Bill 44 continues to cause controversy
by Devin Ayotte
Though nearly six months have gone by since the Alberta government passed the controversial Bill 44 in June, debate
within legal and educational communities continued at a panel discussion held at the University of Calgary on Nov. 26.
The bill, which entrenches the rights of gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals to pursue discrimination complaints with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, also requires teachers to provide written notice to parents if subjects such as religion, sex or sexual orientation are going to be discussed in class. Parents who feel a teacher is not respecting their wishes will be able to pursue a human rights complaint with the Commission.
Opponents of the bill argue that the sole purpose of Bill 44 is to stifle discussion of sensitive issues within the classroom and prevent teachers from promoting tolerance of diversity. Teachers who push the issue “will have to get lawyers,” said Linda Mckay-Panos, director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre.
“There’s a lot of emotion and a lot of sides, but I think the people of Alberta are better off for it,” Alberta Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett told CTV News in regards to the bill shortly after it was passed earlier this year. The bill was passed in early June, but is not slated to take effect until September 2010.
Although consent is already required and parents are able to pull their children from classes in which sensitive or controversial material will be addressed, proponents of the bill argue that the rights of parents are insufficiently protected by existing legislation. Parents are currently required to bring their complaints to the school board.
Mckay-Panos appeared with Paula Simons, an Edmonton Journal columnist who has been following the legislation since its inception, and the Creelman family to discuss their issues with the bill in front of students and members of the U of C’s faculty of law.
Susan Creelman and her children Austin, 13, Katherine, 16, and Andrea, 17, made the trip from Edmonton to speak about the right of students to a complete education. The Creelman children are the force behind the popular Facebook group “Students Against Bill 44,” which has over 11,620 members, their response to a piece of legislature that left them “disgusted.”
Their mother shares their passion, and voiced her concern for students.
“Bill 44 does not prepare students for the real world or to easily accept people regardless of religion or sexual orientation,” she told the panel.
Also an issue is the Alberta government’s handling of Bill 44.
“I don’t think they gave full consideration to the logical consequences of this decision,” Simons said.
The bill will require teachers to exempt students from any units their parents deem unsuitable, a gargantuan task given the diversity of the students within any public school system. To circumvent the impossible task of designing a separate program for each student, the bill will require considerable trimming of the existing curriculum.
While parents may be comforted by the entrenchment of their right to control their child’s exposure to certain material, Blackett assured CBC news in a separate interview that parents will not be able to remove their children from classes dealing with evolution on religious grounds as originally reported.
“Evolution is not a part of religious studies, it’s part of science curriculum, and there is nothing that will change that going forward.” The scientific community was outraged by Premier Ed Stelmach’s statement in the spring that evolution fell within the bounds of course material parents had a right to restrict.
Opposition to the bill continues in spite of its success in the Alberta Legislature.