In a surprising turn of events, Alberta's Progressive Conservative government unanimously passed a law that mandates all schools, including faith-based schools, to have gay-straight alliances. The new bill, called Bill 10, was passed in March and has started to take full effect last June 1.
The move reverses Alberta's previous legislation that human rights advocates say segregate the students and referred to by National Democratic Party member Brian Mason as an "institutionalized apartheid of gay students."
GSAs are school clubs composed of both gay and straight students. They are set up in order to help gay students avoid bullying and to help make them feel welcome. Statistics say that suicide rates go down in schools that have GSAs, according to Maclean's.
Education Minister Gordon Dirks said that after Premier Jim Prentice put Bill 10 on hold in December because of rising controversy, he spent a lengthy amount of time consulting with the people, including students. "When ... you have those kinds of intimate, frank conversations with students, it goes from your head to your heart," the Education Minister said, according to the National Post.
The newly amended act "promotes a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging." In the new Bill 10, schools are required to "promote equality and non-discrimination with respect to organizations in schools like gay-straight alliances."
Bill 10 mandates school boards to establish GSAs in the campus. It also says that schools should protect the students' gender identity and expression and sexual orientation and not allow these to be grounds for discrimination. In the amended law, parents will not be able to prevent their children from participating in classroom discussions regarding homosexuality.
Kristopher Wells, assistant professor for the University of Alberta's Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, praised the legislation, saying it has put Alberta at the forefront of the fight for LGBT rights in the country.
However, arguments arose that Bill 10 contradicts the constitution's mandate to protect religious freedom. While the bill's purpose to establish a "welcoming, caring, respectful and safe environment" for all students is not being challenged, how it imposes this to faith-based schools by forcing them to have clubs and activities that are against their mission and beliefs contradicts the protection of their religious freedom.
GSAs label those who oppose same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage as "fascist." Furthermore, GSAs are open to various sexual expressions that go against the beliefs of Christians, Muslims and Jews. On these grounds, GSAs can hardly be called neutral, according to John Carpay from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
Carpay argues that Bill 10 "removes the right of parents to have a meaningful say about the culture, character and learning environment of the schools that their children attend. Principals no longer have the authority to work with parents and teachers to develop what they see as the best ways to address bullying."
Instead, Carpay says, Bill 10 gives principals a legal obligation to "help establish an ideological club or help facilitate an activity" against the school's beliefs if even just one student in the school demands it.
In April, JCCF released a position paper against Bill 10 saying that it violates charter freedoms and infringes on the religious freedom of faith-based schools in Alberta, which should be protected according to Charter 2(a).
JCCF recommends through its website that the Legislative Assembly review and amend Bill 10 to align it with the Charter in order to prevent the "costly, lengthy and unnecessary litigation" that would be needed to "protect the constitutional rights of Alberta's religious denominational schools, and the right of parents who choose to have their children attend these institutions."