Education Minister deserves high marks for ordering recalcitrant religious schools to obey GSA law, but more is needed

Posted on March 24, 2017, 2:19 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Alberta Education Minister David Eggen. Below: Edmonton lawyer Dan Scott, Kristopher Wells of the U of A’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services and Brian Coldwell of the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society.

Sometimes a government just needs to do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may. Alberta Education Minister David Eggen took a first step in the right direction yesterday by issuing a ministerial order requiring two recalcitrant private religious schools to obey the law and let students form gay-straight alliances if they wish.

This is a clear victory for LGBTQ students and their legal right to form GSAs.

Unfortunately for Alberta’s NDP government, there is political risk attached to whatever course it now chooses to deal with the problem created by the operators of the Meadows Baptist Academy and the Harvest Baptist Academy. Plus, there is more Mr. Eggen still needs to do.

The two right-wing opposition parties are certain to ruthlessly exploit this situation as a wedge against the NDP – especially with a radical social conservative like Jason Kenney now at the head of the Progressive Conservative Party. Even though the original legislation was passed two years ago in March 2015 by premier Jim Prentice’s PC government, Mr. Kenney is likely to use sly dog whistles to rile up bigots among his base to attack the NDP for enforcing this well-intentioned but inadequate Tory law.

Citizens trying to understand this situation need to remember that while the two Edmonton Schools run by the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society do teach a version of Christian doctrine that condemns of gay lifestyles, society leaders also appear to be politically motivated.

Society chair Rev. Brian Coldwell admitted last year in an interview with a social conservative publication he had worked behind the scenes with representatives of both opposition parties. He is also member of the board of Parents for Choice in Education, a supposedly non-partisan group that advocates home schooling and private schools and enjoys loud support from the Opposition parties.

So it is hard to believe there is no political side to Rev. Coldwell’s insistence the schools will never comply with the law’s requirement students be allowed to form GSAs.

Determined to proceed cautiously, even at the risk of leaving LGBTQ students vulnerable, Eggen appointed Edmonton lawyer Dan Scott in September last year to inquire into the activities of the two schools. Mr. Scott handed his report to the government in November 2016 and nothing much happened until yesterday, when the report was released to the public and Mr. Eggen ordered the schools to comply with the law.

Mr. Scott had recommended the minister set a deadline requiring the schools to submit updated policies allowing gay-straight alliances, or to appoint a trustee to oversee development of such policies if the society refused.

If the schools still won’t co-operate, “the minister should consider revoking the accreditation and registration of one or both of the schools at the end of the 2016-2017 school year,” Mr. Scott wrote in his report.

This would be a big deal, as the schools have received close to $4.5 million in provincial funding over the past six years, according to data found through a freedom of information search by Progress Alberta. According to the society’s 2014 annual report, public funding amounts to close to 90 per cent of the schools’ revenue.

Mr. Scott recommended not shutting down the schools immediately to avoid disrupting students programs in mid term.

Media reported Rev. Coldwell ignored their calls yesterday, which combined with Mr. Eggen’s release of the report suggests the schools have refused to co-operate and the government now has little choice but to move toward pulling their accreditation.

Mr. Scott’s report also noted that a significant gap exists in the 2015 GSA law because private schools are exempt from its requirement they offer a “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment” for LGBTQ students. It urged the government to shut it through legislation.

So that’s one more thing that Mr. Eggen needs to do promptly, despite political risks real and imagined.

There’s more, however, not contained in Mr. Scott’s report, which dealt only with the two schools run by Rev. Coldwell’s group.

There is the determination by some schools and boards to report students who request a GSA to their parents – which in some families could be a life-threatening act, as school administrators well know. The intention of the policy, which may be illegal under Alberta privacy legislation, is obviously to discourage GSAs.

That needs to be dealt with through clear legislation too.

Then there is the troubling matter of the sly strategy adopted by some Roman Catholic separate school boards to submit GSA policies that don’t state explicitly students have the right to form a GSA, or qualify that legal reality by claiming the school principal must approve such groups.

If the NDP was rattled by the thought of fighting an outlier fundamentalist group with far-out theo-conservative views, you can imagine their concern about taking on Catholic school boards.

But they need to find a way. “He should just put a new section in the School Act making it clear how schools are expected to support LGBTQ students, staff, and families,” Kristopher Wells of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services told me yesterday. “Let’s end the games once and for all.”

