The Vriend Case has been closed for 20 years, but the Alberta political story continues

Posted on April 03, 2018, 1:19 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: The front page of the Toronto Globe and Mail on the day after the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in the Vriend case. Below: A screenshot of Delwin Vriend taken from a recent CBC video; the late Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta (Photo: Chuck Szmurlo, Wikimedia Commons); Jason Kenney, circa 1998 (Photo: Found in the pages of the now defunct Alberta Report magazine); and Toronto Star Alberta columnist Gillian Steward.

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in Vriend v. Alberta in which the court ruled Alberta was legally obligated to protect its residents from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

The circumstances of the legal case are well known, and need not be recited in detail here.

The outline: Delwin Vriend, a lab instructor at a private Edmonton religious college, was fired because of his sexual orientation. The Alberta Human Rights Commission refused to do anything about it because discrimination for sexual orientation was not specifically protected by the Alberta Individual Rights Protection Act. The case made its way, slowly, through the courts, and when it reached the Supreme Court, the Justices ruled unanimously that exclusion of homosexuals from the act’s provisions was a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and they must be included.

Case closed.

The political story? It continues to this day.

As is well known, the Progressive Conservative government led by Premier Ralph Klein came under enormous pressure from the Usual Suspects on the social conservative religious right to employ the Charter’s seldom-used Notwithstanding Clause to opt out of having to obey the court’s ruling.

If you don’t opt out, a tsunami of conservative callers warned the premier’s staff, Civilization As We Know It will come swiftly to an end. There were some rougher and more threatening things said too, troubling memories for some members of the premier’s staff at that time.

Not everyone is so unlucky as to be troubled by memories, though.

Jason Kenney, who in 1998 was a Reform Party MP in Ottawa, opined in the days before the ruling that if Mr. Vriend’s case succeeded, it could be blamed on the “virus” of judicial activism.

Well known then and now for his social conservative leanings, Mr. Kenney urged Premier Klein to use the Notwithstanding Clause to continue violating the rights of gay Albertans.

“If the court rules to enforce gay rights, and the Alberta government rolls over, they will clearly be implicated in the decision,” he said at the time. “If, on the other hand, they have the courage to invoke Section 33, to use the one remedy in the Charter, they will have begun the recovery of democracy.”

Nowadays, Mr. Kenney leads Alberta’s United Conservative Party Opposition. Late last month, queried by reporters, he said “he doesn’t recall comments he made 20 years ago about the Vriend decision,” wrote the Edmonton Journal’s Emma Graney.

In the end, Mr. Klein decided to do the right thing and Section 33 was not used to perpetrate the legal persecution of a group of citizens. Based on objective reality, no one can argue now that anything bad has happened to Alberta and Albertans as a result of that historic decision.

Of course, although Civilization As We Know It is still functioning, a few social conservative voices are still making dire predictions.

John Carpay, like Mr. Kenney a former operative for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and one of those calling for the invocation of the Notwithstanding Clause when the Vriend case was still before the courts, recently wrote in a social conservative publication that as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling we’re on a “slippery slide away from freedom.”

Mr. Carpay, who ran for the Wildrose Party in 2012, is named from time to time as a likely candidate for Mr. Kenney’s UCP in the expected 2019 general election.

One thing Mr. Kenney got right back in May 1998 was his prediction to the loony right Alberta Report magazine that the bitter reaction by Alberta social conservatives like himself “opens the window for a provincial grassroots, populist party with conservative values.”

If you define conservative values as social conservative values, isn’t that exactly what happened with the creation of the Wildrose Party and its rebranding last year as the UCP?

Does anyone really imagine that, behind closed doors in UCP ranks with Mr. Kenney presiding, things have changed all that much?

Toronto Star establishes beachhead in Calgary, Edmonton … sort of

I have always been favourably disposed toward the Toronto Star, the great Canadian newspaper at No. 1 Yonge Street, probably owing to the fact I never worked there but instead did my time in Toronto journalism down at 444 Front Street where in those days the Globe and Mail camped uneasily beside the railway tracks.

