A judge has denied a request to put Alberta’s gay-straight alliance law on hold because the benefits to LGBTQ youth outweigh any potential harm.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, on behalf of more than two dozen faith-based schools, parents and public interest groups, had requested an injunction until a ruling is made on the law’s constitutionality.
The law bans schools from telling parents if their children join the peer groups meant to make LGBTQ kids feel welcome and to prevent bullying and abuse.
“The effect on LGBTQ+ students in granting an injunction, which would result in both the loss of supportive GSAs in their schools and send the message that their diverse identities are less worthy of protection, would be considerably more harmful than temporarily limiting a parent’s right to know and make decisions about their child’s involvement in a GSA,” Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Johnna Kubik said in her decision Wednesday.
The Justice Centre, which argued that keeping parents out of the loop violates their charter rights, had characterized the alliances as “ideological sexual clubs” that could expose young or otherwise vulnerable kids to explicit material. It also raised concerns that schools’ funding and accreditation could be jeopardized if they don’t comply.
The province and others have argued the law is meant to protect LGBTQ youth, who may be put in harm’s way if they are outed to parents who aren’t accepting.
Both sides made their case before Kubik in a court in Medicine Hat, Alta., last week.
In her decision, Kubik said the applicants had to establish that there was a serious constitutional issue to be tried, that complying with the law would cause irreparable harm and that refusing their request would cause them more harm than granting it would cause to the other side.
Kubik said she was satisfied the competing charter rights of parents and children is a serious constitutional issue to be heard.
But she dismissed many of the Justice Centre’s arguments around irreparable harm, including that young and vulnerable children may be exposed to graphic material through the alliances.
“There is no evidence that any of these materials were ever promoted by the respondent or GSAs generally, or that the materials ever came into the hands of any students through a GSA,” Kubik wrote.
“There is no evidence that there is a risk of the material being disseminated to students in GSAs.”
She also said she could not determine the reliability of accounts cited by the Justice Centre of children becoming suicidal after being encouraged to dress and behave like the opposite sex at school.
“I find that the applicants have failed to prove a degree of irreparable harm, which outweighs the public good in maintaining the legislation.”
Pam Krause, president of the Centre for Sexuality, said she was pleased with how strongly Kubik highlighted the importance of the alliances.
Krause’s group, formerly known as the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, has long provided resources to gay-straight alliances in Alberta and presented evidence in court.
She said the group intends to have a say in any constitutional challenge.
“We’re going to get the opportunity to really continue to talk about and provide evidence to the point that gay-straight alliances are very important, that they help schools to be more safe and caring and that they help students be more healthy and resilient.”
Alberta’s education minister said he was extremely pleased with the judge’s decision and how quickly it was made.
“This is about protecting students and ensuring our classrooms are safe, caring and welcoming for everyone,” David Eggen said.
“We know that GSAs have the potential to save lives and have a positive impact on students.
“I’m so proud of the work our government has done to strengthen supports for LGBTQ students and I appreciate the great work that many school authorities have already undertaken to ensure their policies and practices are meeting legislated responsibilities.
“We will continue to do whatever it takes to ensure our classrooms are safe and kids are protected.”