November 27, 2014 2:51 pm
Updated: November 27, 2014 9:51 pm

Prentice calls Bill 202 divisive; says PCs will introduce their own bill

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Watch above: The opposition is accusing the premier of gutting a bill aimed at protecting LGBTQ youth. As Tom Vernon reports, Jim Prentice says the rights of all Albertans must be respected.

EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Jim Prentice says Bill 202 has pitted MLAs against each other. On Thursday, he announced the Progressive Conservatives will be introducing a bill of their own.

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Prentice says the rights of parents and school boards need to be balanced in the legislation. He says the PCs’ new act to amend the Alberta Bill of Rights will add “sexual orientation to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.”

But opponents say the changes are sowing more confusion than clarity and they are skeptical that real change will emerge.

Prentice says the bill, to be introduced next week, is needed because a similar private member’s bill introduced by the Liberals is unfair and divisive.

Bill 202 – a bill supporting Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Alberta schools – already passed first reading the legislature. Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman introduced the Safe & Inclusive Schools Statutes Amendment Act last week. It would, in part, force all Alberta schools to allow a Gay-Straight Alliance if students want one. The Liberal bill would no longer  allow parents to pull children out of class when sexual orientation is taught.

Thursday, the premier fielded several questions about what the proposed bill would mean for students hoping to create GSAs in their schools. When asked if the proposed bill would give school boards the final decision, Prentice told reporters they could look at the legislation which will be introduced “in the coming days.” He added it is being drafted, but didn’t say when the process began.

A spokesperson for the premier’s office offered this statement:

“The proposal will aim to ensure that students wishing to establish clubs that promote a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment, including gay-straight alliances, will have clear legal process if a school does not allow it. Details on that will be made clear when the bill is introduced. The bill will also propose that a package of tough and thorough anti-bullying provisions will have the full force of law in time for the next school year.

“The proposal will remove section 11.1 from the Alberta Human Rights Act, and instead entrench those same principles of parental rights in the School Act and the Education Act, in keeping with the practice in other jurisdictions.”

In response, Blakeman said the PCs’ proposed bill won’t change anything and that some students could still be denied GSAs.

“My little bill caused quite a bit of a stir,” she said.

Gay-straight alliances are peer support networks intended to reduce bullying and intimidation of gay students.

With files from The Canadian Press

© 2014 Shaw Media

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