Alberta investigating Catholic teacher contracts amid discrimination concerns

EDMONTON — Alberta Education Minister David Eggen is investigating employment agreements signed by Catholic school teachers amid concerns they could be fired for being in gay or common-law relationships.

Eggen says he has directed all 17 Catholic boards to send him copies of their agreements to see if they meet legal standards.

“What we have heard from not just (in) Calgary but other places as well is unsettling,” Eggen said Friday.

“You can have attestations of faith. I mean that’s one thing. But to deny someone employment or termination based on their sexuality or other factors is not acceptable.”

He said ways to deal with such cases would be to go to the Alberta Human Rights Commission or file a complaint with the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

The Calgary and Edmonton Catholic boards confirmed this week that teachers must sign agreements promising to live by Catholic values.

The Calgary board says those values include not being in common-law or same-sex relationships.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association said the law governing so-called “Catholicity clauses” is complex and largely untested, but teachers should not be forced to sign employment contracts that violate human rights.

“If a school board ever used these clauses to justify discriminatory practices or to disregard human rights, we would vigorously assist, defend and protect the teachers involved to the greatest extent possible,” the professional teachers association said in a release.

The union and professional association also noted that recent changes to Alberta’s School Act affirms teachers’ freedom from discrimination.

Barb Hamilton, a former teacher and principal with the Calgary Catholic district, announced last week that she was filing a human rights complaint. She alleges she was pushed to quit because of her sexual orientation.

Eggen dismissed suggestions the controversy supports the idea that publicly funded faith-based schools should be done away with entirely.

“Our Catholic school system provides excellent education,” said Eggen.

“Catholic education is protected by the Constitution and I believe has served our province well,” he said.

But he added: “It’s very well and fine to make sure that you do have statements of faith in the system, but you can’t break the law.

“Our government believes that people can be protected regardless of who they love and what relationships that they’re in.”

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