So I was naturally pleased yesterday when the Star’s Alberta columnist, the estimable Gillian Steward, late of the Calgary Herald, prominently featured this blog’s April Fool post in her column. I even went back into the post and provided a new link so that Toronto readers wouldn’t mistake NDP Trade Minister Deron Bilous’s appalling language for mine. (This is something Alberta readers are trusted to know without citations.)

Also yesterday, presumably by coincidence, the Star announced it is about to enter daily journalism in Alberta with free local newspapers in Calgary and Edmonton.

While good news, there is less here than meets the eye. Next Tuesday, at any rate, the Star will rebrand it’s partly owned Metro free newspapers as StarMetro papers and hire some extra reporters, who will also contribute to the Star’s website, The same thing will happen to Metro’s papers in Vancouver and Halifax, and indeed its Toronto freebie.

It’s not yet clear what if anything this will mean for Postmedia’s understaffed and feeble dailies in Calgary and Edmonton, where the Herald and the Journal operate out of the same newsrooms as their Sunbuddies, putting out publications that look slightly different but contain mostly identical copy.

Presumably there is cause for both worry and reassurance for the few remaining Postmedia employees in the recent deal the Star’s parent company, Torstar Corp., struck with Postmedia to trade and then close down a raft of smaller market newspapers in Ontario. Ottawa’s Competition Bureau is investigating.

For the time being, however, as far as is concerned, the Toronto Star can do no wrong!

12 Comments to: The Vriend Case has been closed for 20 years, but the Alberta political story continues

  1. Sam Gunsch

    April 3rd, 2018

    I’d no recollection of Kenney’s equating of legal permission for discrimination based on sexual orientation as ‘recovery of democracy’.

    What kind of sick political views are required for someone to conceive of that equivalency?

    Kenney: ‘“If the court rules to enforce gay rights, and the Alberta government rolls over, they will clearly be implicated in the decision,” he said at the time. “If, on the other hand, they have the courage to invoke Section 33, to use the one remedy in the Charter, they will have begun the recovery of democracy.”’

  2. David

    April 3rd, 2018

    There are days I read the Metro and think their coverage is way better than the Journal/Herald/Sun aglomination. Not so many guest columns from the Fraser Institute and a bit more Chantal Hebert, who has a very good perspective on Canada which seems to transcend our regional rants and preoccupations. To be fair, of course she comes from the Star so Postmedia doesn’t have access to her insight. It is a bit ironic the quality of the free paper exceeds that of the ones you have to pay for – some car ads but not so many as the Sun.

    It troubles me that Kenney has been on the wrong side of history so many times. Even Ralph knew better. Now Kenney should be embarrased, but of course he doesn’t want to talk about it and hopes we will forget about what he really thinks, when he was foolish enough to publically say it. As they say it is now down the memory hole. Kenney is good at rallying and appealing to more reactionary conservatives, but not so much in realizing or accepting the world has changed.

    Perhaps soon climate change denial will be back in fashion too in powerful circles in Alberta, although probably not in most of the rest of the world. Sometimes its as if we aspire to be the Alabama of Canada – so we can be mocked for it. Oh wait, Alabama did elect a more progressive Senator recently. Perhaps Kenney will be even more alone in his quest to go back to the past. He seems like the kind of guy that would like to futilly tilt at many wind mills if given the chance.

  3. tom in ontario

    April 3rd, 2018

    …we’re on “a slippery slide away from freedom.” Mr. Carpay, wherever you are, do the readers a favour and tell us what the hell you’re talking about.

  4. Simon Renouf

    April 3rd, 2018

    And speaking of the loony right Alberta Report, its last editor, Ted Byfield is still chugging along as an unending source of bozo eruptions, particularly on gender matters, on his blog. This week’s Byfield commentary includes this analysis of the difference between fiscal and social conservatives:

    “Their [fiscal conservatives’] opposition to the Socials usually arises over movements to fundamentally change the ancient laws against what are now delicately called “sexual minorities” and used to be called “sexual perversions.” Times are changing, they say. So why lose votes by defending principles that don’t apply any more. In other words, human beings make up the rules. The religious have always held that they came about as we and the rest of nature came about. They are known, therefore, to philosophy as “natural law,” and we cannot amend it. The Fiscals disagree on that.”