Dr. Wells is right, of course. The government needs to remember that sometimes in history, the right thing is more than just the only thing decent people can do, it’s the right thing politically too.

Wedge issues, after all, can split two ways.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

30 Comments to: Education Minister deserves high marks for ordering recalcitrant religious schools to obey GSA law, but more is needed

  1. Val

    March 24th, 2017

    yeap, very serious issue. from 2388 schools in Alberta all provincial LGBTQ students line up to enroll into those two?
    i’m not much cares about all that but topic raises question of approach to democratic process of personal freedom of choice. seems according to view of self-proclaimed “progressives”, the handful of LGBTQ has the right to Impose oneself and their values onto majority but those, who don’t like to be involved or associated with LGBTQ, should be refused to have their safe place by the law?
    please correct me if i’m wrong.

    Reply
    • PJP

      March 24th, 2017

      Having a GSA in a school does not impose itself nor it’s values on the majority, no more thanPJP having a chess club.
      There. You were wrong and are now corrected.

      Reply
      • Val

        March 25th, 2017

        thanks but this didn’t answer the question about freedom of choice.
        those two school does functioning on the base of christian religion values, right?
        according to religion (and not only christian) sodomy considered among heaviest sin.
        unlike other religion (i guess i cannot name it anymore), christian practice, at least nowadays, don’t looks into options to prosecute or even for call to masses for prosecution of LGBTQ but rather try to have safe place, where sodomy sin could not manifest itself.
        is that’s a problem to let them have such place?

        Reply
        • Robert Wm Smith

          March 26th, 2017

          Just in case you missed the response above; YOU ARE WRONG. You are not talking about “freedom of choice” you are talking about “sodomy” and that in itself is abhorrent. You have reduced the lives of well over 250,000 Albertans (the populations of Fort McMurray, Red Deer and Grande Prairie together) to a sex act; a sex act practiced by heterosexual couples as a means of birth control and pleasure. So exactly where does that put your bigoted and hate based arguments?

          Reply
          • Val

            March 27th, 2017

            “well over 250,000 Albertans”

            wow. where did you got that number from?
            google search shows LGBTQ consist 1.3% off Canada total 36 million population, which would be roughly 460.000.
            if you insist on your number, that’s 16% off 4 million Alberta population, which makes Alberta a world capital of LGBTQ 🙂

          • Robert Wm Smith

            March 28th, 2017

            Well Val, it depends entirely on where on the fence you choose to plop your butt. You see, the common theory from Johnston and Johnston and various sexologists and the LGBTQ2S community and their supporters is that the size of the queer population is considerably larger than that touted by the right wing and gay deniers. That number is somewhere between 7-10%. The portion of the general population who choose to deny that LGBTQ2S persons even exist, place that number at 1.5-4%. I worked for over a decade teaching sexual health to all segments of the population based on science and not religion or denial. The figures I use take into account the vast percentage of the population who are in hiding and in self denial. So no, I don’t believe I am incorrect, in fact I may have underestimated.

          • Robert Wm Smith

            March 28th, 2017

            My apologies, Johnston and Johnston is a commercial name, William Masters & Virginia Johnston are the sexologists along with Alfred Kinsey.

    • Lol

      March 25th, 2017

      Children don’t choose their schools genius

      Reply
    • Athabascan

      March 25th, 2017

      Dear Val,

      Please take a chill pill. There are no hoards of LGBTQ ‘s coming to convert your friends and family. No one in the LGBTQ community is imposing anything on anyone. Any maligned group in our society asking for refuge from harassment, bullying, or violence gets my support.

      Providing a safe learning environment for LGTBQ students makes for better schools and ultimately a better society. Members of this community deserve the same treatment as others, and if it means we have to make adjustments to make that happen then so be it.

      Stop feeling so threatened. Nobody is coming for your stuff, and you are not losing anything by being nice, tolerant, and respectful.

      Reply
  2. March 24th, 2017

    Why is it that some schools/school boards are above the law or above the direction of the Ministry of Education.

    If they want to be independent then fine. Eliminate their provincial education subsidies.

    I would encourage the Minister to stop funding these schools and boards. Let them go it alone.

    Reply
  3. Alfredo Louro

    March 24th, 2017

    “The two right-wing opposition parties are certain to ruthlessly exploit this situation as a wedge against the NDP – especially with a radical social conservative like Jason Kenney now at the head of the Progressive Conservative Party.” I’m not so sure that Kenney will want to engage in that battle now. If he does, it’s not a bad thing. The NDP has shown its colours on this issue, and Mr. Kenney should be forced to show his true colours too.

