Wildrose wants to allow faith schools to opt-out of gay-straight alliances

The Wildrose Party is proposing an amendment to Bill 202 which would allow Catholic and other religious schools to opt-out of allowing student to form gay-straight alliances.
MLA Rob Anderson speaks to reporters about proposed amendments to Bill 202. (CBC)

The Wildrose Party is proposing an amendment to Bill 202 which would allow Catholic and other religious schools to opt-out of allowing student to form gay-straight alliances.

The party announced this and two other amendments to the private members’ bill to protect LGBTQ students from bullying. The bill was tabled by Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman last week.

Under the Wildrose amendment, GSAs would be mandatory in all public schools. In faith-based schools, staff must work with students on a strategy to prevent bullying that would meet their specific needs.

Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson said the amendments balance the rights of parents and religious groups with the protection of students. He says the opt-out clause does not go against the spirit of Blakeman’s bill.

“In Catholic schools and faith-based schools, there might be a more effective way to achieve the balance with regards to what the students are seeking,” Anderson said.

“What we are saying very clearly is that it needs to be dealt with. They just can’t say no to the request and wash their hands of it.”

The Wildrose supports the inclusion of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Education Act but wants an exclusion for faith-based schools and people who homeschool their children. 

Blakeman's bill repeals Section 11.1 of the Alberta Human Rights Act, the section that compels schools to notify parents whenever religion, sexuality or sexual orientation is discussed in the classroom. 

The Wildrose amendment would keep that section in the act, but remove the notification requirement on discussions about sexual orientation. 

"Discussions around LGBTQ civil rights, same-sex marriage and other related topics are a social reality. They're history," Anderson said. "Therefore discussions about these subjects can and should be had in the social studies and other core curriculum."

Anderson said that the Wildrose caucus will vote in favour of Bill 202 on the second reading. The amendments will be proposed once the bill moves into committee of the whole. 

Blakeman said she wasn't sure how exceptions can be made under the Charter when it is supposed to apply to everyone. 

“I’m struggling to see how they can support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and then go ahead and say it’s all right to discriminate against an identifiable group of kids," she said. 

Earlier Monday, the Wildrose caucus sent out a statement that approved a policy on human rights that was rejected by the party membership at an AGM earlier this month.

Anderson says he plans to reach out to Blakeman. He says the MLAs will have free votes on the issue.

The PC caucus hasn't taken a position on Bill 202. Education Minister Gordon Dirks said he still needs to take a look at the bill.