On Thursday May 28th, The Alberta Government passed Bill 44, which makes changes to the Province's Human Rights Act. Bill 44 includes a proposal to extend to parents the right to exempt their children from any teaching about "subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation," something that the religious right has been sporadically lobbying for for nearly 20 years, but has not accomplished anywhere until now.
The clause adversely affects the rights of youth, whose rights to learning and critical thinking are now legally subject to a parental veto, as well as those communities pushed into the closet by this legislation. Although legislators promised modifications in the 11th hour, those modifications do little to alleviate concerns about the effect on teachings about evolution or Shakespeare (what with all those references to occultism), and clearly single out teachings that touch on diversity, tolerance and non-Christian beliefs (although not specified in such a way to make Christianity immune either) as something that must be preceded by enough warning for children to be evacuated first.
I urge GLBT organizations across North America to take notice and, if you will, let the Provincial leadership such as Premier Ed Stelmach and Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett know how backwards and appalling this is to the global community in this day. After all, you can be sure that now that it has been accomplished once, the push for "parental rights" will be coming to a conservatopia near you.
I wrote about the implications earlier and all that has changed is that the legislation has been tweaked in such a way that if students inadvertently bring the subject in class, it no longer triggers the notification requirement, subjecting the teacher to investigation. It also puts investigation duties into the hands of the school board.
Paula Simons of The Edmonton Journal has an excellent backgrounder on the drive toward this kind of legislation and how children pay the price. And although I don't normally like to point to my own stuff, there's an open letter to the Minister requesting an explanation as to how we're so dangerous that precautions need to be taken to ensure that children don't have to learn about us, and also as to why a Human Rights Commission should be used as an instrument of imposing the tyranny of the majority rather than providing protection from it.
The new parental rights provision is expected to galvanize the conservative far-right and be used to push for further appeasement from a government that is already making clergymen the consultants of choice with regard to health care, human rights and even the environmental and Aboriginal community impact of oil sands development. In a column delivered to the Calgary Herald, Bishop Fred Henry gave the proposal a D+ and asserted that the majority Christian faith should be entrenched in school curricula, while tolerance education (or "promotion of homosexuality" as he puts it) should be erased completely:
"Furthermore, all education is faith-based to some extent. It's time to ask why the opinions of the majority of the citizens in Alberta are being ignored, i. e., 'why should the faith of the atheist and agnostic be the only and the governing paradigm in public education?'"
But then, what does one expect from a Roman Catholic cleric who once declared: "[Same-sex marriage] is the worst betrayal of children I've ever seen--even more so than the Catholic church sex scandals"?
Meanwhile, transsexuals in Alberta have been delivered a triple-whammy in the space of two months, having been deliberately excluded from the changes to the Human Rights Act (MLA Laurie Blakeman finally tabled an amendment that would do so on May 26th, but Conservative MLA Ken Allred who'd previously broke ranks over the de-listing of GRS saved face by asserting that the amendment was unnecessary -- Hansard pp. 45 & 46), having experienced the de-listing of funding for Gender Reassignment Surgery, and now being driven into the closet of things that we dare not speak about in school. It was expected that we would be too afraid to stand up for ourselves.
Admittedly, things are looking pretty dark these days, but don't count on it.