Gay-straight alliance bill leaves emotions raw at Alberta legislature

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman broke into tears at a news conference Monday afternoon as she realized she would never be able to speak in the Alberta legislature about her private member's bill on gay-straight alliances.

'We’re moving forward. We’re moving forward incrementally,' said MLA Sandra Jansen

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman became quite emotional Monday afternoon over the delay of her Bill 202. (Doug Steele/CBC)

Laurie Blakeman wept at a news conference Monday afternoon, momentarily overcome with emotion after it became clear she will never be allowed to speak in the legislature about her private member's bill on gay-straight alliances. 

“This bill was dedicated to my mother,” the Liberal MLA told reporters. “I never got to say anything.”

Blakeman’s mother was a teacher and principal for 35 years.

“She made safe places for every teacher, staff and child in every school she was in,” Blakeman said. “I wanted to dedicate the bill to her. The Tories wouldn’t even let me do that.”

Earlier Monday, the PC government introduced Bill 10 in response to Blakeman’s Bill 202. Due to procedural delays, the time allotted for private members’ bills ran out before Blakeman could speak.

The new bill will reach second reading before 202, which means Blakeman's bill will drop from the order paper.

Students can go to court 

Blakeman’s bill would have made gay-straight alliances mandatory in schools where students ask for them.

Justice Minister and House Leader Jonathan Denis (left), Education Minister Gordon Dirks and Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen answered questions about Bill 10 at a news conference Monday afternoon. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC News )
The new bill does not. The government bill, called the Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect our Children, instead allows students who are prohibited from forming GSA by their school boards to ask the Court of Queen’s Bench for a judicial review.

“Marginalized students and/or their families should not be having to go out and pay for a lawyer to pay for protection from bullying in their school,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley.

Under Bill 10, sexual orientation will be added to prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Alberta Bill of Rights. 

The bill repeals section 11.1 of the Alberta Human Rights Act – the parental opt-out clause – and moves it to the School and Education Acts. Parents will no longer be notified when sexual orientation is discussed in the classroom.

However, the Bill of Rights will also be changed to give parents the right to make informed decisions about their children’s education, which may create a legal grey area.

“Sometimes there’s tension in legislation. There’s a certain inevitability to that,” said Education Minister Gordon Dirks.

“What we’re striving for here is a reasonable balance that balances and protects the rights of students, the rights of schools boards and the rights of parents.”

'We’re moving forward incrementally'

Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen introduced Bill 10 in the legislature. In April, Jansen, then the province’s anti-bullying minister, spoke passionately about Motion 503 in support of gay-straight alliances.

"This is not a question of religious rights, it is not a question of sexuality, as much as it a question of the right to free speech and free assembly,” she told the assembly at the time. 

On Monday, Jansen said she still believes those statements but defended the new government bill as a step forward for the LGBT community.

“We’re moving forward. We’re moving forward incrementally,” she said. “We have to get everybody on the same page on this and I think this is a good move forward."

Notley and Blakeman disagreed. Notley said the government is letting students down with Bill 10. 

"School boards will be able to continue to prohibit gay-straight alliances as has been the case up til now," she said.

Blakeman scoffed at the idea of moving forward "incrementally" on a human rights issue. 

"I'm sure that the black people and the Jews and the disabled people appreciated incremental progress just so that they didn't get too many rights all at once," Blakeman remarked. "It's ridiculous."

Blakeman blamed people who home-school their children for putting pressure on the government.

Premier Jim Prentice first announced the bill in a hastily called news conference Thursday. Prentice said the GSA issue had become “unnecessarily divisive” by pitting beliefs against each other.