Below is my letter recently sent to my MLA for Lethbridge West, Minister Greg Weadick and Minister Lindsay Blackett and Hon. Premier Ed Stelmach.
Minister G. Weadick,
I am writing this letter to express my concern over Bill 44, the proposed amendments to the Human Rights Act of Alberta. My concern lies with a specific section of Bill 44 as well as the overall intent and message of this Bill.
I would like to start by commending the Alberta Government for legislating sexual orientation rights within our Human Rights Act and I do see it as a substantial step forward in the right direction. This is an overdue response to the Supreme Court decision and reflects the values within Alberta’s diverse and inclusive culture.
There are several key reasons why, as a citizen of Alberta, I do not support this bill in its current format and urge you to exercise your free vote in this matter to vote against Bill 44 in its current state and work towards amending it to reflect the original intent of the change.
As a citizen of Alberta and a rather recent graduate of the Alberta Catholic School system, I see this as weak and redundant legislation, included to serve as a political statement regarding Alberta’s attitude towards ‘progressive cultural change’ but not a change in the way the Alberta School System operates.
Firstly, the inclusion of sexual orientation protection explicitly in the Alberta Human Rights Act is a reflection of a Supreme Court of Canada decision made eleven years ago. This inclusion, while in name is fundamental to reflecting the diverse and progressive culture within Alberta, does not significantly change the legal rights of same sex couples in Alberta. However, piggy backed on this inclusion is the enshrined right for parents to pick and chose the education their child receives through Alberta schools. The notable phrasing that allows parents to pull their children out of any education program, which threatens their religious beliefs, including mentions of sexual orientation in sexual education 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. This is a significant cultural statement, one that has been picked up on by international and national media and quickly becoming an embarrassment and poor reflection of Alberta and people within.
Secondly, this legislation is entirely redundant, which has me wondering why the elected Government of Alberta is so interested in pursuing this bill, despite the vocal and populist opposition to it. As the people of Alberta, outside the Progressive Conservative caucus, do not look to be actively supporting this bill, it seems antithetical for the Alberta Government to insist on passing a bill with the purpose to “protect rights” already protected, and in a section of legislation which does very little in terms of change and progression.
While this bill only reflects the current rights of parents as enshrined within the School Act, it does perpetuate the negative stereotype of Alberta housing 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.”
Notably, the principle of the statement is that the curriculum is to reflect the “diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others….” Parent’s already have the right to take their children from classes that they feel are inappropriate or explicitly go against their religious beliefs, and as you represent Lethbridge, a city which has a significant religious class, one that is diverse in its beliefs but similar in its faithful nature, this is a right exercised often. It is clear that parents are well aware of ability and their right to direct the nature of education their child receives. The inclusion of this right within the Human Rights Act only serves to reflect a negative and perpetuated culture of ignorance and exclusion, but gives nothing to parents that they do not already have. Indeed, it seems this Bill serves to regulate teachers and the school system further and allow less freedom of education, here in a province whose slogan is “Freedom to create, Spirit to achieve”.
Lastly, I am taken aback by the lack of consultation about this amendment, especially as many groups have come forward with strong opinions and those opinions do not seem to be taken into account. There has been a great deal of public discussion on this topic, free forums such as public media (newspapers, notably The Edmonton Journal) and web media such as blogs, twitter and Facebook have all hosted discussions on Bill 44 open to any and all. I personally have participated in several of these discussions and have been vocal about my personal opposition to Bill 44 and appreciate the level of engagement several of your caucus members have participated in.
I understand the third reading of Bill 44 will be happening this evening and I sincerely hope you take this letter into consideration when choosing your vote in this matter. I would be happy to engage you and any other elected member of the Legislature in this matter further and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have cc’ed both Min. L. Blackett and Hon. Premier E. Stelmach on this letter to express my concerns to a broad membership of the Progressive Conservative caucus. Thank you for your time and I look forward to a response.