Alberta to outlaw outing of GSA students, education minister says

“Dangerous political rhetoric” is forcing the province to introduce legislation making it illegal for schools to out students who join gay-straight alliances, says Alberta’s education minister.

'We just don't want this kind of dangerous rhetoric around outing students that join GSAs'

Education Minister David Eggen said the government is working on legislation to enforce protection for LGBTQ students. (CBC)

"Dangerous political rhetoric" is forcing the province to introduce legislation making it illegal for schools to out students who join gay-straight alliances, says Alberta's education minister.

"These are safe environments for students, and if they choose to stay confidential about participating in a GSA then that should be the case," David Eggen said in an interview Thursday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"We've had some dangerous rhetoric from Jason Kenney and other UCP MLAs, suggesting that they would out students who did participate in a GSA, so we would make that illegal."

Kenny, a United Conservative Party leadership candidate, said in August that  "parents have a right to know" when their child joins a GSA, unless there is evidence the parents are abusive.

In the same interview, Kenney said the NDP government was too aggressive in making religious schools follow the law, which compels all schools to allow gay-straight alliances if students ask for them.

Eggen has described Kenney's view as "extremist."

On Thursday, Calgary lawyer John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, said Alberta law requires that parents be "fully informed about all aspects of their children's education," including their involvement in extra-curricular activities.

"The notion that children have privacy rights in relation to their own parents is false," Carpay said in a statement. "In fact, parents have a right to know what their children are doing at school. To prohibit parents from being informed, absent exceptional circumstances, violates parents' legal rights and responsibilities for their children."

Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan said he would welcome further legislation to expand protections for students who join gay-straight alliances.

"This has been a long time coming, and I am glad to see the government is finally doing what is right for student safety and inclusiveness," Khan said in a statement.

"The conversation about parental notification originally came from conservative desires to weaken provisions of the law to make it more palatable to its base. It served to distract from the real issue of student safety, which hopefully this legislation will ensure."

Legislation being drafted

Eggen said the NDP government's proposed amendment to the School Act would ensure that students have the right to establish GSAs, and ensure the privacy of individual members.

Each school would also be required to adopt an anti-bullying policy which protects LGBTQ students against discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill will be introduced in the fall sitting, said Eggen. The legislation is still being drafted and the proposed penalties have yet to be determined.

However, schools that fail to comply could risk funding cuts or lose accreditation. 

Current legislation doesn't have a provision to prevent schools from notifying parents of their children's membership in a GSA, and that is putting children at risk, Eggen said.

"We're talking about kids that require protection, that are often vulnerable, and we just don't want this kind of dangerous rhetoric around outing students that join GSAs," Eggen said.

"I think the time has come for us to back that up with some legislation."

'Follow the law'

Alberta's education department has been asking Alberta boards to draft anti-bullying policies, but some schools have been defiant, said Eggen.

"Certainly some private schools just refuse to participate," Eggen said. "Quite frankly, they did not even submit policy and that's a problem.

"If you're receiving public money, then you should follow the law just like anybody else."

The debate over GSAs stems from the approval of Bill 10 in March 2015.

The legislation requires all school boards to create an inclusive environment for students and staff, and adopt a code of conduct that forbids discrimination against LGBTQ students.

However, private boards are currently not subject to the same regulations.

The double standard is problematic, said Eggen. Schools must be compelled to create "safe, caring spaces" for their students.

"I just want to make sure that everybody is understanding right now that they will be compelled to follow the law and we will strengthen it."

Listen to Edmonton AM with host Mark Connolly, weekday mornings at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the morning crew on Twitter @EdmAMCBC