By Jorie Les
There is a sentence that has been creating controversy in Alberta during the past few months. This sentence comes from section 16 of Bill 2, the proposed Education Act.
According to the bill, “All courses or programs of study offered and instructional materials used in a school must reflect the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others and honour and respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act.”
The proposed act made it through a second reading in the legislature — it later died on the Order Paper due to the announcement of the provincial election.
The corresponding clause in the School Act, which is currently in effect, sounds strikingly similar. However, instead of requiring education to honour and respect the CCRF and the AHRA, it refers to “. . . the common values and beliefs of Albertans.”
Some are arguing that this change will make a difference to their child’s education and possibly their parental rights. The fear that parents have, particularly those who home-school their kids, is that the new wording effectively takes away their rights to educate their children how they see fit. This includes teaching their kids religious beliefs, values and convictions in addition to, or as part of, the regular curriculum.
It is unlikely that the province is trying to usurp parents’ power to choose the type of education their child receives, or to prevent parents from instilling their own personal values. Yet there have been some outrageous claims made and protests over the proposed changes. Why are so many parents afraid and suspicious of this bill?
Human Rights Commissions often act like a kangaroo court. They consistently rule against conservative or traditional values. As a result, these concerned parents don’t want education to fall under the Human Rights Act and be subject to the Commission. All good in theory, except one thing — it already does. Section 1 of the HRA states: “. . . every law of Alberta is inoperative to the extent that it authorizes or requires the doing of anything prohibited by this Act.”
While it might be tempting to classify this as yet another case of paranoia, some apprehension might be justified. Recently, a high school student in Nova Scotia was expelled for sporting a ‘Life is wasted without Jesus’ T-shirt to school, so some concern about religious freedom is warranted. But everyone would be a lot better off if they didn’t panic. It can’t hurt to stop and think for a minute. Rationally, that is.
This is Canada. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a good thing, as is the Human Rights Act — at least I hope we can all agree on that. Regardless, naming these statutes in the Education Act sounds more concrete than to say “the common values and beliefs of Albertans.” That phrase is actually more concerning. Alberta has a fairly diverse population, so if you want to say that there are some common values that we all subscribe to within this province, I would politely disagree.
These things have a way of sorting themselves out. Even those with a conservative bent, who may be concerned that society is running a course counter to what they believe in or value, should not be worried about the implications of Bill 2. You can’t control everything, but you can control your kid’s education, and Bill 2 isn’t trying to change that — I think we can trust the Honourable Thomas Lucaszuk on this one. The government won’t be bugging your living room and busting down the door the moment you tell your kids that God created the world in seven days — whether that’s during home-school hours or not.