Court full as schools, parents dispute Alberta gay-straight alliance law

Justice Centre argues keeping parents out of the loop violates freedom of religion and expression

A group that believes parents should be told when their children join gay-straight alliances at school says Alberta’s law barring teachers from doing that is unsound.

“The legislation is deeply flawed and it fails to protect children,” Jay Cameron, a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, said in Medicine Hat court Wednesday.

The Justice Centre argues that keeping parents out of the loop violates charter rights including freedom of religion and expression. It calls gay-straight alliances ”ideological sexual clubs” that make graphic information on gay sex available.

The Alberta government and others have argued that schools shouldn’t inform parents if their children join the peer groups because there is the potential to “out” the students to guardians who may not be accepting.

Schools have until the end of June to file information to the government showing they are complying with the legislation.

Cameron said the faith-based schools that are part of the application to halt the legislation until there’s a ruling on its constitutionality want speedy relief from the law so that they don’t risk losing their funding if they refuse to comply.

He said some teachers and principals couldn’t in good conscience do so.

“It would simply be unjust.”

John Carpenter, a lawyer for the province, said he takes particular issue with the Justice Centre’s characterization of gay-straight alliances as “secret societies.”

“You shall not out children. It’s as simple as that,” he told a Court of Queen’s Bench judge hearing the request for an injunction.

Carpenter said LGBTQ students are particularly vulnerable to bullying, disrespect and abuse and have a suicide rate that’s markedly higher than their peers.

“GSA clubs will help these children, children that I dare say are the children of the applicants in this courtroom.”

A big crowd showed up Wednesday morning for the court challenge. The 50-seat courtroom filled up almost immediately, leaving more than 100 people waiting outside. Many of those attending were wearing buttons that said “Include Parents.”

A handful of people demonstrating outside court in favour of gay-straight alliances carried signs that read: “GSAs Save Lives” and “Stop Your Hate.”

The legal challenge was filed in April in response to the ban passed by Premier Rachel Notley’s government late last year.

Gay-straight alliances are peer support networks organized by students meant to help gay kids feel welcome and to prevent bullying or abuse.

The challenge says parents are alarmed at the “climate of secrecy” the legislation has created.

“The impugned sections of the School Act have stripped parents of the ability to know fully where their children are, who they are involved with and what they may be encouraged to think or do,” it says.

Justice Centre president John Carpay has said teachers and principals should be able to decide whether it’s appropriate to contact parents.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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