    Mr. Byfield likes to tell people that his pal Jason Kenney is godfather to a Byfield granddaughter.

  5. Bob Raynard

    April 3rd, 2018

    John Carpay as a UCP candidate will be an interesting question for Jason Kenney. To reject him would seem like a betrayal to his social conservative base, yet to accept him would surely act as a repellent for undecided voters who are tempted by Kenney’s financial message but not his social one.

    I do wonder why Carpay did not run in 2015. The 2012 election was the Bozo Eruption Election for Wildrose, so it is possible he was discouraged from running again. Based on Carpay’s persuasive writing skills, I would say he is not inclined to a bozo eruption, but he would definitely be in the Odious Ideas caucus.

    Reading Emma Graney’s column makes me realize Jason Kenney is also walking a tight rope with regards to disavowing comments in his distant past. When I read his ‘don’t recall’ comment I thought ‘just say it was a long time ago and you no longer think that’. Unfortunately for Mr. Kenney, however, he can’t make that strong a statement for fear of upsetting his social conservative base.

  6. Rocky

    April 3rd, 2018

    Why the Star has never followed the example of the New York Times and tried to establish itself as a national newspaper/website, and not just a parochial Toronto effort, is hard to understand. It is a better newspaper than the Globe, more courageous and less of a doctrinaire partisan Conservative rag. And the only way either of them can survive is as the biggest dog on the block, the last journalistic enterprise standing. Far better the Star than the Globe or all the other little orbiting objects.

  7. April 3rd, 2018

    I have never understood what all the fuss is about. From our perspective it is MYOB and live and let live.

    We need to accept people as they are, without judging them, and get on with our own lives.

    There are already far too many people in this world who are trying to force their beliefs, customs, and way of life on others.

    Alberta has changed. Canada has changed. There is a reason why Harper’s ploy with the niqab issue and the barbaric practices hotline failed so miserably and alienated enough of his core voter support that they either stayed home on election day or voted an alternative party.

    I think that Canadians, and Albertans in particular are well past this nonsense hysteria that some politicians like to whip up when they have nothing else to add to the political discourse.

    • Mike in Edmonton

      April 3rd, 2018

      Well Brett, I agree with much of what you’ve said (although I prefer to say “I don’t care what people do in private, as long as they’re not doing it to me”). The fuss, unfortunately, is part of human nature.

      You’re right about people “trying to force their … way of life on others.” Among the many ways to split people into opposing pairs, here’s a common one: some folks figure they should leave others alone, but others just KNOW that everything you do is their business–especially if they don’t like what you’re doing.

      Let me borrow from my betters to illustrate. Robert A. Heinlein wrote in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”:

      “Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please…. Rules, laws–always for other fellow…. Because not one of these people said: “Please pass this so that I won’t be able to do something I know I should stop.” Nyet, tovarishchee, was always something they hated to see neighbours doing. Stop them “for their own good”–not because speaker claimed to be harmed by it.” (Emphasis in original.)

      “Hate the stranger” is a classic tactic of would-be despots who need to distract their peons from the Strong Man’s own brutality. Harper’s niqab noises and barbaric “barbaric-practices” hotline were a very, very mild example. Another example: Slobodan Milosevic used far harsher tactics to convince Bosnian Serbs they were victims of, well, everyone else. Slobo’s message was “Only I can protect you”–from everyone but Slobo.

      We seem to have an ancient instinct to form gangs and treat every other gang as “the enemy.” (I’m paraphrasing Gwynne Dyer in his TV documentary “The Human Race.”) This works! Here’s Geriatrix from the Asterix comic books. A Roman family has just moved into the little Gaulish village (causing confusion among Asterix’s friends because the newcomers just don’t fit in). Geriatrix’s comment: “Some of my best friends are foreigners, but these particular foreigners are not from this village!” It’s hilarious in context, but read it again and think of anti-refugee movements and Donald Trump scapegoating Mexicans.

