Alberta’s education minister is moving forward with an inquiry into the school authority of a Christian educator who responded to the province’s order to allow gay-straight alliances in schools with a letter from his lawyer.
On Sept. 2, David Eggen sent a letter to the board chair of the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society, asking for written assurance the school authority was – and would continue to – comply with Section 16.1 of the School Act.
The legislation supports the right of any student who wants to establish a gay-straight alliance or queer-straight alliance and their right to name it that.
The society, which runs two publicly funded, faith-based schools (Harvest Baptist Academy and Meadows Baptist Academy) in the Edmonton area, had until Sept. 16 to submit its written assurance it would comply. Just before the deadline, the government received a letter from Pastor Brian Coldwell‘s lawyer.
“On Sept. 16, I received a letter from the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society’s legal counsel,” Eggen said on Monday.
“However, I am not satisfied with the response, and am therefore moving forward with an inquiry into the school authority, as per Section 41 of the School Act.
“This inquiry will be conducted by a third party and will be completed within four to eight weeks.”
Section 41 of the Alberta School Act states the minister may appoint a person to examine and inspect the financial condition, the administrative condition or any other matter connected with the management, administration or operation of a board, private school or early childhood services program. The person appointed to conduct the inspection may examine all books of record, bank books, any other papers or documents.
“The inquiry will look at all of the procedures and information that the school has to see that they are providing a safe and caring environment for students as defined under the School Act and the Alberta Human Rights Act,” Eggen explained.
He added the third party would be selected “within hours.”
Eggen said he’s hoping for resolution but said there are other enforcement tools available to him.
“The process of course that’s included at my disposal is deregistration of a school or withdrawal of funding or so forth. One usually begins this process through the process of inquiry.”
When reached for comment by Global News on Monday, Coldwell declined to comment.
However, in a previous interview, Coldwell said he has a duty as a pastor to refuse GSAs in his two schools. He said his schools will not comply with the law and equated the rules to religious persecution.
“To be able to come into religious institutions, Christian schools, churches and demand that they can set up their GSA clubs and have a platform to advance what I would call anti-Christian, hostile liberal, secular values that really undermine our Christian faith,” he said on Aug. 30.
Coldwell wants to see Bill 10 amended.
“It’s culture change,” he said. “It’s trying to impose the gay activist rainbow ideology, if you will – that’s really the hidden agenda here.
“If a student doesn’t agree with our statement of faith, and our Christian moral values and so forth, then they have the option of attending many other schools – secular schools, non-religious schools.”
The Baptist Christian school board gets 70 per cent of its funding from the province.
“They did not change their position from the comments they had in the media previously,” Eggen said of the letter.
The director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta is disappointed that the minister isn’t taking more direct action.
“If you don’t comply with the law, then there are consequences,” Kris Wells said. “I’m not sure how many more opportunities school boards need to be given.”
Wells believes the majority of school boards are doing a really good job creating policies, following the law and supporting GSAs.
“It just seems that a few school boards are still very reluctant and resistant and in this case, outright defiant.”
Some advocates, including Wells, argue the government should have created one policy and changed the School Act to make it clear what the expectations of schools are when it comes to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, instead of having individual boards draft their own policies.
“What we’ve seen is what we thought would happen,” Wells said. “Schools are not going to comply no matter how many chances they get.”
With files from The Canadian Press