A group of Alberta parents and schools filed a court application Thursday, challenging the provisions added to Bill 24 to support gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
In a news release, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) said the main concern is “the requirement that prohibits principals and teachers from notifying parents about student organizers or activities.”
JCCF president John Carpay said Thursday the bill may have the best intentions but it violates parents’ rights.
“We’re asking the court to strike down the parts of the law that are in violation of parental rights, as protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Alberta Bill of Rights and other international human rights documents.”
The group has launched a Court of Queen’s Bench challenge, appealing the constitutionality of those provisions in the School Act.
“This court application asks the court to strike down provisions of Bill 24 on the basis that they violate the rights of parents and schools protected by section 2(a), 2(b), 2(d) and 7 rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”) and the Alberta Bill of Rights.
“The court application also seeks an injunction staying the operation of the challenged provisions until the Court rules on their constitutionality.”
Documents show 26 faith-based Alberta schools as applicants on this appeal. (Scroll down to read the complete court application).
The JCCF says Bill 24 threatens the religious freedoms of these schools and doesn’t respect schools’ ability to be open with parents.
“Trust is a critical aspect of our school community,” Sukhvinder Malhotra, a board member of Khalsa School Calgary, said. “Parents choose to send their children to our school because they trust us to teach and to care for each and every student in accordance with the parents’ values. That relationship is paramount.”
“Bill 24 does not take into account the unique identity and mission of our school and is therefore a serious threat to our school community.”
Also listed as applicants in the challenge are 10 individual parents with concerns about Bill 24.
“There should be no secret space in our school where parents cannot know what is happening, or where parents have no say in the content or discussion,” parent Abigail Schimke said. “In particular, principals and teachers must be able to continue to advise parents when, how and where their children will be exposed to sexually explicit content.”
GSAs are social clubs set up by students to help LGBTQ children feel welcome and to lessen any chance of bullying.
Students already have the right to set up an alliance in their school if they want one, but the government said updated rules were needed to clarify language, mandate action and close loopholes.
In November 2017, Alberta’s education minister introduced new legislation to ensure students who join GSAs in school are not outed without their permission.
David Eggen said the new law will also mandate that all schools that get public dollars take more specific steps to embrace and create GSAs if students ask for them.
“No student will be outed if they choose to join a GSA,” Eggen told the house as he introduced the bill Nov. 2, 2017.
GSAs have long been a controversial issue in Alberta, given their location at the intersection of education, religion, students’ rights, parents’ rights and human rights.
In response to the court application, Eggen supplied this statement to Global News:
“Our government is confident that the courts will uphold the right of every student to form a gay-straight alliance without fear of being outed. Schools that don’t follow the law will risk having their accreditation and funding stripped, period.
“Frankly, I’m disappointed to hear a close ally of Jason Kenney is trying to use the courts to overturn a law that protects gay kids. Our government understands that in today’s Alberta it matters how we treat each other – especially the most vulnerable.
“It’s time for Jason Kenney to come clean: Does he stand with the vast majority of Albertans who support GSAs or with his close ally John Carpay who want to take us backwards?”
READ MORE: Historic Alberta GSA bill ‘will save lives’
Carpay says Bill 24 goes too far.
“Bill 24 undermines the ability of parents to love and support and protect their own children by making it illegal for teachers and principals to inform parents about what goes on at school at gay-straight alliance meetings and GSA activities,” he said.
“It makes no distinctions between, say a confused five-year-old in kindergarten, versus a 17 year-old who doesn’t want to discuss sexuality with his parents. There’s no nuances there.”
“Prior to Bill 24, the teachers and principals had discretion to inform parents, or not inform parents on a case-by-case basis. They’ve now lost that discretion and must withhold information from all parents.”
— with files from The Canadian Press