Calgary

Parents, faith-based schools argue in court that GSAs spread harmful 'gender ideology'

Parents and faith-based schools were in court Monday to appeal a decision that allows students to participate in gay-straight alliances (GSAs) without the school notifying their parents.

Coalition is fighting Bill 24, which requires schools to let students create peer-support groups

Parents and faith-based schools are appealing after a judge ruled against their request to put Alberta's Bill 24 on hold, pending a constitutional review. (Eduardo Lima/Canadian Press)

Parents and faith-based schools were in the Alberta Court of Appeal on Monday in their ongoing fight against a law that lets students participate in gay-straight alliances (GSAs) without the school notifying their parents.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms — which represents parents, parental rights groups and faith-based schools — had requested a temporary injunction, pending a review of the constitutionality of Bill 24.

That injunction was struck down in June, so now the Justice Centre is appealing that decision at Alberta's highest court.

The bill blocks schools from informing parents if students join peer groups because it could potentially "out" them to unaccepting, or even abusive, guardians. But the Justice Centre argues the bill violates parents' charter rights, including freedom of religion and expression, by keeping them out of the loop.

"It's not lawful, it's not constitutional, to require schools to restrict information from parents about small children. Full stop," said Jay Cameron, a lawyer with the Justice Centre.

"If you're going to prevent parents from knowing what's going on with their children, you have to take safeguards to make sure those kids are safe ideologically, psychologically, physically."

Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Johnna Kubik said in her June decision that the coalition had failed to prove the law would have caused irreparable harm. 

The coalition had said that GSAs are "ideological sexual clubs," where graphic information and materials are made available to students. But Kubik refuted that.

"There is no evidence that any of these materials were ever promoted by the respondent or GSAs generally or that the materials ever came into the hands of any students through a GSA," Kubik wrote.

'Sometimes it's not that safe'

In the coalition's appeal, it argues that children could be harmed by exposure to "'gender ideology' in the absence of parental oversight." 

But Pam Krause, CEO of the Centre for Sexuality, said GSAs merely provide safe and inclusive environments for students.

"The No. 1 thing that students want to work with us on is how to come out to their families. Nobody is trying to hide anything from anyone. But sometimes it's not that safe. And once in a while the family is not the safe place," Krause said.

"What we do in all of our work in our organization is try to help parents and youth be able to talk about really difficult issues together so that actually they have a really good, trusting relationship with each other."

Krause said the average GSA is just a handful of students meeting together to eat during their lunch break.

"These are young people who literally have nowhere else to go," she said.

So far, 28 schools have not complied with the bill — some of which are members of the coalition challenging it.

Alberta's education minister has threatened to pull funding from the private schools if they don't comply with the legislation to permit GSAs by June of next year.

The challenge against Bill 24 gained some notoriety last month, after the lawyer behind the charter challenge publicly compared LGBTQ pride flags to Nazi swastikas. John Carpay later apologized.

The panel has yet to set a date for when it will issue a decision on the appeal.

The following schools and groups are part of the coalition behind the challenge:

  • The Universal Education Institute of Canada.
  • Headway School Society of Alberta.
  • The Canadian Reformed School Society of Calgary.
  • Gobind Marg Charitable Trust Foundation.
  • Congregation House of Jacob Mikveh Israel.
  • Khalsa School Calgary Education Foundation.
  • Central Alberta Christian High School Society.
  • Saddlelake Indian Full Gospel Mission.
  • St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church of Stony Plain.
  • Calvin Christian School Society.
  • Canadian Reformed School Society of Edmonton.
  • Coaldale Canadian Reformed School Society.
  • Airdrie Koinonia Christian School Society.
  • Destiny Christian School Society.
  • Koinonia Christian School Red Deer Society.
  • Covenant Canadian Reformed School Society.
  • Lacombe Christian School Society.
  • Ponoka Christian School.
  • Providence Christian School Society.
  • Living Waters Christian Academy.
  • Newell Christian School Society.
  • Slave Lake Koinonia Christian School.
  • Yellowhead Koinonia Christian School Society.
  • The Rimbey Christian Christian School. 
  • Living Truth Christian School Society.
  • Lighthouse Christian School Society.
  • Devon Christian School Society.
  • Lakeland Christian School Society.
  • 40 Mile Christian Education Society.
  • High Level Christian Education Society.
  • Parents for Choice in Education.
  • Association of Christian Schools International – Western Canada.

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With files from Charlotte Dumoulin

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