Amended Bill 10 could push GSAs off school grounds: opposition

The Alberta government has passed an amendment to its controversial Bill 10 on gay-straight alliances, though the opposition is decrying the change as institutional segregation of gay students.

Amendment proposed by the government passes after heated debate in the legislature

PC MLA Sandra Jansen introduced the amendment late Wednesday. "Alberta kids who want a GSA will get a GSA when they ask for one, and if they can't have it in their school, Alberta education will help them get their GSA," she said. (CBC)

The Alberta Tories passed an amendment to their controversial Bill 10 on gay-straight alliances Wednesday, a move opposition parties say will simply segregate gay students, and in some cases move their support groups out of schools entirely. 

The amendment introduced by PC MLA Sandra Jansen passed 38 to 17. Three fellow Tories,Thomas Lukaszuk, Doug Griffiths and Ian Donovan, voted against it.

After speaking passionately against the bill earlier in the day, Jason Luan, the PC MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood, was not in the house to vote on the amendment. 

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman said the amendment will separate LGBTQ students by moving some GSAs off-site, and will allow the education minister to "backstop" discrimination by school boards. 

She expressed disappointment that the legislature passed the amendment, because it sends the message that it's fine to discriminate against gay students. She also expressed regret at the message that sends to the rest of the country. 

“Some day, some day, I would like to be proud of Alberta," she said. "I would like to see Alberta step out and be brave and be first.”

GSAs for all students, Jansen says 

The amendment was introduced after considerable backlash against the original version of the bill, which prompted the resignations of at least two PC party officials.

Jansen introduced the changes, and said the bill would give GSAs to students who want them. 

If a school board refuses, the minister of education would intervene. That's a change from the earlier version of Bill 10, which would have forced students go to Court of Queen's Bench if board trustees turned down their request. 

The debate turned sharply when Jansen made a statement that raised eyebrows on opposition benches. 

"That student now does not have to go to the court, they come to the Alberta ministry of education and we provide that GSA for them, and hopefully within the school environment," Jansen said.

"But if that is impossible, we’ll make sure they get that GSA regardless."

Opposition members pounced on the word "hopefully," and some interpreted Jansen's statement to mean that GSAs will have to meet outside of schools if the board objects. Though Jansen clarified that her amendment said nothing about that, opposition members weren't convinced. 

Something changed during the break

Lukaszuk, Griffith and Luan broke ranks with the Tory party early in the debate and spoke against Bill 10. 

Griffiths, who has two sons in Catholic schools, took issue with a school board trying to impose values on students. 

“School boards are created to enforce education policy ... they deal with education. Gay-straight alliances haven’t got a thing to do with education," he said. 

“They have the right and ability in our constitution to teach faith. But not to enforce it," he said. 

Luan said he had strong reservations about the bill. 

“I believe that we need to do the right thing. The history is moving forward on this. And I highly urge our colleagues in this house to think about this," he said.

"Would you rather be on the wrong side of history? And in this case, I urge that we need to go all the way to make sure there’s no discrimination in our schools.”

When Tory MLAs came back from the 90-minute dinner break, many spoke in favour of the amendment while declaring their support for GSAs. 

Blakeman noticed a change among the Tory MLAs. 

"We were so close," she told reporters afterwards. "I could just feel it in that room … you could feel people in the room going, yeah, I need to do this, I need to take this step, I need to support GSAs

“Then they went for dinner. And I want to know what they fed them because they came back out of there, lockstep and all saying the same thing. Really, really disappointing.”

On Monday, the government introduced Bill 10, which effectively killed Bill 202. That private member's bill was introduced by Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman earlier in the session.