Greg Clark's submission to Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association hearings on Bill 10
Posted on January 27, 2015 by Katherine Taylor
I would like to thank the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association for allowing me to speak this afternoon. I must make it clear: we must stop thinking of each other in terms of "us" or "them". If we want to make this Province better, we’re in this together.
I cannot accept for one moment that "together" that doesn't include the lesbian, gay, transgendered, bisexual and queer/questioning community.
Today, in this room, I am surrounded by community leaders, advocates and influencers. Many here have well-known, impressive voices. We must listen to the many in this room who live with this struggle every day, many of whom have not yet established their voices. I am so glad to be in this room with each of you, and hope that we may join our voices to build a community - a province that is for and about ALL of us.
We know that LGBTQ students face daily harassment. This is a simple, irrefutable and shameful truth. We know this from peer-reviewed research and documentation. But most of all, we know this from the stories and shared experiences from the strong voices of many LGBTQ students. This harassment comes from media, classmates, authority figures - even parents. Now, we see that it also comes from our Government.
Gay-Straight Alliances provide a solution, devised by those who suffer in the face of this harm and implemented collaboratively by those who experience harm. GSAs protect students. They provide a forum for students to discuss and get information on sexual orientation and gender identity in a safe, supportive environment. GSAs allow students to support other students. Many join GSAs because they do not feel safe or secure discussing their sexuality in other environments.
GSAs help fight discrimination in schools. Unfortunately, in a politically driven decision that has divided our province, our government has introduced legislation that will directly and indirectly limit the rights of students. In doing so, the legislation, as written, will prevent some students from protecting themselves and others as they know best. Albertans want what is best for our students, and yet, we are having this conversation. It baffles me that this government would choose to score cheap political points by limiting the rights of some of our most vulnerable citizens.
I want to focus on one specific issue that arises out of Bill 10. It is the question of Parental Rights.
I'm a parent. Every day I make decisions to guide my children to a better future for themselves. But I recognize that my children are individuals. And although I have authority with regard to most choices in their lives, they themselves have immutable human rights.
We need to draw a distinction between parental authority and parental rights.
The notion of parental authority becomes confusing when legislators use “parental rights” in an effort to reduce or forbid certain freedoms that minors would otherwise be able to exercise. Authority and Rights are not the same. We need to ensure that this distinction is clear.
This government is using the words “parental rights” as a means of enacting restrictions on children's rights to security of the person and freedom of association and expression. No legislation can or should give parents, school boards, the Minister of Education or anyone else the option to limit constitutional rights. In my opinion, Bill 10 would not survive a court challenge on these grounds.
Minors are persons under our Canadian Constitution and the state must respect their rights regardless of whether the parent agrees with the expression. By using parents as a means of overcoming constitutional obstacles, the government attempts to delegate an authority which it itself does not possess. By using children as the pivot or fulcrum in this divisive way, our government only furthers the institutional abuse already heaped upon these children.
But this is not about hypotheticals.
I want to tell you the story of one student. This student is gay. Her parents are very accepting of her identity support her in expressing who she is how she sees fit. When she decided to announce this, she was in Grade 9 and attending public school. At the time, she was the only person she knew who had “come out”. Following her decision to make her private truth a public truth, girls in younger grades came to her and said that their parents were worried that if she remained in the school, she might try to “date” them.
At first she mocked these comments. In time, however, the reality represented by these comments wore her down and she chose to leave the district completely and move to a more “accepting” school. Her school had become unsafe for her. And absent the opportunity to create a safe space, she had to seek a safe space.
Now, at the new school, there are other students who have come to her, expressing that they too are gay but are completely unable to talk to anyone else about it. She has, effectively, become the GSA facilitator for the school. If many of these friends were obliged to seek parental or other permission before being involved, they would never have this safe place opened to them. For many of these friends, their own home is not a safe place. This is not an unfamiliar story to many in this room, but it is one that needs to be understood. This young woman cannot even come forward publicly to say that as doing so would put her friends at risk. She firmly believes that a GSA must exist in every school. She has said, “There are gay kids in every school. Every school. Who are we to tell them they can’t talk about that?”
And I firmly agree with her.
This is one of the most ill-conceived pieces of legislation I have ever seen. We don't need to talk about amendments to it. We need to scrap Bill 10 write new legislation, based on Bill 202, which recognizes the rights that each and every one of us holds as citizens.
I want to point out one clear truth. These kids know what it will take to protect themselves. They know what it will take to protect their friends. We need to get out of their way and let them build the safe spaces that will ensure their safety and that of their classmates.
I think about those who have already harmed themselves and those that keep their pain to themselves and destroy their own sense of self-worth in doing so. Although we may call this self-harm, this is harm that we are all culpable in - because we know how to stop it and yet we stand by.
We need to talk. We need to find ways of reaching those students that cannot come to forums and discussion groups. We need to show the plight of those who actually need the GSA's. We need to help the voiceless to find their voices.
One of the questions that the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties wanted me to answer is "Should the Province of Alberta establish legislation regarding the establishment of gay-straight alliances in schools in Alberta?"
My answer is that it is the responsibility of Government to ensure that our children have safe spaces, that their needs are met and that their constitutional rights are respected. Period. The answer is a resounding “yes”.
I put a question to you right now. Are the rights of that student I talked about met through Bill 10? In order to avoid continued harassment, she had to move schools. In order to help other friends, she has to remain silent to what and who she is, so that she can continue helping them. She has to be aware that people she loves cannot speak their truths or they face real danger. That alone is a horror that she is far too young at 17 to have to deal with. I can hardly deal with it myself.
We need to go back to the drawing board. Not as a particular party. Not as certain school boards. As a Province. We need to say to all “You are valuable. You have worth and you are a citizen of Alberta. Your safety - emotional and physical - is paramount. Your rights are your rights regardless of anyone else's opinions.” It is our job to put legislation in place that ensures that nobody impinges on them. It is our job to ensure that you always have the tools to build safe places for yourselves and for your classmates."