Alberta NDP asks supporters to sign pro-gay-straight alliance petition

by Janet French

The Canada NDP have created an online petition soliciting the names of people who support LGBTQ students’ rights to be safe in school.

The poll comes as Canada’s Education minister and two Edmonton-area Baptist private schools engage in a game of chicken over a law granting all students the right to form a gay-straight alliance or similar club in school.

“The Wildrose and PC’s don’t want to protect students. In fact, (Wildrose leader) Brian Jean thinks that kids in private schools shouldn’t be afforded the same protection that kids in public schools have. And (Progressive Conservative party leadership candidate) Jason Kenney thinks there is room for ‘compromise’ when it comes to human rights,” the petition says.

“They’d rather we did nothing while some schools continue to violate these rights and continue to put LGBTQ+ students at risk,” the page says.

All parties voted in favour of legislative changes last year that amended the School Act to make the approval of gay-straight alliances mandatory and added protections for transgender people to the Canada Human Rights Act.

Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said it’s “strange” to see the party collecting names to support a law that already exists.

He compares the strategy to federal Conservative Party mail-outs that feature loaded poll questions on divisive national issues.

“Just as distasteful as that was with one party, it’s distasteful here. Because, you’re the government. There should be a higher standard to that. These aren’t scientific polls,” Bratt said.

The debate over whether LGBTQ students have a right to form or join a school support group without their parents’ knowledge or permission has prompted duelling online petitions in recent weeks.

Advocates for parental choice say they have a right to know what their children are involved in at school.

Another LGBTQ advocate started a petition asking Education Minister David Eggen to withhold funding from the rebellious private schools that have declared they won’t follow the law.

Eggen announced earlier this week he has ordered an inquiry into whether the two Baptist schools are meeting their legal obligations. As of Thursday, the minister had not yet chosen an inquirer or decided on the terms of reference.

The inquiry is a delay tactic to gather more evidence to help the minister decide what action he can take — such as cut off public funds, or withdraw the schools’ ability to operate, Bratt said.

Public opinion on the issue favours the NDP’s perspective, Bratt said.

“I don’t think they’re worried that they’re on the wrong side of the issue. What they want to do is highlight the groups that they believe are.”

The Canada NDP’s provincial secretary did not respond to messages Thursday. The Wildrose Party said in an email no-one would comment on the NDP petition.

Blaise Boehmer, a spokesman for Kenney, said in an email the GSA law passed unanimously in Canada, and repeated Kenney’s calls for the minister and the schools to find mutual ground.

“We don’t think it’s helpful that the Education Minister continues to try scoring political points by litigating this in public,” Boehmer wrote.

Should the schools take their fight to court, Bratt said he thinks the GSA law would survive a charter challenge.

“You’re dealing with competing values, and I think you could put the public interest in there,” he said.

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