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Where exactly is this “sensible Alberta compromise” Jason Kenney advises the province’s New Democratic Party government to work out with religious schools determined not to allow the gay, lesbian and transgender children they teach to form anti-bullying clubs as the law requires?

“I would hope that the Alberta government would seek a generous, sensible, balanced approach,” the social conservative candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party told a meeting of supporters in Calgary Friday.

Accusing Education Minister David Eggen of trying, in the words of the CBC’s reporter, “to score political points,” Kenney went on to say, “I think he should take a more measured approach.” Mr. Eggen and his officials, he added, “ought to meet with any schools in question and work out a sensible Alberta compromise or solution.” (Emphasis added.)

The two such schools in question right now, run by Baptist clergyman Brian Coldwell in the Edmonton area, have openly defied the law and said they will never obey a requirement to permit anti-bullying clubs if students request them, so it’s not clear where a compromise might be found. Defenders of the legislation have called for the schools to be defunded if they won’t comply with the law.

It would clearly work for social conservative politicians like Kenney if there was a general rebellion against the NDP government by religious schools, and there is evidence they are working behind the scenes to foment one.

Accusing Eggen of political grandstanding, under these circumstances, is deeply ironic. The education minister is standing up for an important human rights principle at considerable political risk to himself and his party. It is, of course, Kenney who is trying to score cheap political points, and, because he won’t tell us exactly what he has in mind, low-risk ones at that.

Since Kenney played a big role in the federal Tory call for a ban on religious headscarves (at least when they’re not being worn by Christian women) and mean-spirited cuts to health care for refugee applicants during the last desperate months of the Harper regime in Ottawa, we know he is capable of grandstanding politically with the worst of them.

The most irritating part of Friday’s incomplete CBC story was that Kenney appears to have made no effort to clarify what form he thinks the compromise he advocates should take. It’s always possible he did say something and the CBC reporter left it out for some reason. Still, given his history it seems likely Kenney did no such thing.

So when he tries to sound just as reasonable as can be and says, “there is a balance of interests and rights here and I think it’s important for the government to respect that balance, to be prudent and thoughtful and balanced in the approach it takes,” it’s reasonable to wonder exactly what balance he has in mind?

We have had for years in this province a situation in which it was considered quite reasonable by many people to bully, harass, shun and sometimes violently assault our fellow citizens who are members of sexual minorities. Often this was done in the name of God.

Along comes an NDP government, and what do they do? They have enforced an imperfect PC law passed in March 2015 that, to paraphrase what Kenney says it ought to do, tried to balance fundamental rights to free association, freedom of religion, and life, liberty and security of the person in a prudent, thoughtful and balanced way. Since then, the NDP has passed amendments to the Human Rights Act to specifically protect citizens from discrimination on grounds of “gender identity” and “gender expression,” further inflaming the religious right.

Kenney, apparently, thinks the NDP needs to compromise, to push the law back to some point where sexual minorities have fewer rights and bigots who practice their bigotry in the name of religion have more scope for their anti-social behaviour.

So he owes it to Albertans who may some day consider voting for him to tell us just how far he thinks these modest legal protections should be pushed back. Under Kenney’s “compromise,” will the line be drawn somewhere between threats and actual violence? Will cultish “treatments” that try to “cure” gay people — violating their fundamental right to security of the person — be allowed or even encouraged?

Where is this “compromise,” Mr. Kenney? Where is it?

Personally, I think the NDP’s law doesn’t go far enough. We all know that in a hermetically sealed religious community that runs its own private schools (no names, of course) it would not be healthy in any way for a young person to ask for a gay-straight alliance to be set up in his or her school — no matter what the law says.

This universally understood reality is more evidence the public brouhaha stirred up by the two Edmonton-area Christian schools is politically motivated, and done to help social conservative politicians like Kenney.

In the name of freedom of religion, there appear to be no restrictions whatsoever on what these schools may teach their students other than a vague requirement they take into account the provincial curriculum. They could be teaching anything, and I’d wager some of them are! So how is this different from the religious schools in other countries that we regularly get our knickers in a twist about? Other than the fact, of course, that many of those foreign madrassas are mostly not supported by anyone’s taxes, as ours are.

Not only are Albertans within their rights to demand Kenney tell them clearly where he thinks this compromise he advocates ought to be, but we would not be out of line to ask the CBC and other news organizations to properly cover this story, instead of just providing cover for Kenney. They should start by asking him the obvious questions, and press him on the answers if he won’t respond.

We already know Kenney has indicated to such groups he thinks funding religious schools is an appropriate use for our tax dollars. Surely we deserve to know what he thinks they should be allowed to teach and do in their tax-supported classrooms.

While we’re at it, we also might ask Kenney, who throughout his adult life has been a strong and vocal opponent of women’s reproductive freedom, if he thinks there ought to be a similar “compromise” by our governments, federal and provincial, in that matter, or if we have found the right balance?

For example, does he think access to abortions should be de-funded by the provincial health authority? Does he think reproductive rights advocates should have their free speech rights curtailed when they’re on the campus of a religious school, or elsewhere?

Unless he’s changed his mind, he doesn’t seem to have any problem at all with restricting the free expression and free association of people he disagrees with — it’s what he advocated as a student at the University of San Francisco in 1988 and it’s what he actually did as minister of immigration in 2009.

So it would also be reasonable to ask Kenney if he wants to seek a “compromise” that further restricts Albertans’ right to access abortion services and their freedom to advocate for it.

These days, Kenney is driving around our province in his nice new Tory blue pickup truck as he campaigns to lead the PCs. He’s doing it on your dime as a federal taxpayer, too. So you’re well within your rights to show up at his meetings and ask him these questions.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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

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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...