Alberta judge dismisses bid to place gay-straight alliance law on hold

It was argued in court that keeping parents out of the loop on their children's activities violates their charter rights, including freedom of religion and expression.

GSAs in no way restrict parental or religious rights, judge rules

It was argued in court that keeping parents out of the loop on their children's activities violates their charter rights, including freedom of religion and expression. (Canadian Press)

A judge has dismissed an injunction that sought to put a hold on an Alberta law blocking schools from informing parents if their children have joined a gay-straight alliance. 

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms — which represents a group of parents, two parental rights groups and 26 faith-based schools — had requested a temporary injunction pending a review of the law's constitutionality.

​Gay-straight alliances are peer-support organizations meant to provide supportive environments and safe spaces for LGBTQ students, and tackle issues like homophobic and transphobic bullying.

The legal challenge was filed in April in response to the ban passed by Premier Rachel Notley's government late last year.

Education Minister David Eggen called the decision a "win for justice and equality in the province of Alberta."

"Let me be crystal clear — Bill 24 is the law, and it will be enforced," Eggen said.

'No serious constitutional issue'

The Alberta government and others have argued that schools shouldn't inform parents if their children join the peer groups because there is the potential to "out" them to guardians who may not be accepting.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms had argued in the court in Medicine Hat last week that by keeping parents out of the loop on their children's activities, the bill violates their charter rights, including freedom of religion and expression.

"I am satisfied that there is no serious constitutional issue to be tried. GSAs are voluntary student organizations … The act in no way restricts the right of parents or schools to continue to impart their religious and moral values to their children," Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Johnna Kubik wrote in her decision, released Wednesday.

To win the injunction, Kubik wrote that the coalition needed to prove that there was a serious constitutional issue and that the law would have caused irreparable harm. 

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

"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.

The coalition also argued that providing information about gender and sexuality is either "harmful in its own right" or can contradict the religious or moral teachings of parents and schools. 

Loss of GSAs would cause harm: judge

Kubik wrote there is no proof GSAs cause harm, but there is evidence demonstrating the groups provide a public good, including:

  • A reduction in casual sex and drug use.
  • Improved school performance.
  • An increased sense of safety and enhanced psychological well-being among students who participate in GSAs.

"The effect on LGBTQ+ students in granting an injunction, which would result in both the loss of supportive GSAs in their schools and send the message that their diverse identities are less worthy of protection, would be considerably more harmful than temporarily limiting a parent's right to know and make decisions about their child's involvement in a GSA," the judge wrote.

The coalition said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon that an appeal of the ruling is being considered.

"Bill 24 legislates times and places within which it is illegal to inform parents about what their children are doing, and who has access to their children, and what materials their children are exposed to. The applicants claim that Bill 24 endangers kids and undermines parents' ability to support and protect their own children," the statement from the Justice Centre read. 

Eggen said legal wrangling has been confusing for kids who take part in GSAs and an appeal would only further that confusion.

"The existence of this court case served to undermine a lot of the good work that we've done over the last two years to create safe and caring environments for kids in schools," he said.

"An appeal would just keep stretching that out."

Schools have until the end of June to notify the province that they have complied with the legislation, or risk remedial action or an investigation from Alberta Education. 

With files from The Canadian Press