Alberta’s United Conservative Party (UCP) had been hoping for better headlines to come out of its founding convention, May 4-6, 2018. But the extreme rhetoric from Ric McIver, a Conservative Member of the Legislative Assembly, against a policy motion to protect parental rights, resulted in headlines like “UCP founding convention hits socially conservative pothole” and “UCP members ignore MLA pleas to vote against gay-straight alliance motion.”
McIver single-handedly created these media headlines by mischaracterizing parental rights as “outing gay kids,” by bringing up the controversial “lake of fire” reference from Alberta’s 2012 provincial election, and by asserting that anyone who supported the resolution “disagrees with people being gay.” Few, if any, media bothered to report on what the resolution actually said. It’s easier and more salacious to write headlines based on McIver’s mischaracterizations. The resolution stated: “The United Conservative Party believes that the Government of Alberta should reinstate parental opt-in consent for any subjects of a religious or sexual nature, including enrollment in extracurricular activities/clubs or distribution of any instructional materials/resources related to these topics.” The resolution passed with 57% support, despite McIver and two other Conservative MLAs speaking against it.
One of the important rights protected
Parental rights in education need not conflict with LGBTQ rights by Canada’s Constitution is the right of parents to raise and educate their own children. This includes parents knowing where their children are, who has access to them, what materials they are exposed to, and whether they are safe. Many supporters of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) have long argued that GSAs are merely peer support groups. As described in one news article: “GSAs are social clubs set up by students to help LGBTQ children feel welcome and to lessen any chance of bullying.” Others have argued that GSAs promote an ideology or worldview that is hostile to the Jewish, Islamic, Sikh, and Christian understandings of sexuality, gender and marriage. Parents were alarmed when the Alberta Government’s official GSA Network website, directed at children as young as five, provided students with links to graphic pornographic content.
If it’s true that GSAs are nothing other than social support clubs, and if it’s true that GSAs do not present anything of a sexual nature to children, then the resolution passed by Conservative delegates at their convention would not apply to GSAs. In contrast, by opposing parental consent for children to be enrolled in clubs or activities that present materials of a sexual nature to children, Ric McIver and others seem to be admitting that GSAs are not merely peer support groups.
Ironically, while publicly denouncing his own party, Ric McIver himself (along with almost every other UCP MLA) voted against Bill 24, which the NDP claimed was about preventing gay kids from being outed. Bill 24 made it illegal for teachers and principals to inform parents as to what materials and resources are presented to children at GSA meetings, or at GSArelated events and activities that schools are now required to facilitate.
This legislated secrecy is a red flag for many parents. When children are emotionally exploited or sexually abused, by adults or by their own peers, this occurs most often in places, and during times, when parents are absent and unaware. Countless criminal law court decisions demonstrate that the absence of parental knowledge opens the door to predation. Before Bill 24 was passed, teachers and principals already had discretion to withhold information from parents, if they had a reasonable suspicion of abuse. Further, schools also have a positive obligation to inform child welfare authorities about actual or suspected child abuse.
The spectre of “outing gay kids to abusive parents” therefore had no basis in reality. But politicians like Ric McIver, and NDP Education Minister David Eggen, continue to repeat this rhetoric. There is no conflict between parental rights in education, including the parents’ right to be fully informed about what goes on with their children at school, and the fundamental rights of LGBTQ people to freedom of conscience, expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Those who believe that conflict is necessary need to re-think their understanding of rights and freedoms.
John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents clients who are challenging Bill 24 in court.
MAY 11, 2018