On December 1, 2014 the Alberta Government introduced a bill called Bill 10: An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect our Children. The bill was introduced as a response to Bill 202, a private members bill brought forward by Laurie Blakeman that would disallow school boards from banning Gay-Straight Alliances. While Bill 10 would repeal the highly controversial section 11.1 of the Alberta Human Rights Act and add sexual orientation to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Alberta Bill of Rights, it would allow Alberta’s school boards to reject their students’ requests to create a peer-support group known as a Gay-Straight Alliance. Critics argue the bill does not do enough to protect LGBTQ students.
The following Wednesday night while MLAs debated Bill 10 in the Alberta Legislature, 15 youth were meeting in City Hall to do the same. After heartfelt testimonies, tears and countless amendments, the City of Edmonton Youth Council passed a motion to publicly oppose Bill 10, 14-1. How fitting for young people to take part in debate on a bill that would affect them.
The next day, Bill 10 exploded as the top trend on twitter nationwide. It made headlines across Canada – gaining the attention of professional athletes and high profile Canadian celebrities alike. Just 24 hours after the City of Edmonton Youth Council passed their motion at City Hall, a number of those youth would find themselves on the steps of the legislature, chanting in chorus with hundreds of other Albertans: “GSAs save lives!”
Bill 10 was introduced as a reaction to a private member’s bill introduced by Laurie Blakeman called Bill 202 – the Safe and Inclusive Schools Statutes Amendment Act, 2014. Bill 202 would have allowed students, regardless of where they go to school, to create a Gay-Straight Alliance without the risk of being turned down. When it looked as though the bill had a chance of passing, Bill 202 was pushed off the order paper without debate or a vote and Bill 10 was hastily introduced in it’s place.
The eyes of Albertans and Canadians were on the CEYC when it spoke out loudly -- not only on behalf of Edmonton youth, but all youth in this province. Bill 10 threatened students’ right to form gay-straight alliances.
While the City of Edmonton Youth Council is a civic advisory committee, it was necessary to speak up on a piece of provincial legislation that would significantly impact some of the most vulnerable and marginalized young people we represent. Originally, a motion was brought forward in support of Bill 202, The Safe and Inclusive Schools Statutes Amendment Act 2014. Unfortunately, that bill was moved off the order paper without debate. Due to large public expression of concern that was heard, Bill 10 was put on pause by Premier Prentice.
CEYC informed City Council of this important and time sensitive issue. Studies show that almost half of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students and approximately 75% of transgender students in Canada report being verbally harassed about their sexual orientation or gender expression at school. Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) teens experience greater levels of violence and more negative health outcomes than their heterosexual peers. Of students harassed, they reported lower grades (24%), higher absentee rates (27%), greater depression (55%), and are more likely to make plans to commit suicide (35%).
While CEYC agrees that “safe school” policies and “diversity clubs” are valuable, according to a study done by the Egale Human Rights Trust, “generic safe school policies that do not include specific measures on homophobia are not effective in improving the school climate for LGBTQ students.” Numerous studies have shown that Gay-Straight Alliances are proven to substantially reduce suicide rates and promote positive health outcomes among both straight and LGBTQ teens.
At the time that youth members were voting on our motion, they agreed the legal recourse provided to students in Bill 10 was inaccessible to youth without the resources, including but not limited to: time, funds, confidence, knowledge, or support to file a lawsuit against their school board, in the event that their request to form a GSA is denied. Amendments proposed by the government that would compel the Minister of Education to create GSAs off-site if they are denied by the school board create segregation. “Separate but equal” provisions are unacceptable. The proposed changes in Bill 10 to amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to include sexual orientation as unacceptable grounds for discrimination are steps forward. However, they are largely symbolic as these rights are already enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The City of Edmonton Youth Council agrees that denying a student the right to form a Gay-Straight Alliance in their school is an affront to these rights including freedoms of association and assembly, with equal consideration under the law.
After the discussion with Community Services committee the report was moved to City Council and as a showing of leadership and commitment City Council passed to fully support Youth Council's stance, as well to send a letter on their behalf.
You may find copies of the memos sent to City Council and Premier Jim Prentice below.