Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Late to the Bill 44 Party - But I Brought Donuts!

Nation, there i just about nowhere left on this Earth I can go without friends, relatives, or acquaintances tweeting/calling/IM-ing/sending smoke signals to me asking me what I think about Bill 44.

"You're a politically interested person", they say. "What do you think?"

No pressure. It's not like this is a controversial issue or anything.

[deep breaths]

Okay, this is one of the rare circumstances where you get to learn something about The Enlightened Savage, in the interest of full disclosure, before we dive in. My body of work doesn't paint a full enough picture of my own situation to plow forward unclarified.

  • I am not a parent of a school-aged child. Or of any child whatsoever. Yet. A fact which the MOES (Mother Of Enlightened Savage) frequently mentions at Sunday dinner.
  • I am not someone who would consider themselves a person of faith. I just don't hear the call. I'm sure if I run for office someday this statement will be used against me as proof of some fatal moral flaw. Regardless of that fact, though, I'd rather be condemned for who I *am* than pretend to be a pious man for the sake of political appearances (the true, Biblical definition of a hypocrite). I have nothing but respect for people of ALL faiths: Their paths are their own, and they are absolutely entitled to follow them. In a lot of ways, I envy them their certainty.
  • I attended 12 years of Catholic school in Alberta.
  • I have several close friends who work as teachers in Alberta's public schools.
  • I'm about as socially progressive a person as you'll find, anywhere, in this province. I believe whole-heartedly in no-holds-barred religious tolerance.
Now, Bill 44 is an attempt, described by many as ham-handed, to update Alberta's Human Rights law. The most notable change is the inclusion of "sexual orientation" as a basis upon which discrimination is unlawful.

For example, the Bill would change THIS:

WHEREAS it is recognized in Alberta as a fundamental principle and as a matter of public policy that all persons are equal in: dignity, rights and responsibilities without regard to race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income or family status;

to THIS:

WHEREAS it is recognized in Alberta as a fundamental principle and as a matter of public policy that all persons are equal in: dignity, rights and responsibilities without regard to race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation;

Likewise, it changes section 30 as follows:

30 (g) “marital status” means the status of being married, single,widowed, divorced, separated or living with a person of the opposite sex in a conjugal relationship outside marriage;

becomes THIS:

30 (g) “marital status” means the status of being married, single,widowed, divorced, separated or living with a person in a conjugal relationship outside marriage;

This is a long-overdue series of changes, which keep us in step with the rest of the country and, might I add, the Federal Government's laws in the same vein. Everyone has their own opinion on this, to which they're entitled, but from MY point of view, this is a good thing.

With these changes, though, comes a new wrinkle - and, sadly, the one that's been getting all of the attention - The addition to the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act of the following:

9 The following is added after section 11:

Notice to parent or guardian

11.1(1) A board as defined in the School Act shall provide notice to a parent or guardian of a student where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, prescribed under that Act include subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation.
(2) Where a teacher or other person providing instruction, teaching a course of study or educational program or using the instructional materials referred to in subsection (1) receives a written request signed by a parent or guardian of a student that the student be excluded from the instruction, course of study, educational program or use of instructional materials, the teacher or other person shall in accordance with the request of the parent or guardian and without academic penalty permit the
(a) to leave the classroom or place where the instruction, course of study or educational program is taking place or the instructional materials are being used for the duration of the part of the instruction, course of study or educational program, or the use of the instructional materials, that includes the subject-matter referred to in
subsection (1), or
(b) to remain in the classroom or place without taking part in the instruction, course of study or educational program or using the instructional materials.

"My GOD!" screams the liberal latte left: "They're trying to turn us into Alabama!"

The irony of this kind of statement isn't lost on me, Nation - and neither should it be lost on you. This is an illustration of the last, great allowable discrimination: Discrimination against Evangelical Christians.

We saw it when Stockwell Day led the Canadian Alliance into a Federal election, and we see it consistently on such late-night E.S. staples like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report: It's okay to make fun of the religious beliefs of Evangelical Christians. After all, they take themselves so SERIOUSLY. Some of them actually believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. I mean, haven't you seen Religulous?

