You are on page 1of 6

The Controversy Surrounding Bill 24 1

The Controversy Surrounding Bill 24 (An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances)

By Mary Bates, Liza Bauyon, Lea Grupe, and Erin Korol


EDUC 525
Law and Ethics
July 15, 2018

Abstract

Bill 24 came into effect in 2017. This bill makes amendments

to the School Act that make it illegal for a teacher to tell

parents if their child has joined a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA).

Some parents and School Boards are fighting these

amendments on the grounds that they interfere with their own

Constitutional rights. We have chosen to examine this issue

from the side of the government, which is pro Bill 24, and from

the side of the parents and School Boards which are anti Bill

24. After close examination we think the bill should stand but

with minor modifications.


The Controversy Surrounding Bill 24 2

The Controversy Surrounding Bill 24 (An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances)

In November 2017, the Alberta government passed Bill 24, which was designed to amend the

School Act in support of gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools. Alberta Education Minister,

David Eggen, said the bill protects some of the most vulnerable children in the province

(Bennett, 2017). The controversy arose when parents realized that this bill would also prohibit

them from finding out whether or not their children were members of a Gay Straight Alliance

(GSA) program and they filed a court challenge to the bill in April 2018 to dispute this. It is

important to understand both sides of this controversy before a position can be taken with

regards to Bill 24 as it currently stands.

If Bill 24 is considered from the side of the Alberta Government, the Education Minister has

stated that the main goal of this bill is to promote a caring and safe place for each student to live

and learn (Mertz, 2018). The bill’s amendment has two basic parts: 1) to maintain the privacy

and confidence of students that join the alliance; 2) every (publicly-funded) school in Alberta

should follow the law to ensure students are protected and safe (in particular, the vulnerable

ones) (Bennett, 2017). It is still required for schools to notify the parents “where courses of

study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, include

subject-matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality” (Alberta

Education, n.d., p.4). Alliance advocates and the NDP say that informing parents of GSA

involvement would be tantamount to outing a student and putting them at risk of family

ostracism or even physical abuse (Bennett, 2017). Bill 24 also helps remedy Bill 44 in the

Human Rights Act by supporting an individuals’ ability to understand, acknowledge and respect

others who may have drastically different perspectives than their own (Gereluk, 2011, p. 79).

Essentially, Bill 24 ensures a safe and caring place for students to learn about others in their
The Controversy Surrounding Bill 24 3

society and learn about empathy and tolerance. Parent involvement may cause the exclusion of

information that would help the child become an autonomous, critical thinking, engaged,

informed, and tolerant citizen. The Alberta Teachers’ Association has said it supports Bill 24

(Mertz, 2018).

When Bill 24 is considered from the perspective of a parent or a faith-based school board, we

note that they generally take issue with the amendment to section 50.1 of the School Act which

states that, “for greater certainty, parental notification around courses of study, educational

programs or instructional materials, or instructional exercises does not apply to student

participation in voluntary student organizations, including GSAs and QSAs” (Overview of Bill

24, p. 4). The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) said the main concern is “the

requirement that prohibits principals and teachers from notifying parents about student

organizers or activities” (June 28, 2018). The JCCF president, John Carpay, insists that the bill

violates the rights of parents. “This court application asks the court to strike down provisions of

Bill 24 on the basis that they violate the rights of parents and schools protected by section 2(a),

2(b), 2(d), and 7 rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”) and

the Alberta Bill of Rights (Mertz, 2018).

United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney also spoke out against the bill. He said teachers

who deem it necessary need to be allowed to tell parents a child is in a gay-straight alliance.

Parents have also spoken out against the part of the bill, saying there should be no secret spaces

in schools where sexuality explicit content is discussed without parents being aware. Before the

amendments it was left to the teacher’s discretion as to whether or not a parent should be notified

(Mertz, 2018).
The Controversy Surrounding Bill 24 4

There is also a strong example listed in the JCCF court challenge involving an autistic teenage

girl who suffered severe psychological and emotional harm when, for a period of over a year,

public school officials intentionally withheld information from her parents that their

developmentally challenged daughter had been attending the school’s GSA. At the GSA, at the

urging of her peers and teachers, these parents’ vulnerable daughter had been convinced to dress

as, and pretend to be, a boy at school, but “change” back into a girl when she went home in the

evening. She became suicidal before her parents learned of the confusing influences at school.

The Impugned Provisions threaten her parents continued knowledge of their still-vulnerable

child’s activities and surrounding influences at school and compromise her safety (Justice Centre

for Constitutional Freedoms, 2018).

After considering both sides of this controversy, we have formed the position that Bill 24

should remain in place as it currently stands, but we have considered proposing a minor

modification. Parents should not be informed that their student is a member of a GSA unless the

supervising teacher or principal find it reasonable to believe that the student is in a position of

danger or at risk by their involvement in GSA activities.