    Reply
    • Robert Wm Smith

      March 26th, 2017

      We know where Jason Kenney stands on this issue and it comes from a position of hypocrisy. The NDP has not “shown its colours on this issue”, our government is taking a stand against bigotry, hatred, bullying and violence against a quarter million of Albertans. It’s 2017 and we are way past the time of recognizing our sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, daughters and sons as family, not the enemy.

      Reply
  4. Randi

    March 24th, 2017

    Val, I don’t think you get it – this is about the students wanting to have a club, a safe space – in other words – meet on lunch break or after school in room x. A place for LGBTQ+allies to meet, share support and resources and so on, maybe organise events promoting awareness and acceptance. It doesn’t mean they are taking over the classroom or changing what is being taught in the curriculum. Just because you are homophobic and don’t understand what this is about is no reason to condemn it. The fact is that there are a lot of things for kids to deal with now, more than when we were young, I can’t imagine how difficult it is to navigate your teens these days but kudos to these kids because I think they are way ahead of you.

    Reply
  5. David

    March 24th, 2017

    While any government would not wish to have a public fight with people who don’t agree with this law, there will be no agreement with these people short of backing down and letting them continue to flout the law.

    As for the Wild Rosers and PCs, they will exploit this issue and encourage their continued disobedience of this law regardless of what the provincial government does. So there is nothing to be lost there that isn’t already lost.

    It’s time for the general public to realize that there are in fact some people who are more inclined toward the same sex and that such inclination is not one of conscious choice to be that way, but rather is built into their very self and that they can’t do more than accept that is the way they were born and are.

    Reply
  6. Farmer B

    March 24th, 2017

    Just listened to John Carpay president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms discussing this situation on QR770 radio. He claims that these two schools have submitted policies very similar to as an example Edmonton Catholic schools. He also claims these two schools are already in compliance with the law and this is much to do about nothing.

    Reply
    • albert

      March 24th, 2017

      Ok. I’ve had about twice as much as any rational human can stand from your oh so gentle “(C)”onservatism. [EXPLETIVE DELETED BY MODERATOR] you! Bully? Oh no. Not Farmer B!

      Reply
      • Rocky

        March 25th, 2017

        Dave, Dave … Are you nostalgic for Watergate? [INAUDIBLE] Don’t worry, it’s all happening again in the place you call the Imperial Capital.

        Reply
      • Bob Raynard

        March 25th, 2017

        Albert, I butt heads with Farmer B all the time, so he and I definitely sit on opposite wings of the plane, but I must object to your comment. Farmer B’s comments are politely presented, well researched and present arguments from the other side that we need to have an answer for. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him write anything that could be considered bullying.

        As an added bonus his spelling and punctuation is high quality, which is so often lacking from comments coming from the conservative side!

        Reply
        • Expat Albertan

          March 28th, 2017

          I’m with you, Bob. Those of us who disagree with the good Farmer should do it respectfully.

          Reply
      • Athabascan

        March 25th, 2017

        Chin up Albert, you are not alone.

        At this point I think Farmer B has become the poster boy for RWNJs. Still, it is somewhat entertaining to read firsthand his faulty logic and fundamental misunderstanding of issues.

        If it wasn’t for Farmer B, how would one witness the absolute idiocy of the RW in AB? If it wasn’t for this Blog, I’d be less informed about the RW’s outrageous lack of intellect or ability to comprehend difficult social and economic problems.

        Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      March 25th, 2017

      Farmer B, I think this is clearly a case of needing to look critically at QR770’s source. Although the CBC story was a bit vague, John Carpay appears to also be the two schools’ lawyer and has written columns in the Calgary Herald criticizing the NDP’s work on sexual minorities. As such he cannot be consider an impartial source. While he may have included feel good words like ‘justice’, ‘constitutional’ and ‘freedom’ in the name of his organization (apparently puppies, kittens and bunnies were last minute deletions) the organization really appears to exist to support exclusively alt-right causes. I would love to see how they would respond to a woman being discriminated against in her quest to get an abortion.

