The Justice Centre has responded to an Order that Alberta Education Minister David Eggen issued to two Edmonton-area private Christian schools, in regard to Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs).
On November 14, 2016, Minister Eggen received a Report from Edmonton lawyer Dan Scott, who had been asked to conduct an Inquiry into Harvest Baptist Academy and Meadows Baptist Academy, both operated by the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society (“IBCES”). Together the two schools have 84 students, of whom only seven are high-school aged (grades 7-12). Dan Scott’s Report concludes that both of these schools have been, and are currently, in legislative compliance with the School Act. On March 22, 2017, Minister Eggen issued an Order telling the schools to comply with the School Act.
In a letter responding to the Minister’s Order, the Justice Centre points out the Minister’s failure to comply with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“FOIPP Act”), under which Eggen was ordered to release the report by February 6, 2017. Further, the two schools in respect of which the Report was written did not receive the Report prior to its release to the media and general public. Calgary lawyer and Justice Centre president John Carpay describesthis as “a lack of courtesy and professionalism.”
The Justice Centre has drawn attention to the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada decision in Loyola High School v. Quebec, in which the Court held that the government cannot “undermine the character of lawful religious institutions and disrupt the vitality of religious communities”, including religious schools. The Court was unanimous in finding that the Education Minister in that case had unlawfully limited freedom of religion.
The Justice Centre further refers the Minister to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. Canada’s Constitution also recognizes the right of parents to impart their values to their children through religious schools, regardless of how popular or unpopular that religion’s teachings may be at a particular time or place.
The Court in Loyola quoted from Article 18(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Canada ratified in 1976, and which requires governments to “undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents to … ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” This Covenant is legally binding on Canada and other party states.
In March of 2016, every school in Alberta submitted its anti-bullying policies to the Education Minister. Catholic schools have submitted policies that do not allow GSAs to be set up in Catholic schools. Muslim, Jewish, Christian and other religious schools have submitted similar policies, insisting that student clubs must be respectful of the school’s beliefs and values.
The Justice Centre’s letter reiterates the request from the two Edmonton-area Christian schools, and other private religious schools, to meet face-to-face with the Education Minister.