EDMONTON, March 20, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The protest against the inclusion of the Alberta Human Rights Act in Section 16 of the province’s proposed new Education Act (Bill 2) is escalating, with over 2000 attending a peaceful protest at the Alberta Legislature on Monday, March 19.
Paul Faris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, attended the protest and told LifeSiteNews that the rally was “a huge success.”
“With at least 2100 people attending, this rally was amongst the largest in Alberta history,” Faris said.
This was the second protest in as many weeks by homeschooling families and other concerned Albertans. The protests were organized by the Alberta Home Education Association (AHEA) to express their grave concern over a stipulation in Section 16 that all instructional materials in schools, including home and private schools, “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.”
Faris observed that “it wasn’t just homeschoolers there, but lots of private, Catholic and public schoolers, so it’s becoming a very broad-based movement of parents who are concerned that the government is taking away their freedom in education.”
The focal point of the protest is the possibility that home and private schools that teach the precepts of their faith could be prosecuted by human rights tribunals for “hate crimes” under the Alberta Human Rights Act (AHRA). The AHRA has been used in the past to prosecute conservatives and Christians, most notably pastor Steve Boissoin, who was found “guilty” by a tribunal of “hate speech” against homosexuals after he published a letter to the editor in a local newspaper. That conviction was subsequently overturned by the court system.
Faris remarked that Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk spoke to the rally, trying to assure parents that their rights would not be infringed by the proposed legislation, but then concluded that the two sides might have to “agree to disagree.”
“A large number of people who are protesting and facing me but yet at the same time believe in exactly the same things that I believe,” Lukaszuk said, then added, “We may end up agreeing or disagreeing on the wording of it, but I am confident that your rights will be protected.”
“It’s ironic,” Faris told LifeSiteNews, “that later in the day Lukaszuk’s office announced that he plans to invite a committee of twenty Alberta parents to get feedback on what people want. It just amazed me. Here are 2100 people who care so much they came to the Legislature on a cold day, and now he’s saying he wants to hear what people think.”
“It’s clear, that when 2100 concerned parents from every form of education care so much about the issue that they come to rally on the steps of the Legislature, if he’s not listening to them then he’s clearly signalling that he really doesn’t care what the people of Alberta think, that he’s going to do what he wants,” Faris said.
An open letter delivered to the government at yesterday’s protest by Alberta Citizens for Diversity in Education (ACDE), which was endorsed by numerous groups, including REAL Women of Canada, states that the signatories are “concerned that the inclusion of the Alberta Human Rights Act in Section 16 could expose any Albertan informed by a religious or cultural perspective on a variety of different doctrinal or cultural issues to prosecution by Alberta Human Rights tribunals. We ask you to confirm the many verbal assurances that this is not the governments intent by amending Bill 2: The Education Act so as to address these concerns.”
The organizers of the protest are demanding that the six words, “and the Alberta Human Rights Act” be removed from the legislation.
“In order for our message to be crystal clear, it is important for us all to present the same message to our government,” AHEA states. “The message is: take 6 words out.”
The Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association has also taken a stand against the new Education Act.
In a letter submitted to the government the trustees state, “If passed, Bill 2 has the potential to seriously effect publicly funded Catholic education in Alberta, Catholic school boards, and Catholic schools, teachers, staff, and students.”
The ACSTA expresses concern about the proposed sharing of facilities and boards with public schools, and states that the Trustees Association “supports Catholic parents as the primary educators of their children and that the new Education Act must reflect this primacy of the home and parents as primary teachers.”
The legislation has passed two readings and is now being debated by the Committee of the Whole before going to third and final reading scheduled for Wednesday, March 21.
Faris indicated that the reference to the Alberta Human Rights Act in Bill 2 must be expunged in today’s Committee of the Whole session if it is to be done by this government. However, with an election call anticipated in the very near future the legislation may be delayed.
“I don’t know how the government can ignore so many voices of concerned parents from right across Alberta. I think they would be foolish to go into an election knowing that there are so many people who care passionately about this issue and who believe their voices are being ignored,” Faris concluded.
Hon. Thomas Lukaszuk, Education Minister
423 Legislature Building
10800 - 97 Avenue NW
Canada T5K 2B6
Phone: (780) 427-5010
Fax: (780) 427-5018
Premier Alison Redford
Office of the Premier
Room 307, Legislature Building
Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2B7
E-mail: Use this form.