My Summer Vacation, An Essay.
By Jennifer Prosser, Features Editor, The Meliorist
Thursday September 10th, 2009. Volume 43, Issue 1
A burning and reoccurring memory plagues those of us subjected to the curriculum shortcut known as the “what I did on my summer vacation” essay. The road to hell is paved with best intentions, and this particular exercise of creative writing is the mortar. Children glorify summer vacation the same way comic book fans glorify Joe Shuster, (unintentionally the crossover there may be greater than anyone can correlate). For two months, a ‘good childhood’ becomes a mere afterthought to actual living. Endless days stretched out with sunsets and sunrises being the only controls. Unprovoked and unrequested, creativity is valued and rewarded by both peers and adults. Intrinsically, an overwhelming sense of pride is felt after a particularly good fort is built, or a hard novel is finished or a rousing game of Red Rover ends in a hospital trip, as these things often do. It is the rush of freedom that is remembered fondly in our later years, as we wistfully and longingly look at swing sets and hula-hoops. Regardless of one’s summer responsibility level, nothing holds a candle to the never-ending freedom that is summer vacation.
As we as individuals grow and as our community grows with us, freedom begins to take on new meanings. Freedom becomes an entrenched right for many of us. It also becomes something bigger, much bigger than we often realize. So big, sometimes we cannot see it from end to end. My summer vacation was dominated by encroaching threats to this freedom. Threats to the very thing held so dearly by so many of us. Threats to an ideal many live by and die for.
This summer instead of a celebration of freedom, the chance to realize long lost days of youth, I watched as our freedoms became slowly but surely constricted within our province and our country. Ideals of universal freedom become muddied with the lines of right and wrong, and beliefs in universal truths became shaken with exposure to radically different perspectives. Everyone lives in a construction of his or her own ideals and experiences. We all draw different lines in the sand, all believing them to be in the right place and in the right sand.
The 27th sitting of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta saw major change and a forced compromise of previously made choices. Constricted by the market, Alberta could no longer carry out the multi billion dollar spending plans and instead had to content itself with a new $25 Million logo and a $2 Billion commitment to green washing, known in Alberta as Carbon Capture and Storage. It also was expecting to satisfy itself with a quiet summer and the recognition of a fundamental human right, enjoyed by every Canadian citizen. The right to have your sexual freedom both protected and recognized.
Introduced into the Legislature as Bill 44 in April of 2009 and passing third reading at approximately three am on June 2nd, 2009, this Bill included sexual orientation as a human right under the Human Rights Commission of Alberta as per the Supreme Court decision made eleven years ago, which currently overrules provincial judicial decisions in this matter. The specific amendment reads “striking out “or family status” and substituting “, family status or sexual orientation”.
However, this inclusion came with a caveat, the enshrined right for parents to pick and chose the education their child receives through Alberta schools. Section 11 of the Humans Rights, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism Act has been amended to read: “A board as defined in the School Act shall provide notice to a parent or guardian of a student where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, prescribed under that Act include subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation.” This notable phrasing allows parents to pull their children out of any education program which threatens/contradicts their religious beliefs, including discussion on sexual orientation and/or sexual education. In this writers opinion, it is a clear statement of the lack of belief that Alberta Government has in protecting and accepting the right of Albertan’s to exercise the sexual orientation of their choice.
The issue many Albertans have taken with section 11 of Bill 44 is not that it enshrines the right of parents to limit and control their children education, it is that by including this section within the Human Rights Commission we are subjecting our educators to the potential of lawsuits and charges under the Human Rights Act and not under the School Board Act where they can be dealt with internally, within the K – 12 sector. While this bill only reflects the current rights of parents as enshrined within the School Act, it does perpetuate the negative stereotype of Albertan narrow-minded culture. Section Three of the Alberta School Act reads: “All education programs offered and instructional materials used in schools must reflect the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others and honour and respect the common values and beliefs of Albertans. For greater certainty, education programs and instructional materials referred to in subsection (1) must not promote or foster doctrines of racial or ethnic superiority or persecution, religious intolerance or persecution, social change through violent action or disobedience of laws.”
Understanding that in Alberta, many of our members of the Legislative Assembly have “family values” high on their endangered species list, section 11 shifts freedom both away from the educator, but also from the parent. Parents, while they may have more legitimacy to limit their child’s education, they also have less control in ensuring their children are being given a worldly education, one that includes discussion and education on sexual health, sexual orientation and religious content.
Freedom is to be extended to all equally; this includes the freedom of speech. The freedom to express your opinions and the freedom to use mediums such as editorials, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and a soapbox if you have one to expound on your own personal thoughts and concepts. However, the interpretation of this freedom is as controversial as you can make it and in the case of an elected official member this summer, this freedom was called into question with his misogynistic comments as published in his blog.
Voltaire infamously wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. With public officials saying nothing less in public than they would in their homes, they are doing nothing less than exercising their right to speak in public. The same right this paper presently employs; the same right many enjoy through Twitter and Facebook accounts, and the same right we are enjoy by conversing with others in public spaces. The elected Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in question here had previously been an active individual using social media tools to engage people far and wide. While he may tweet comments I personally find offensive, he is thinking them regardless and he was elected; mind, body and soul, to represent the people of Calder and Alberta.
The greater issue at hand is that his comments speak to a culture of narrow mindedness and ignorance. The same culture that is perpetuated within Alberta with such pieces of legislation as Bill 44. Accommodation is not equality and believing that to be true is simply laziness and unwillingness to create positive change around you. While I find this members comments offensive and sadly all too representative of the lax mindset many people have to what the true meaning of equality is, I also firmly believe he was well within his right to say it and well within his freedom to continue to blog, tweet and speak without the supervision and control of the Progressive Conservative party. A few days after this particular story leaked, a CTV poll had asked if readers/viewers believe that this member should resign. Where Alberta once had a Premier, with a rather high approval rating, who drunkenly threw loose change at residents of the Calgary Drop-In Center and now we are calling for resignation of an MLA who exercised his right in this country to voice his opinions? How fickle we have become.
Freedom is a contestable word. When does one persons freedom impact another negatively, and if so, who is in the right? These lines in the sand all nothing more than that and even as children we understood that while we may have the freedom to run amok for twelve glorious hours every day, that did not give us the freedom to destroy the community we called home.
[The full text of Bill 44 can be found on http://www.assembly.ab.ca/. Currently, this bill is slated to be given royal assent once the house rejoins session on October 24th, 2009 however many Progressive Conservative Associations have raised vocal opposition and on Edmonton, one association has been successful thus far in bringing MLA’s onside to opposing the amendments as they are currently written. ]
[Doug Elniski, the MLA in question who made the above comments on his blog post is a mere backbencher and despite the “McCain/Palin poster in his office and his Smart car, he will likely remain as such for a majority of his hopefully short political career.]