So, when you hear about the section of Bill 44 that enshrines parental rights into Human Rights law, it suddenly becomes open season on Evangelicals and their "silly, backwards beliefs". The attackers? The same highly evolved, empathetic liberal progressives who would in the very same breath scream obscenities at anyone daring to insult Jewish or Muslim beliefs. It's a textbook case of hypocrisy on the part of the opposition, and Orwellian in its undertones: All faiths are equal, worthy of respect and tolerance and protected from ridicule as far as the liberal masses are concerned, but some faiths are more equal, respectable, tolerable and protected than others.

So, let's cut through the garbage about evolution (the Premier's interpretation notwithstanding, evolution does NOT deal with an "explicitly religious" issue), fear-mongering and hypocrisy, and get to the heart of the matter: Is the inclusion of this passage a deal-breaker for the legislation?

The bottom line question is this: Do the rights of the parents to manage their child's education over-rule the rights of the child to a full and inclusive education? Who determines what should be included in a full education for a child - the experts who punch a clock for the government? Or the parents of the child, who assume full responsibility for the child's physical, mental and spiritual well-being from birth to... well, for as long as they can, in many cases?

A child who is raised without the opportunity to grow and question beyond the understanding of his/her parents will lack the necessary skills and understanding to function in a modern world. I attended Catholic school, as I mentioned above, and all of 3 kids were opted out of sexual education class by their parents in my 12 years, and none ever opted out of a religious studies class that discussed other faiths – and this was in a CATHOLIC school. I don’t think those numbers would radically balloon if the ability to exempt students was written into law, however the point is a good one that some pious parent looking to make a point could potentially just wait until a teacher mentioned Ramadan or Yom Kippur without a letter home first, and then file a Human Rights complaint against the teacher to “send a message”.

(A way around this could be borrowed from Alberta police forces, who have to, under law, post signs that photo radar is being used in the area. Their solution? Post permanent signs EVERYWHERE in the city, and then no matter where the photo radar is set up that day, they're covered. One letter home, at the start of the year: "Do you want your child removed from class when this comes up - yes or no?")

The bottom line is that while students might be the ones served by the educational system in this province, it's the parents who are the decision-making consumers of the system. As a non-parent and a person of no particular identifiable faith, I can nonetheless see the absolute hazard of government giving parents no recourse to object to curriculum. I worry that failing to reinforce parental rights in light of the addition of sexual preference to the protected groups could result in some parents pulling their children out of public school altogether, making an already BAD situation WORSE for those children, and for us as a society. Whether they resorted to home schooling, Charter schools or private schools, the loss of those young minds and voices from our discussion would be a lose/lose scenario for all of us.

I just have to wonder, though, if it's necessary to place those parental rights in this particular piece of legislation. Do parents need to have the recourse of filing a human rights complaint about what their children have been taught in a public school? Could this right for parents not be codified in the School Act, for example?

Supporters of the Bill say no. If you're going to extend human rights protection on the basis of sexual orientation, they argue, you should likewise ensure that the rights of parents to exert control over their child's public education are respected in the same piece of legislation - it's no less important.

After all (and this is an argument that really made me stop and think - it's a good one), you can't on the one hand demand that rights ALREADY guaranteed by the Federal Government (against discrimination based on sexual orientation) be enshrined in Provincial law, and then turn around and say that parental rights that have been in practice for decades shouldn't be granted full legal definition by the Province. If it's good for the goose...

Ultimately, all the naysayers and harbingers of doom have to admit that the final interpretation of what these amendments will mean will, in fact, be in the hands of the Human Rights Tribunals themselves. The irony is, neither side of the issue trusts the Tribunals: the liberals feel the Tribunals will rule Alberta back to the Dark Ages, and the social conservatives already have a serious case of the heebie-jeebies (not, not these guys, who are awesome, by the way) when they even hear the WORDS "human rights tribunal", thinking that they're the firm right hand of the liberal political correctness establishment.

The discussion WE need to be having, as a society, is about the rights of parents versus the rights of children. Because they USUALLY are in agreement... but when they're NOT, we need to have decided as a people what steps are to be taken, rather than leaving it to the political leaders of the day. Education, like child care, shouldn't be a political football to be tossed around and modified for the benefit of those seeking re-election.

