Edmonton

Party leaders urge NDP government to enforce rules protecting LGBTQ students

Alberta political party leaders from across the spectrum are calling on the NDP government to enforce legislation to protect the rights of LGBTQ students following recent revelations pointing to gaps in policy.

Alberta Education won't reveal number of approved policies but Premier Rachel Notley says they're growing

Liberal leader David Khan, UCP candidate Doug Schweitzer and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, pictured at Pride events, urged the NDP government to enforce rules that protect LGBTQ students. (Khan/Schweitzer/Clark)

Alberta political party leaders of all stripes are urging the NDP government to enforce rules that protect the rights of LGBTQ students.

On Monday, Liberal leader David Khan, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark and United Conservative Party candidate Doug Schweitzer called for the enforcement of legislation and policy meant to support sexual and gender minority students.

Those appeals come on the heels of an internal report obtained and first reported by CBC News on Saturday. The leaked report suggests up to 22 per cent of school boards may not have policies in place.

CBC News has also revealed that more than a dozen policies submitted by schools state that clubs and activities contrary to the school's beliefs, such as gay-straight alliances, won't be permitted, as legally required under the School Act.

It just shows how much work there is still to do. I think people think these issues are settled and they're clearly not.- Alberta Party leader Greg Clark

"I'm absolutely shocked," said Khan, the first openly gay leader of an Alberta political party.

"It's the law of the land. If they're not complying with the law, they're acting illegally."

He accused Education Minister David Eggen of sitting "on his hands for two years" and creating "this situation where school boards feel entitled to act against the law."

'Meaningful, binding and mandatory'

Legislation requires all boards to allow students to form gay-straight alliances and call them by that name.

In November 2015, Eggen ordered school authorities to submit a policy supporting LGBTQ students by March of last year.

Boards aren't required to create a stand-alone policy and could amend an existing one "as long as it is sound," wrote Eggen's press secretary Lindsay Harvey.

But Khan urged the government to "implement a meaningful, binding and mandatory, province-wide LGBTQ2S+ school policy" to protect students.

The internal report was prepared by Alberta Health Services to help create a tool kit that will be used to collaborate with school boards to improve policies.

The document indicated 58 of Alberta's 74 publicly funded schools may not have inclusive policies.

The research was conducted in February and July 2016, and published the following December. Alberta Education has declined to provide updated numbers.

Numbers improving: Premier

On Saturday, Premier Rachel Notley dismissed the report as "quite out of date." She said Eggen is working collaboratively with boards to strengthen policies.

"Overall the numbers are improving," said Notley.

"We think that a collaborative approach is the best way to go. At a certain point we may meet a maximum number that will respond on that basis and then we'll have to look at different tools and we're quite prepared to be doing that."

United Conservative Party leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer applauded the work of Notley's government, including steps taken to ensure the protection of GSAs.

We don't get to pick and choose the laws we want to comply with- Doug Schweitzer , UCP candidate

"The NDP has done a good job on this one to make sure that kids have an inclusive environment and they're welcome so that way they can focus on learning after they've had that support that they need," said Schweitzer.

But the Calgary lawyer, who attended Saturday's St. Albert Pride BBQ, also expressed concern with the "high number" of schools that haven't fully complied.

"We don't get to pick and choose the laws we want to comply with," said Schweitzer, calling for a transparent process.

"We need to know right now as to where things stand, the NDP government needs to tell us in an honest way where this is at, what school boards are complying."

'I support GSAs': Schweitzer

Schweitzer also took the opportunity to further distance himself from his opponents in the race to lead the UCP. 

"From day one of this campaign I've been clear," he said. "I support GSAs in schools and what they stand for and I wouldn't out kids to their parents."

Jason Kenney and Brian Jean did not provide comment.

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark said it's "really troubling that so many school boards have not met the standard." 

"It just shows how much work there is still to do," said Clark. "I think people think these issues are settled and they're clearly not."

He said the report also highlights the need for a strong government and opposition that stand up for LGBTQ kids, rather than parties that spend as much time defending the rights of parents.

"Parents' rights in this context is simply code for trying to out gay kids," insisted Clark, explaining it puts youth at risk. "And it's not okay in 2017 in Alberta to out gay kids."

Clark called on the NDP government to compel boards to pass school policy that complies with the law.

"The rules are put in place to ensure the safety of kids and human rights are not optional," said Clark.

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca   

@andreahuncar