Edmonton-area Baptist schools defying LGBTQ rules face third-party inquiry

Education Minister David Eggen has announced a third-party inquiry into a Baptist school society which is defying his orders to make schools friendly to LGBTQ students.

Education Minister David Eggen calls response to his order unsatisfactory

Education Minister David Eggen says options included decertifying the school and pulling its provincial funding if officials don't comply with the law. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC)

Education Minister David Eggen has announced a third-party inquiry into a Baptist school society that is defying his orders to make schools friendly to LGBTQ students.

Eggen said the response he received Friday from Independent Baptist Christian Education Society was not satisfactory, since the letter did not indicate whether the schools would provide gay-straight alliances if students ask for them. 

"They did not change their position from comments that they had in the media previously," Eggen told reporters at the Alberta legislature. 

"This is a very serious matter, and it is a serious development to use the process of inquiry as defined under the School Act."

Eggen said he is now looking for someone to conduct the inquiry.

Eggen said the inquiry is the first step in a process that could end in the schools losing their provincial funding and registration if the problem is not resolved. 

"I think it should underline and underscore the gravity of the situation, and how we will pursue in the most firm manner to ensure that all students, all Alberta students, are protected and have a safe and caring environment."

On Friday, Pastor Brian Coldwell, chairman of the Baptist Christian Education Society, was ordered by Eggen to provide written assurance that he will allow students in his Edmonton-area schools — the Meadows Baptist Academy and the Harvest Baptist Academy — to form gay-straight-alliances, as legislated by the province.

Coldwell met Eggen's deadline by responding with a letter from his lawyer late Friday afternoon.

The pastor didn't respond to calls from CBC News on Monday. He earlier said he would not implement the policies and accused Eggen of wielding "dictatorial power" on the issue of LGBTQ rights.

In a statement, Wildrose education critic Mark Smith said he was disappointed Eggen didn't sit down with the board and parents to discuss the issue. 

"We remain hopeful for a more collaborative approach, instead of further deadlines and legal battles," he said. 

Eggen said he isn't sure if the matter will eventually end up in court. He wants to go through the process of inquiry before deciding what happens next. 

He said his decision to move forward on a third-party inquiry sends a message to school boards that the government is looking for solutions but plans to uphold the law. 

With files from the CBC's Andrea Huncar