Opposition members, if you want to talk about human rights this week, let's talk about them. But is it too much for me to ask that in so doing you at least TRY not to let your arrogant and smug sense of superiority over these "simple minded Christians" (who are so obviously unfit to have a say in their children's education) come through in your "sky is falling" objections to what SHOULD be a Bill celebrated for finally protecting Albertans from discrimination based on who they fall in love with?

No one seems all that happy with this Bill. Teachers are unhappy, school boards are unhappy, even the Social Conservatives and religious lobbies are unhappy because they feel the parental rights protection isn’t broad enough. The only group I HAVEN’T heard weigh in on this issue is the very group which inspired the initial attempt to refine the Human Rights rules: The GBLT community, which has been conspicuous in its silence.

The ideal, perhaps the ONLY, acceptable outcome here would be a free vote on the issue in the Legislative Assembly. But, politically speaking, the social Progressive/Conservative rift in the PC party is already showing a little bit in this furor. A free vote would split it wide open, for all to see - something I suspect will NOT be happening.

Bill 44, minus fear-mongering and worst-case scenario soothsaying, can be read here.


kenchapman said...

Thorough and thoughtful analysis as always ES. The resonant point for me coming from your post is that there is really little on the ground concern in the public for the core issues around education in areas of sexuality, sexual orientation and religion and the roles they play in our society.

The accommodation of those who feel strongly that this is the exclusive perview of parents and not public education is contained in the current School Act provisions.

That exemption is around religious instruction and matters of patriotism, not sexuality or sexual orientation. It obviously comes from another time and could be updated, but to be more inclusive and accepting, not less so as in Bill 44.

My major concern is that we empower and enbolded the radical fringe by bestowing them with a right to pursue legal remedies in waht ought to be left as matters of pure personal conscience.

I am no fan of Ezra Levant but do admit we owe him a debt of gratitude for championing free speech against radical fundamental Muslims. Some of them used human rights legislation and proceeses again him in this way. His solution was to eliminate human rights commissions. My solution is to keep radical fringe groups from getting more legal tools and power to use them inappropritely against indivicuals. Yesterday it was Ezra Levant, post Bill 44 it will be some unfortunate teacher asa a target.

Gustav said...

Um, I do believe that there were donuts promised? I did read the whole posting, now where's my Boston Cream?

Excellent post. Please write more often, more slacking at work please.

Any idea how this compares to other provinces?

Anonymous said...

Forgive me but what was the fuss that made this legislation required?

RedWritingHood said...

As a parent, a Christian, a PTA mom, a writer, a fiscal conservative and as whatever other label the world would prefer to place upon me (redhead with a temper...)....

... I am struggling to find the issue with Bill 44.

Whether or not I agree with same sex marriage I will still raise my children to believe that they should not discriminate against people with different beliefs.

Whether or not I believe the earth is 6000 years old, I'll teach my children to take care of it and learn about our carbon footprint and practicing conservation.

Whether or not the school teaches my children about sex ed, they'll still learn more from me about it than any teacher with a condom and a banana.

Whether or not a school ever allows prayer, the mention of Jesus, a discussion on the Koran, peanuts, etc etc etc... we will also discuss it in our home because I'm far more concerned that my children learn HOW to think than I am about the school teaching them WHAT to think.

When it comes to sexual orientation, it goes without saying that my children (or I) should not discriminate against someone who is homosexual.

I accept that my children will be told some things by their teachers that I don't agree with. Just as I was in school when I insisted that my science teacher use terms like "theory of evolution" next to "theory of creationism or intelligent design".... but this is the way of the world! Our children need to be taught HOW to think critically, have confidence in their beliefs and be open to discussion without fearing that it somehow undermines their own beliefs. No one should shrink away from discussions on their belief systems. I am never afraid to be told I'm wrong, I may disagree and may defend my beliefs, but I'm never afraid of hearing opposite opinions.

I hope my children are not either and I hope they are blessed with teachers who encourage dissenting opinions in the classroom. Because woe unto them if I hear of them grading my kids on their opinions rather than the expression of them.

Enlightened Savage said...

Serenity Now - Thanks for your fantastic comments. You raise some excellent points that I (as someone with several redhead-induced battle scars) would be foolish to argue against - particularly since I happen to agree whole-heartedly with them.

Y'all come back now - hear?

- E.S.