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Money from wealthy right-wing ideologues helps fuel group challenging Alberta's protections for GSA members

Education Minister David Eggen tabled new legislation in the Alberta legislature November 2, 2017 to support students by ensuring they can safely join or form gay-straight and queer-straight alliances. Photo: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/Flickr

The so-called Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms achieved its first goal yesterday, generating plenty of publicity for itself and its social conservative supporters at the first day of its court bid to overturn the Alberta NDP government's legislative effort to protect students who join gay-straight alliances.

By the sound of media reports from the southeastern Alberta city of Medicine Hat, a circus-like atmosphere prevailed outside the courtroom as a crowd of button-wearing anti-GSA activists showed up to support the group's constitutional challenge, opposed by a few counter-protesters.

This produced lots of coverage, including reports in national publications, doubtless further raising the profile of the Calgary-based JCCF, which is already beloved by Alberta's conservative mainstream media, pretty well the only kind we have around here.

The Calgary-based organization is seeking an injunction to stop enforcement of the Alberta law protecting members of school gay-straight alliances from being outed to their parents while it challenges the constitutionality of the legislation. Although it is largely forgotten now, GSAs themselves were mandated by an earlier Progressive Conservative government.

Meanwhile, ignored in the mainstream media maelstrom was the question of how the organization is financed.

While it is impossible to know what percentage of the JCCF's annual budget of more than $1 million comes from large donors in Canada and other countries associated with the right-wing funding network, we can infer from the limited information available to the public that it is significant.

The JCCF has been granted charitable status by the Canada Revenue Agency despite almost all the work it does being inherently political, at least according to a common-sense definition. So some information is available from the CRA. More hints can be found on the group's own website, and elsewhere on the internet.

It seems likely that in addition to small donations from well-meaning individuals with social conservative convictions, a considerable portion of the group's funds come from large domestic and foreign funders of right-wing causes, sometimes seen as providers of "dark money."

This is true despite the group's appealing name, worthy of a posse of Marvel Comics superheroes, and its frequent claims it is just defending the constitutionally protected rights of sincerely religious parents, beleaguered social conservative university students pushed around by cultural Marxists, and the like. (But never pro-Palestinian campus activists, when efforts are made to shut them up, oddly enough.)

In its 2016 annual report, published on the JCCF website and the most recent available there, a letter from President John Carpay and Board Chair Daniel Mol states the organization is "now supported by 2,500 donors from across Canada."

In a section of the website entitled Donor Recognition, however, the JCCF also says it has received "generous support" from the Aurea Foundation, the Lotte & John Hecht Memorial Foundation, and the Donner Canadian Foundation. All donations are confidential, this section adds, and donors are only acknowledged with permission.

The Aurea Foundation is in turn associated with the charitable foundation run by the family of Peter Munk, founder of Barrick Gold, who died earlier this year. In addition to charitable donations to universities and medical facilities, the family is known for its support of such right-wing entities as the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute. The Hecht and Donner foundations are also Fraser Institute supporters.

An informative piece on the JCCF published by the North 99 website also notes that the Washington-based Atlas Network, a worldwide conduit for right-wing cash, features the JCCF on the list of Canadian organizations it supports.

Other groups supported by the generosity of Atlas -- who didn't shrug, I guess -- include Preston Manning's eponymous Manning Centre and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF). CTF President and CEO Troy Lanigan, in turn, is listed as an adviser to the JCCF on the latter group's website.

Asked why the CTF would support the JCCF, he responded, in part, "Well, we support free association and free speech and we're happy to stand with John on that." Carpay, of course, is also a former official of the CTF. Lanigan added, rather testily, I thought: "If your ilk had their way, myself and most fellow travellers would be caged in re-education camps."

Well, hyperbole is nothing to these people. Jason Kenney, himself a former CTF president, once compared Carpay to … Martin Luther King. Seriously. I'm not making that up!

According to the JCCF's report to the Canada Revenue Agency for the 2016 calendar year, the group's revenue of $1,008,807 was sourced 14 per cent from other charities and included donations in excess of $10,000 from donors with no legal connection to Canada. In other words, foreigners.

That would, presumably, include the Atlas Network's contribution, but perhaps not only the Atlas donation. At any rate, the JCCF did not respond to my query for more information on its foreign sources of funding, testily or otherwise.

In its filing to the CRA, the JCCF reported spending only $7,600 on political activities, including advertising, the internet, mail campaigns and targeted contacts. This, presumably, would not include activities like the tendentious JCCF "justice update" by Carpay claiming, "Catholicism seems to trouble Education Minister Eggen more than kids being exposed to pornography."

I suspect Alberta Education Minister David Eggen would object pretty strenuously to that highly partisan characterization!

If you're wondering about how the group could argue protecting students who are members of GSAs from being outed could endanger them, another JCCF news release offers some insights.

"There is evidence of harm from the teaching of gender ideology to vulnerable children who are young, developmentally delayed, struggling with anxiety, and with disabilities such as autism," the release quotes Carpay as saying. (Emphasis added.)

Dismissing inclusive policies as "ideological," of course, is a common tactic of right-wing political parties and organizations, often steeped in ideological dogma themselves, as seen in the claim in the group's legal filing that GSAs are ideological sexual clubs.

Marking National Indigenous People's Day today

Today is National Indigenous People's Day, observed each year on the June solstice and providing an opportunity for all Canadians to honour the heritage, diverse cultures and achievements of Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. I gratefully acknowledge that this post was written on Treaty 6 land, where I live, happily a partner to that treaty. 

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

NOTE: References to "ideological sex clubs" in this story have been amended to read "ideological sexual clubs," the wording used for this inflammatory and inaccurate characterization of school gay-straight alliances in the JCCFs court filings, which I have been informed were misreported by the Canadian Press. 

Photo: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/Flickr

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