      You’re right that Alberta and Canada have changed, and IMO for the better. Unfortunately, not everyone has changed, and those who won’t (or can’t) are feeling more and more threatened. Thank whatever gods you believe in that our yahoos aren’t as yahooey as The Donald’s.

      Still, there’s reason to hope (or at least laugh). My favourite reply to control-everyone, not-my-tribe types comes from (I think) “Zitz” comic strip:
      “Do you ever get claustrophobic inside your tiny mind?”

      (Just be careful who you use it on. He’s gonna take it personal, I swear he will….)

      • jerrymacgp

        April 7th, 2018

        Quoting Heinlein, I like it. I’m sure you’re aware, that RAH was quite the libertarian, and also, at least for a time dabbled in Maj. C.H. Douglas’ whacky economic ideas… i.e. Social Credit. He would have had no truck with so-cons.

  8. April 3rd, 2018

    It would not be difficult to ‘one up’ our local Calgary Herald newspaper. Not much in it other than reprints of wire stories, recipes, and adverts. It mostly feels like a ‘feel good’ newspaper with very little original investigative work and a few right leaning local columnists. Very poor business coverage.

    We have lived in several cities. This Calgary paper is the worst of the bunch in terms of local papers and it keeps getting worse. Now, it is really the Herald and the NP.

  9. Scotty on Denman

    April 3rd, 2018

    I’m not sure how Ralph Klein rationalized his decision not to ‘opt out’ of the then newly interpreted Charter Right—that is, if he made any public statement to citizens or party members. His situation regard the religious right was as different as the times then were from now: conservatism was still looking strong and invulnerable in his day.

    Looking back, it’s remarkable how much has changed in Alberta, but even more so that its nominal conservative party leader has not only remained stuck in time, but has actually gone backward from even the ancient old days of Ralph Klein. Jason Kenney, nevertheless, typifies the general decline of conservatism in the Western world: he does not speak from a conservative podium to the world, but rather speaks only to supporters of the neo-right party that usurped the conservative name. Like a war footing drill-sergeant or an international hockey coach, he speaks one way facing outwardly with insulting ad hominem, ultra-partisanship and extreme chauvinism and, facing inward (like a closed-door Harper “rally” of the last federal election), in terms that cultivate the basest demagoguery, misoxenoia, frontierism and supposed moral supremacy such as 19th century Mormon leaders did to steel their followers inside the circled wagon-lager redoubt.

    The reasons why Kenney might resort to omissions of truth seem more apparent to me, possibly because Klein is more remote in my memory—and because Klien actually matched his times where Kenney so contrasts with ours, what with his outdated appeal to anti-abortion and homophobic elements of his chimeric conservative party.

    One of those omissions takes advantage of a longtime misconception about the ‘opting out’ or ‘notwithstanding clause,” that is, it is not a one shot deal but, rather, has to be renewed every five years by an act of parliament by the government of the day. That means the odiousness of denying certain citzens their rights not only needs to be renewed perfunctorily, it also ensures that the alleged ‘issue’ would have to be almost continually stumped to keep it controversial enough to campaign upon—continuously, year after year. Or, in other words, instead of chasing a victimized group of ordinary citizens underground and enforcing their silence evermore, the persecution would have to be ongoing, which—presuming Kenney knows this—sounds suspiciously like the proverbial chasing of rats out of the province, and keeping them out.

    That’s probably alright with Jason, and it’s classic wagon-lager rhetoric aimed at faith-ordained members convinced of some historic injustice for which they are entitled to justifiable vengeance. But it’s also a sign that Kenney is not only receding relative to now by simply standing still, but actually Doppler-shifting in his retrogression.

    He is leading his flock of dinosaurs to the promised land.

  10. Pogo

    April 3rd, 2018

    My home. Kinda ground zero of gay bashin’. But hey! My home. Thanks to all you bully boys. I’m still here! Why? I guess because killing people like me never quite got legal! Bah hahahahahh! Now we’ll see who wins this contest of right and wrong!


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