Jim Prentice

Give Jim Prentice and his political advisers some credit: the narrative they used to justify sidelining a private-member’s bill that would have forced schools to allow gay-straight alliances to operate on their premises, while based on a logical fallacy, is a persuasive one to many citizens who are not paying particularly close attention.

Implicit in the government’s position that legislating the right of students to form GSAs at their schools conflicts with “family rights” is that the notion that what is being interfered with by the mere existence of the clubs is the right generally accepted in our society of parents to guide their minor children on questions of sexual morality.

As it happens, this argument in such circumstances is not without precedent. It is exactly the same logical fallacy that was used to justify the anti-gay legislation signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 30, 2013, which bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.”

Now, there is no question, the Russian legal situation is much worse that what has just happened in Alberta. Arguably the purpose of the Russian law is to attack public and private activities by all LGBTQ citizens, including pride parades, personal relationships and even the wearing of non-traditional clothing.

But the justification is the same, that the assertion of rights by LGBTQ citizens to be who they are and live their lives as they please is the equivalent of propagandizing minors to live an LGBTQ lifestyle, which is patent nonsense.

The specific logical fallacy in the Prentice Government’s position on GSAs — to be technical about it, the argument from a false premise — is that the purpose of GSAs is somehow to encourage and facilitate gay sex, or at the very least to extend the rights of LGBTQ citizens beyond those enjoyed by “the rest of us.”

What is wrong with this implication, obviously, is that this is simply not the purpose of a GSA as envisaged by Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s Bill 202. GSAs as set out in that proposed law in fact had an utterly different purpose, to act as gay-straight student peer support groups to protect members and other students from all kinds of bullying, including physical violence, in a safe environment.

But while no official spokesperson for the PC government has ever explicitly stated this second part of the argument as the nature of the supposed “conflict” they keep referring to, it is clearly implied by the very claim there is a conflict.

What else could it be? Indeed, if I’ve somehow got this spectacularly wrong and completely misinterpreted their intention, I urge the Prentice Government’s supporters to explain here just what parental right they think is being interfered with by the existence of a GSA in a school. The comments section is open to you!

At any rate, it is completely obvious to anyone who follows social media that this is precisely the meaning put on the Prentice Government’s policy by those of its supporters who comment on Twitter, Facebook and in the comments sections of blogs like this one, not to mention the letters sections of traditional print publications.

“As a parent and grandparent, I demand to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to what my children are taught in school and out of school,” wrote one commentator on this blog in a very typical argument. “The LGBTQ folks are asking for special rights over and above everyone else’s and that is wrong,” this writer went on, describing in graphic detail what he imagined young people would be “taught” in a GSA, a description I deleted.

We have all heard this kind of thing, and heard it repeatedly.

The reaction of conservative commentators in Canada to Putin’s legislation back in 2013 was fierce. Some even suggested we should boycott the Sochi Winter Olympic Games as a result.

The reaction of the same people to Prentice’s use of the same misleading kind of argument — with a small number of honourable exceptions associated with conservative politics, such as Edmonton MLA Thomas Lukaszuk and former Senator Ron Ghitter — has been more muted.

Of course, as always when bad legislation is being drafted, the opportunity for other agendas to sneak in is often irresistible. In Russia, Putin used the anti-gay laws also to restrict the activities in Russia of foreign-based non-governmental organizations. In Alberta, someone in the government is clearly trying to use Bill 10 to further entrench the “parental rights” narrative from U.S. politics to make it easier to fund private religious schools with tax dollars.

The Russian Law’s Orwellian title, by the way, is “On Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development.” The Alberta law, tellingly, is titled “An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect our Children.”

Nor was the logical fallacy implied by our government’s oft-repeated claim that rights are somehow in conflict the only one in this sad Alberta tale.

As Dean Bennett of the Canadian Press shrewdly pointed out in a Tweet on Dec. 3, Speaker Gene Zwozdesky “kills Bill 202, guaranteeing GSAs in favour of Bill 10, which doesn’t, on grounds bills ‘too similar.'”

Don’t you think this sounds like Lake of Fire 2.0?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...