Edmonton

UCP Leader Jason Kenney defends allowing parental notification if child joins GSA

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney on Tuesday defended his pledge to proclaim the Education Act, which would remove the prohibition on parental notification if a child joins a gay-straight alliance.

Kenney has faced backlash from teachers, parents of LGBTQ children and advocates

UCP Leader Jason Kenney has been criticized by teachers, parents of LGBTQ children and advocates over his proposal to end a prohibition on parental notification if a child joins a gay-straight alliance. (Scott Neufeld/CBC )

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney on Tuesday defended his pledge to proclaim the Education Act (2014), which would remove the prohibition on parental notification if a child joins a gay-straight alliance.

Kenney has faced backlash from LGBTQ advocates, teachers and parents since he announced the UCP education platform on Monday. A UCP government would proclaim the former Progressive Conservative government's Education Act (2014) to replace the NDP's amended School Act.

On Tuesday, Kenney said his party's proposal would offer the strongest legal protections for GSAs in Canada.

"We support GSAs," Kenney said at an event in Edmonton Tuesday. "Our Education Act will have the strongest legal protection for GSAs of any province in Canada."

The Education Act (2014) included a provision to allow gay-straight alliances — school clubs meant to make LGBTQ students feel safe and welcome — if students wanted them.

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In November 2017, the NDP government passed Bill 24, amending the School Act. The legislation prohibits schools from telling parents if their child joins a GSA. Some Albertans say the law interferes with a parent's right to know what their children are doing at school.

Kenney said the UCP is not proposing mandatory parental notification. He said it would be up to teachers to decide whether it is in the best interest of a child to tell their parents that they are involved with a GSA. Such notification would not be common, he said.

"I think it would be very rare," Kenney said. "Probably only dealing with very young kids or kids with unique emotional and mental health challenges."

The leaders of the NDP and Alberta Party say the UCP's proposal would hurt vulnerable children who rely on peer support groups as a safe space for figuring out their sexual orientation and gender identity. 

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney's proposal will out LGBTQ students before they are prepared to disclose their sexual orientation with their parents.

She urged Kenney to talk to experts, families and kids.

"The announcement Mr. Kenney made yesterday will have very cruel and hurtful consequences and I think he should reconsider," Notley said. "Albertans deserve better."

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Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel called Kenney's proposal "abhorrent." He said 40 per cent of kids who live on the streets are from the LGBTQ community.

"And by him making that decision, he threw those kids out the door."

"I think it's terrible. I think he should be ashamed."

The Alberta Teachers' Association, which represents 45,000 teachers, identified "very concerning issues" in the UCP platform, said ATA president Greg Jeffery.

From increasing standardized testing of students to continual recertification of teachers, Jeffery said the proposals are "unnecessary and insulting."

Jeffery said the ideas to impose more testing on students and teachers, resurrect and expand ideas from what he called the "discredited 2014 task force on teacher excellence."

Under the NDP, it was illegal for teachers to tell parents if their kids were in gay-straight alliances at school, Jeffery said.

"That provided comfort for teachers because they knew where they stood," he said. "It made it very clear, and teachers welcomed that clarity."

Kenney's proposed change would put that onus back on teachers, he said. 

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