      Reply
      • Farmer B

        March 26th, 2017

        Bob it was certainly my understanding after listening to the interview that he was the schools lawyer. It is my opinion that both the Education minister and the Pastor at the head of these 2 schools are taking the stands that they are to satisfy their base. I was left with the impression from John Carpay that the school had attempted to meet the requirements of the law.

        Reply
        • Bob Raynard

          March 26th, 2017

          I have no doubt Mr. Carpay left a lot of people with the impression the schools attempted to meet the law. He is no doubt very good at his job. I would like to know what disinterested observer would have said.

          Reply
  7. David

    March 24th, 2017

    Yes, the government will have to proceed very carefully here at the intersection of three very charged areas – religion, politics and minority rights. The schools openly flouting the law is likely leading to confrontation unless some acceptable solution can be found (not sure if they are even interested in that – they seem quite entrenched in their position). Given their size the government may not hesitate to take strong action if it feels discussion is leading no where.

    However, this could easily lead to a bigger political storm. Mr. Kenney may be aware that the Ontario PC’s strong support of religious schools a few elections ago probably cost them the election. Clever dog whistles work best when an issue is somewhat overlooked or ignored by the rest of the public and one can quietly appeal to supporters, somewhat under the radar. This could blow up big time and all politicians could be forced to take a clear stand. Therefore, this may be as much of a challenge for the opposition or perhaps even more than for the government.

    Reply
  8. A Person

    March 24th, 2017

    It would seem appropriate that both private schools selected to be covered under the ministerial order, base their education on religious principles. From my limited research, I see that both schools draw their religious teachings and inspiration from the primacy of the Bible and consider themselves followers of Jesus’ teachings.

    So if their teachings are drawn from this place, let us see what the words of Jesus is as it relates to human government and regulations.

    Because both of these are fundamentalist churches, I will use the New King James Version which will speak their language.

    I select only a small selection of Biblical selections that may resonate for them:

    Mark 12:17
    And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
    And they marveled at Him.

    In case there was any doubt, this same phrase is repeated below. I have selected more fulsome context:

    Matthew 22:15-22
    15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk.
    16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men.
    17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
    18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?
    19 Show Me the tax money.”
    So they brought Him a denarius.
    20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
    21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”
    And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
    22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.

    Romans 13:1-7
    1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
    2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
    3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
    4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
    5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.
    6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.
    7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

    1 Peter 2:13-17
    13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme,
    14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.
    15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—
    16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.
    17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

    Reply
  9. Athabascan

    March 25th, 2017

    David I can tell Jesus is a strong influence in your life. And I guess that’s good for you.

    However, Albertans should not be burdened to support yours or anyone’s religious principles, or teaching, in publicly funded schools.

    If you want to teach your kids about fairy tales go right ahead. You could even ask your church to teach it to them. But again, public schools should not be used for religious indoctrination especially if they use my tax dollars to do so.

    Jesus would not have forced his views on others much less compel them to pay for his faith.

    Nonteless

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      March 25th, 2017

      Have no fear, Athabascan, just because I have been the fortunate beneficiary of an excellent education in the Bible (KJV) and the Bard doesn’t mean I think religion should be taught in Alberta schools, unless, perhaps, we’re talking about comparative religion. Au contraire, actually. I am not unsympathetic to the religious point of view, although I am quite unsympathetic with supposed Christians who tell you with absolute confidence what the Scriptures mean when on the face of it they appear to have no idea. The problem with Biblical literalists, as I have often observed, is that they inevitably pick and choose what to be literal about, as best reflects their own prejudices. DJC

      Reply
  10. Brian

    March 25th, 2017

    I just discovered there is a Scientology affiliated private school operating in the Edmonton region WITH PUBLIC FUNDS, and accredited by Alberta Education. Been so for at least 10 years. I’m shocked and appalled. I thought Alberta was bad enough with Stockwell Day parroting creationism and the Texas school curriculum. But this is taking absurdity and approval of cults to a whole new level.

    Reply
    • March 26th, 2017

      That is exactly the issue with funding private schools. I really do not see much difference between a Scientology, Christian, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, or any other affiliated school. I have a much confidence in a Scientology led school as I do in one that parrots creationism or makes up ridiculous stories about the origins of dinosaurs and/or dinosaur bones. Education belongs in the schools. Faith belongs at home.

      We provide far too much funding to these schools. Time to cut back, put the money into the public system and build more schools, decrease the teacher/student ratio or pump funds into the school breafast/lunch programs in schools where it is needed.

      Reply

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