defend any teachers who are brought before the human rights tribunal.
"We'll need to review curricula right across all subjects and all grades to see where there might be a minefield, if you will, that a teacher might step in and suddenly find themselves in deep trouble," Bruseker said.