Constitutional challenge to Bill 24 discontinued following repeal of School Act

The Justice Centre has withdrawn the constitutional challenge that it launched in 2018 to Bill 24.

Passed by the Alberta Legislature in November 2017,  Bill 24 amended the School Act to make it illegal for schools to notify parents about their child’s involvement in student organizations, including Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), or “activities” established under section 16.1 of the School Act.

On July 5, 2019, the Alberta Legislature passed Bill 8, which replaced the School Act with the Education Act, effective September 1, 2019.  Bill 8 thereby also effectively repealed the secrecy provisions of Bill 24, which were part of the School Act but not part of the Education Act.  The Justice Centre officially discontinued the court challenge on September 12, 2019.

In 2018, equipped with the pro-bono legal services offered by the Justice Centre, dozens of schools and individual parents from various faiths, including Sikhism, Judaism, Islam, Catholicism and other Christian denominations, challenged Bill 24 for violating both religious freedom and parental rights, as protected by the Charter. This court application asked the court to strike down provisions of Bill 24 on the basis that they violated the rights of parents and schools protected by sections 2(a), 2(b), 2(d) and 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Bill of Rights.

The primary objection of parents and schools was to principals and teachers being prohibited from notifying parents about children’s involvement in student organizations, including GSAs and related “activities.”  For example, under Bill 24 it was illegal to inform parents about the sexual or political contents of materials that children would be exposed to at GSA meetings, and illegal to inform parents about which persons or organizations would have access to their children at GSA meetings and activities.  Bill 24 restricted information from parents about children as young as five years of age, as well as children with disabilities or other vulnerabilities.

With the challenge to Bill 24 being before the Courts in 2018, the Alberta Government did not carry out its threats to immediately defund or de-accredit the dozens of schools that refused to comply with Bill 24.

Neither the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench nor the Alberta Court of Appeal granted an injunction to stay Bill 24 while its constitutionality was determined, ruling that (at that time) there was insufficient evidence to justify a stay.  In the split decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal released March 29, 2019, the Court stated that “[t]he constitutional validity question is to be expedited”. Justice McDonald sided with the private schools that they should not be shut down pending a determination of the constitutionality of the challenged provisions of Bill 24.

Within the Court application, a significant amount of evidence was filed attesting to the harm children experienced from GSAs and related activities they attended without the knowledge of their parents.

The Court challenge to Bill 24 protected dozens of schools and thousands of parents and students from the bullying and threats of the former Alberta government.

A summary of the Justice Centre’s legal analysis on Bill 24 can be found here.