Bill 44 Responses

On May 7 I sent out a form letter from the Centre for Inquiry Calgary regarding Bill 44’s attempt to stifle classroom discussion by requiring teachers to provide advance notice of teaching about religious topics (which has been hinted will include sexual orientation for sure and possibly evolution as well).

Here’s the form letter:

I am writing to express my deep concern about planned amendments to Alberta’s human rights legislation which would give parents the right to opt their children out of school lessons that deal explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation.

Parents already have the ability to pull their children out of sex education so there is absolutely no need to enshrine this into human rights legislation.

The right to pull children out of a classroom due to religious objections is fraught with potential problems and unintended consequences. Topics in science class—such as evolution—could very well trigger religious objections, prompting a parent to shelter children from fundamental parts of the curriculum. Evolution is not the only science topic at risk. Any topic that contradicts a particular religious belief could be affected—astronomy, geology, dinosaurs, ice ages and so on. To make matters worse, the provision could affect other school subjects including literature and history.

This opt-out provision is a very real threat to the rights of children to a good education. Since all kinds of subjects could prompt parental objections on religious grounds, the quality of children’s education could suffer greatly.

By all accounts, the proposed opt-out provision is vague, poorly thought-out, and has the potential to be very difficult and costly for schools to administer. For every parental objection, human rights cases could be brought against teachers or school boards for failing to notify parents about any lesson that violates the opt-out provision. Teachers, schools and school boards do not need this unnecessary burden on their already strained financial and human resources.

In closing, I strongly urge the Alberta government to remove the parental opt-out provision from Bill 44.

I sent it to my MLA (Gene Zwodesky for Edmonton-Mill Creek), as well as Ministers Hancock (Education) and Blackett (Culture and Community Spirit, who introduced the bill), as well as the party leaders (Stelmach, Swann and Mason).

The next day I had already received a reply from NDP Leader Brian Mason’s office stating:

Dear Ian,

Thank you for your email and for sharing your concerns over Bill 44.

This bill as it stands has the capability to prevent children from learning about topics such as evolution as part of their public school curriculum. Moreover, this bill threatens teachers who bring up topics like sexuality in teachable moments; such as the prevention of school-yard bullying. If teachers do they can be hauled in front of the Human Rights Commission. We feel this is the wrong direction for the province and is something many Albertans do not want to see happen.

Mr. Mason is also concerned that preventing a science-based education will close doors to higher learning and affect our students’ acceptance into Colleges and Universities both in Canada and worldwide. This blatant filtering of public education by the Alberta government is an attack on a child’s right to an open and diverse education. Mr. Mason will continue to hold this government to account.

Below you will find a youtube link in which Brian questions Premier Stelmach on Bill 44 during Question Period:

Again, thank you for your email and for sharing your concerns, they will be relayed to Mr. Mason.

Not bad for the party who’s done most of the vocal fighting against this bill.

Today I finally received a response from the Liberals, signed by Dr. Swann himself:

Dear Ian Bushfield,

Thank you for your letter regarding Bill 44 – The Human Rights, Citizenship, and Multicultural Amendment Act 2009. My colleagues and I in Alberta’s Official Opposition have received many letters on this controversial bill and it is my privilege to respond to your concerns.

The Alberta Liberal Caucus is extremely concerned with the potential ramifications of Bill 44. As this bill will give parents the right to remove their children from classes that deal with sexual orientation or with religion, many Albertans have expressed concerns that children may be pulled from classes dealing with concepts such as evolution. In addition, many of Alberta’s teachers are worried that they may be brought before a human rights tribunal should a parent lodge a complaint against them. Minister Blackett, Minister for Culture and Community Spirit, has commented that concerns and objections raised regarding the possible ramifications of the parental opt-out clause in Bill 44 were “not the intent” of the legislation. We in the Alberta Liberal Caucus find this argument ridiculous – the unintended consequences of legislation are just as real and important as the intended consequences.

As Alberta’s Official Opposition, the Alberta Liberal Caucus has been actively questioning the Stelmach Administration on Bill 44 (I have included several recent excerpts from Question Period with this letter). Minister Blackett has stated that including sexual orientation as an illegal ground of discrimination under Alberta’s Human Rights Legislation in Bill 44 was an appeal to the ‘left’ and the parental opt-out clause was an appeal to the ‘right’. Human rights should not be a trade-off between ideological groups.

The Stelmach Administration consulted with Christian groups and lobbyists in forming this bill but did not consult with the Alberta Teacher’s Association. This is concerning. Government is not listening to teachers on legislation that will be affecting the way that they can teach Alberta’s children. The Alberta Teacher’s Association has asked for Minister Blackett to completely remove section 11.1 of Bill 44 (the parental opt-out clause). The Alberta Liberal Caucus will be putting forward amendments to remove section 11.1 from Bill 44.

The Alberta Liberal Caucus is listening to Albertans. We would like permission to table your letter in the Legislature. This will allow us to present your views on Bill 44 to the Premier and his government in public and on the record. Thank you again for writing and for giving us the opportunity to represent you in the Legislature. Letters such as yours help us to be more effective as Alberta’s Official Opposition.

Sincerely,

Dr. David Swann

Unfortunately, he failed to provide those debate quotes (hopefully by accident and not because they didn’t happen…)

Either way, I’m glad to see that the opposition was willing to respond. Unfortunately, the best I’ve seen from the government side has been Mr. Hancock’s dithering about why his caucus is making these moves on his blog (here, here, and here – note the unanimously negative comments).

I should note that I’ve not received a single press release on this issue from the Liberal caucus (I somehow got on their mailing list), despite it apparently mattering to them.

And finally, take the time to download, circulate, and submit the NDP’s petition to remove these absurd clauses from Bill 44 and limit the amendments to our Human Rights Code to those that were required a decade ago.

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2 thoughts on “Bill 44 Responses”

  1. I was wondering if you’ve followed up on this issue. I am doing a research project on it now, and would like to speak with any people who can speak to the administrative, legal and other costs of s. 11.1.

    1. Hi Josh,

      I haven’t followed up too closely (I’ve since moved to BC) but here’s a couple links I was forwarded. It seems self-censorship by teachers might be the largest effect, and that would be hard to directly measure (without going to classrooms and asking, but even then I suspect they wouldn’t necessarily admit it).
      http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/2012/09/10/big_chill_hits_alberta_classrooms.html?app=noRedirect
      http://www.thevaultmag.com/archives/3385
      Good luck and feel free to send me any results so I can follow up here.

      ~Ian

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