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Classroom distraction

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Alberta has waited 11 years to do what the Supreme Court of Canada ordered it to do - to protect homosexuals in its human rights code - but feels it necessary, in doing so, to give parents the "human right" to pull their children out of classrooms where their sensibilities are offended.

Ridiculous and disgraceful. Alberta's Progressive Conservative government has somehow managed to toss one more insult at a group it long deemed unfit for protection. To put it another way, Alberta is now willing to protect gays from discrimination, but only if it can protect everyone else from the supposed consequences.

What consequences? Apparently, that news of gay marriage will reach the tender ears of Alberta students. The government of Premier Ed Stelmach is evidently pandering to religious fundamentalists who view any portrayal of same-sex marriage as akin to the promotion of homosexuality. But gays have been protected from discrimination in Alberta since the Supreme Court's 1998 ruling in the case of Delwin Vriend, a staff member who was dismissed by a religious college in Edmonton. The province has now simply made explicit what was already there in invisible ink.

Alberta already had the unpleasant distinction of having its rights code found by a unanimous Supreme Court decision to be illegally discriminatory. The exclusion of sexual orientation, as a ground of prohibited discrimination, from the Individual Rights Protection Act (as the code was called in 1998) "sends a message to all Albertans that it is permissible, and perhaps even acceptable, to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation," the Supreme Court said. Eight of the judges voted to "read in" gays as a protected group in the IRPA; the ninth, John Major, a justice from Alberta, would have left it to the province to fix.

Some fix. Parents would have the right to be notified by school boards of teachings that deal explicitly with sexuality, religion or sexual orientation, and the right to pull their children out of class during those lessons. Those rights already exist in the province's School Act, as they do in similar statutes in other provinces; but now, under Bill 44, parents would have them enshrined as human rights, and would be able to take school boards (and possibly also teachers) to the province's Human Rights and Citizenship Commission.

All persons are equal in dignity, rights and responsibilities, says Alberta's Human Rights, Multiculturalism and Citizenship Act, but the province's grudging inclusion of gay people in that act does not look good on the Alberta government.

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