War of words delays act

If it’s true, as Red Deer’s Paul van den Bosch says, that the six words “and the Alberta Human Rights Act” may end up having killed the reform of Alberta’s Education Act, that would be a shame.

If it’s true, as Red Deer’s Paul van den Bosch says, that the six words “and the Alberta Human Rights Act” may end up having killed the reform of Alberta’s Education Act, that would be a shame.

There may be any number of flaws in Bill 2, but fearing human rights legislation shouldn’t be one of them.

But there’s plenty of fear out there. A column in the Edmonton Journal last week referenced “an outpouring of fury and death threats” aimed at Education Minister Thomas Lakaszuk. It included vicious homophobic emails (the content of which Journal editors declined to publish).

This, because some parents feared Big Brother, via a human rights tribunal, might force parents who homeschool to tone down their talk around the kitchen table.

Not during school hours — the current act already allows parents to pull their kids away from any course material that touches on sexuality, sexual orientation or religion that they may not like.

But around the table during suppertime, because homeschooling does not draw a very clear line around when school is in and when it’s not.

We’re all allowed to rant in our homes about anything we want (and some of us do). But when our ranting violates the Alberta Human Rights Act during school time, there could be problems.

At least, that appears to have been the fear. Human rights tribunals are complaint-driven, and given that the most likely complainant would be a student, that does raise an uncomfortable dynamic.

Human rights tribunals are not fun affairs. This newspaper has been through one. These quasi-judicial proceedings are widely perceived to be used as weapons by people with an agenda at the extreme opposite of the alleged agenda of the person subject to complaint. The rules governing proceedings are infamously skewed, the rulings are arbitrary and outside the powers granted by the Alberta Human Rights Act, they have little validity or credibility.

That said, let’s keep our fears in perspective.

People opposed to the wording of Section 16 and the preamble of Bill 2 speak of the “stealth language” that might put family conversation into the public domain of a tribunal.

Paul Faris, chair of Home School Legal Defence Association of Canada, says with all sincerity that he’s “hearing from people saying ‘I don’t really want my children being taught to respect religions that I don’t like.’ ”

What kind of language do we hear there?

Which side is gaining stealth toward hate or repression?

In Canada’s most libertarian province, homeschoolers in Alberta get more government funding and have more freedom of conscience than in almost any part of North America.

There’s no need to adhere to provincial curriculum no need for children to prove they’ve learned anything through standardized testing.

If you want to teach that modern humans and dinosaurs once walked the Earth together, you can mark that correct on your history exams.

There have been more books banned from public schools (Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter to name a few) than the lexicon that could be banned from a homeschool library. Because of the Human Rights Act, neither the Bible nor Qua’ran can be pushed out of the home.

Barring 11th-hour heroics, Bill 2 looks like it will only return (in significantly amended form) after the next election — if at all. We are all free to judge the wisdom of that.

But as a U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

To defeat those fears, we need to identify and name them.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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