LN Feature: Crunch time on Bill 24
On the feature today, ARPA lawyer John Sikkema and Mike Schouten. They’ve both been doing a lot of work on this file in the past week.
LN: John, I want to start with you… Give us some of the legislative background on this. Bill 24 is kind of an outworking or a strengthening, in a sense of Bill 10. That was the original law that enabled the establishment of GSA’s, and it was then incorporated into the Education Act.
What, exactly, is the difference between what’s on the books in Alberta now and what’s being proposed in Bill 24?
JS: Bill 10 required Gay Straight Alliances, and also enacted a new provision that talks about school policies that need to create a welcoming environment and affirm diversity and those things. But interestingly, Section 45 – that created Section 45 of the Schools Act – and that actually didn’t apply to private schools. So it hasn’t been clear that the Minister has actually had legal authority to require these schools to submit those policies.
So what Bill 24 does is to make it very clear that schools need both policies and that (those) policies have to comply with the Alberta Human Rights Code…
LN: And then there’s also the whole question of parental rights and the fact that parents can’t be notified now – in law – if their kid joins a GSA, right?
JS: That’s right. So one of the things that this Bill does is it actually prohibits notifying parents concerning “any activity intended to promote diversity” – so any activity or any club including a GSA and a child’s participation in that club – you may not tell the parent. And the principal is responsible for making sure that only the existence of a GSA goes public and is told to parents, but not anything beyond that.
LN: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has done some legal analysis on this thing, and it says there’s definitely possibilities of a constitutional challenge. What do you think that might be based on?
JS: I would say one of the most obvious things is the bill undermines Christian Schools’ freedom of association and equality under law. So it would penalize them for remaining faithful to a Christian sexual ethic, and having that inform their policies and their practices. And if we look at the Loyola Case we see that as unnecessarily interfering with a religious community’s ability to pass on the faith and to teach a certain ethic from a religious perspective.
And it interferes with parental rights, because it interferes with parents’ ability to transmit their faith and ethics to their children. That’s kind of a principle recognized in Alberta law too, that teachers stand “in the place of parents.” And that’s something that the Supreme Court recognizes in the Loyola Case as well; the right of parents to transmit their faith and ethics to children.
LN: Mike, you’ve been working on some grassroots lobbying stuff against this bill alongside ARPA’s Grassroots Manager, Colin Postma. The government moved this bill through the system really quickly.
Two readings in just a few days; committee hearings started the day after that last week, the hearing is expected to wrap up later today. That means we could have Third Reading and Royal Assent by the end of the week. What’s the big urgency here from the government’s perspective, do you think?
MS: I suspect that a big part of the urgency is because of not only the response of (the) grassroots, but also the response of the other parties in the Alberta Legislature. This was dubbed by some people on Social Media as “Kenney’s Law”, because it was seen as an attempt by the Notley government to really use this as a wedge issue and make life – essentially – very miserable for Jason Kenney, who is a social conservative and has always voted socially conservative when it comes to these type(s) of issues.
Jason Kenney’s response has been very strategic; very smart, and it’s I think scared Rachel Notley into thinking “We better just pass this quickly before it all of a sudden turns on us and makes our life more miserable.”
LN: This past weekend, hundreds of ARPA supporters – and other people – sent EasyMails to their MLA’s in Alberta. The count – last I heard – was up and over 15-hundred, close to two-thousand. (There was) also a radio ad campaign trying to motivate the general public on this; some up-take there.
Given all that public pressure, is there any chance, do you think, (that) the government might hit “pause” on all this?
MS: Humanly speaking, when we look at this, it doesn’t seem like it. The Notley government in Alberta has a majority, and they are able to pass this. They have the votes to do so, and for them to back away now… I don’t see that happening. But even if it seems humanly impossible that Bill 24 will be stopped, we still have a duty as Christians to warn them that what they’re doing is wrong. That the way that they’re interfering between that sacrosanct relationship between parents and children – the way that they’re doing that – is incorrect. It’s not only unconstitutional – as John aptly pointed out – but it also violates morals and ethics that we hold very dear.
I mean, we’re not talking here about a government who is proposing, you know, infrastructure investment or something. We’re talking about a government whose intent is to come between that very sacred relationship between parents and their children and the responsibilities parents have for their children.
So I think that the response has been incredible from our supporters in Alberta, as well as the work that we’ve been doing with the radio ads and some of the Social Media advertising. It’s very clear that there are thousands and thousands and thousands of people who are willing to get motivated – and are motivated – on Bill 24 to actually have their say and ensure that the government doesn’t pass this thinking that they have the full support of the people that they govern over.
LN: So what lessons can ARPA learn from this whole issue? I mean, I was talking to somebody on the weekend who said “We should have…” (and hindsight is 20-20), but “we should have taken a firmer stand when Bill 10 was first introduced, and then we wouldn’t be where we are today.” Is that legitimate? (Like I said, hindsight’s 20-20…)
MS: Hm-hm. I’ll let John speak a few thoughts if he has any, but I think one of the things that we can learn from this is that we need to – as an organization and all of the people who are working alongside of ARPA Canada – we need to start working on the relationships we have with public office-holders well in advance of these kind of bills coming forward.
Up till this point often it’s “a Bill comes forward and then we’re either in favour of it or opposed to it.” We should be having relationships with these public office-holders in advance so that – God willing – they wouldn’t even think of putting these kind of things forward because we’ve been working alongside them up till this point.
And I just want to put a plug in for our 12-Step Action Plan that ARPA’s been promoting, ’cause that is the sole intent of that.
LN: John, any closing thoughts?
JS: Yeah, I agree of course with what Mike said about building relationships. I mean ARPA has been doing work on this since Bill 10 was introduced, and (been) trying to provide resources for schools to say “Look, this is the direction the government’s taking; we want to equip you to take a principled stand on your school’s beliefs to say (that) we agree with a welcoming school environment – we want to do that.”
You know, as Christians, of course we want to do that, and the commandment to love each other makes… you know, we cannot permit bullying and all that. How do you do that in a Christian way, and not just reacting to governments? So trying to get schools to be proactive I think has been a priority for ARPA in the interim between Bill 10 and this bill.
But in order for those resources to be used not only by schools but also considered by MLA’s, I think those relationships are important.