February 8, 2016 4:21 pm
Updated: February 8, 2016 9:45 pm

Eggen believes Alberta Catholic schools will cooperate on LGBTQ policy

WATCH ABOVE: Hoping to smooth over the debate around trans-gendered policies in Alberta schools, the education minister met with Catholic leaders in Edmonton Monday. Tom Vernon reports.

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After meeting with leaders of the Catholic community Monday morning, Alberta’s education minister said there’s common ground on the LGBTQ policy issue.

“I had a very productive with three bishops and the archbishop,” David Eggen said. “We found lots of things in common to talk about. Certainly, everyone has the best interests of all students in mind.”

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Eggen said he has no reason to believe any of the 61 school boards in Alberta won’t meet the province’s March 31 deadline to develop policies on how they will protect LGBTQ students.

“I believe that Catholic boards across the province have been and will continue to be cooperative with my department to create coherent policy that is keeping with the law and in keeping with the spirit of ensuring that we protect every single student in their school systems, especially the most vulnerable ones.”

The minister said the province released policy guidelines at the request of school boards.

On Jan. 14, Calgary Bishop F.B. Henry posted a letter online, slamming Eggen’s policy guidelines as “anti-Catholic,” “pure secularism” and the province’s “totalitarian approach.”

READ MORE: Calgary bishop slams LGBTQ rules; calls Alberta NDP ‘anti-Catholic‘ 

Eggen said his interaction with Bishop Henry on Monday was “very good.”

“I’ve known him for many years from the human rights work he’s done. We had a very frank conversation, which I was glad for quite frankly. I think he was too.”

The education minister does not need the bishops’ approval to move ahead with the LGBTQ policies, but Eggen said collaboration is always preferable.

“It’s important for us to recognize that faith is also protected in the Charter of Rights, and human rights as well, but we have to find a balance with that and the many tens of thousands of students that are in Catholic schools,” Eggen said.

“My job is to make sure legislation and the letter of the law is congruent with policy in each of the 61 school boards across the province.”

Eggen believes any differences can be sorted out “based on the spirit of safe and caring schools that we all share.”

READ MORE: Alberta government establishes LGBTQ guidelines for schools

“I am certainly looking for a way by which we can accommodate theological beliefs and the letter of the law. The letter of the law is not negotiable, but certainly you can have ways where accommodation can be had and everyone can be satisfied.”

The minister said if the policies submitted March 1 are not adequate, the province will work with the school boards.

“Overall, the process has been going very well. It’s been both educative, and I believe a way by which we can clarify things,” Eggen added.

“Everyone has best interests of all kids at heart.”

Archbishop Richard Smith spoke about the meeting as well, describing it as a “general kind of conversation” that was “warm” and “cordial.”

He said it wasn’t any kind of negotiation, but rather a chance to get clarity and to open dialogue.

Smith said Eggen requested the meeting and clearly “recognized bishops’ role as faith leaders.”

The archbishop said he’s confident some kind of solution can be reached.

“The fundamental common ground has to do with the love and the protection of the children,” Smith said.

He said the biggest issue the church has with the policy guidelines is “the fundamental underlying proposition of self-identification.”

“There’s a particular philosophical stance with respect to gender ideology out of which the church obviously doesn’t work and can’t work, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be working together to protect our kids.”

Smith said the boards were “mid-process” in terms of developing the kind of policy requested by the province.

“Our teachers and our principals are dealing with students with a whole range of problems and challenges, not just this particular one that may arise occasionally. What I have seen, time and time and time again is the student, whatever the situation, just surrounded by a lot of love and compassion and a lot of professionalism.”

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