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Alberta’s education minister says students who want GSAs should have them

WATCH ABOVE: Discussions on gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools have been reignited. As Shallima Maharaj reports, a public consultation on the topic was held in Edmonton Thursday night.

EDMONTON — The debate around gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools has been reignited.

The Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association held a public consultation forum in Edmonton Thursday night. Education Minister Gordon Dirks was in attendance, along with other Tory MLAs and former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

“It’s my role as Minister of Education to ensure that all children are protected,” said Dirks.

“Students who would desire to have the experience of a GSA should be able to have that.”

The civil liberties group is looking to gather information from Albertans on what new legislation around GSAs in schools might look like.

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GSAs have been a controversial topic in Alberta since the government first introduced Bill 10 in the fall. In its original form, Bill 10 gave the final say for GSAs to the school boards and told students to go to court if they wanted to challenge it.

The legislation was introduced in response to a private member’s bill tabled by Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman. She believes the government was wrong in not allowing Bill 202, her private member’s bill, to come forward.

“I really thought this was going to be pretty simple,” Blakeman said Thursday. “I thought that because I just knew that Albertans were already there. And I was right, Albertans are already there — the politicians are not.”

After much outrage and public backlash to Bill 10, Prentice put the legislation on hold. He said the mistakes on Bill 10 were his to bear. Bill 10 remains on the books but Prentice said he wanted to hear more from all sides before proceeding with it.

READ MORE: Premier Prentice takes personal responsibility for Bill 10; puts it on hold

Among those speaking at Thursday’s meeting was Jacqueline Foord, an out member of the community who has been closely watching the debate around GSAs in the Alberta Legislature.

“This is an opportunity to talk about human rights in this province,” said Foord. “I think children should have the right to assembly the same way that everyone else does.

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“This is kids who have an interest in a specific part of their life, just like the chess club or the football club. They just want the right to go after school, it’s not during class time, after school and talk to other people about that part of their life.”

And GSAs aren’t just for gay kids, Foord added.

“The S in GSA is for straight,” she said. “When I came out of the closet my straight family members and my straight friends needed someone to talk to. To have that opportunity when you’re young is so important.”

A similar meeting was held in Calgary earlier this week. Information gathered at the public sessions will be presented to the province.

“I am very pleased to have been able to hear from a broad spectrum of Albertans,” said Dirks. “They want to ensure that students are not bullied, that they’re safe, that they’re in caring and respectful environments; that they’re protected.”

The RMCLA expects to have a report prepared by March. Written submissions can be made online. For more information, visit the organization’s website.