To support our position, we considered statistics taken from 3700 Canadian high school

students which showed that 64% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe in school, 21% have been

physically harassed or assaulted, and 10% have reported hearing homophobic comments from

teachers on a daily or weekly basis. Some of these incidents have resulted in lawsuits (Canadian

Civil Liberties Association, 2014). The safe confidential space a GSA provides needs to be

maintained for LGBTQ youth who are the most vulnerable. The reason we added the provision

regarding informing parents only in times of risk or danger is because of cases such as the
The Controversy Surrounding Bill 24 5

example of the suicidal autistic teenage girl referenced earlier by the JCCF. The Child, Youth,

and Family Enhancement Act states that there is a “duty on the part of teachers and school

administrators to report cases where a “child is in need of intervention” in many situations stated

under sections 2 and 3 of that Act” (sections 2 and 3, 2017). Therefore, it seems prudent and

responsible to add this amendment to Bill 24.

If, as noted in the Gereluk (2011) article, the primary goal of education in Alberta is to

promote autonomy in children, then arguably it is essential that a school system be developed

that supports this aim. It cannot be assumed that parents will provide ample opportunities to

experience diversity if such diversity is against their personal belief system. Children need to

experience diversity not only become autonomous, but to learn how they want to live their own

lives and to be tolerant and respectful of other choices (Gereluk, 2011).

According to David Eggen, Education Minister, if parents want information about their

children related to GSA involvement, they should promote close communication with their

children at home. They should understand that the school’s intention is to protect their children

by providing a safe, confidential, and caring place. According to Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark

“In 2017, in Alberta, there should absolutely be no question that it should be up to students and

students alone to disclose to whom they wish — when they wish — their own sexual identity.

Period. To do otherwise could put the student at severe risk for abuse.” (Bennett, 2017). Children

have the right to be safe, loved, nurtured and protected. They have the right to live in a violence-

free home (Alberta Government, 2012). In short, Bill 24 was intended for the benefit of their

children, not to remove rights from parents.

At this moment in time, Bill 24 is law and should be upheld as such. Though we feel that it is

essential to provide an interpretive stance to this bill regarding cases of students being at risk, the
The Controversy Surrounding Bill 24 6

primary benefits of the bill far outweigh the criticisms brought forward by the JCCF court

challenge.

References

Alberta Education. (n.d.). Overview of Bill 24 Amendments to the School Act. Retrieved from:
https://www.albertaschoolcouncils.ca/public/download/documents/46674

Bennett, D. (2017 November 15). Alberta Legislature Passes Contentious Bill 24 Strengthening
Gay-Straight Alliances. Global News. Retrieved from:
https://globalnews.ca/news/3862295/alberta-legislature-passes-contentious-bill-24-
strengthening-gay-straight-alliances/

Canadian Civil Liberties Association. (2014). LGBTQ Rights in Schools. Retrieved from:
https://ccla.org/cclanewsite/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/LGBTQ-Rights-in-Schools-
CCLA-and-CCLET-FINAL.pdf.pdf

Corbella, L. (2018, May 7). Corbella: Couple warns their daughter could have died under new
GSA law. Calgary Herald. Retrieved from: https://calgaryherald.com/news/local-
news/corbella-couple-warns-their-daughter-may-have-died-under-new-gsa-law

Gereluk, D. (2011). When Good Intentions go Awry: Limiting Toleration and Diversity through
Bill 44, Canadian Issues (Special Issue of the Comparative and International Studies
Society), pp. 75-79. Retrieved from:
https://d2l.ucalgary.ca/d2l/le/content/224840/viewContent/3026593/View

Government of Alberta. (n.d.). Supporting Gay-Straight Alliances. Retrieved from:


https://www.alberta.ca/supporting-gay-straight-alliances.aspx

Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (28 June 2018). Parents and Schools Considering
Appeal after Judge Rejects Bill 24 Injunction.” Retrieved from:
www.jccf.ca/parents-and-schools-considering-appeal-after-judge-rejects-bill-24-
injunction/

Mertz, E. (2018 April 5). Court challenge launched against Alberta’s GSA bill. Global News.
Retrieved from: https://globalnews.ca/news/4125768/court-challenge-alberta-education-
schools-gsa-bill/

Province of Alberta (2017, Dec. 15). Child, youth and family enhancement act: Revised statutes
of Alberta 2000: Chapter C-12, sections 2 and 3. (2017). Edmonton: Alberta Queen’s
Printer. Retrieved from: http://www.qp.alberta.ca/documents/Acts/c12.pdf

Province of Alberta (2016, Dec 9). Family Law Act. Statutes of Alberta, 2003 Chapter F-4.5.
Alberta Queen’s Printer. Retrieved from:
http://www.qp.alberta.ca/documents/Acts/F04P5.pdf