Bill 44: the great and the befuddled

By DJ Kelly May 21, 2009

Let me first start of by saying I, for one, am glad Bill 44 has been tabled in the Alberta Legislature. I find it beyond embarrassing that it has taken my province so long to enshrine the equal rights of homosexuals in our Human Rights Act. I hope most everyone reading this can agree that for something to be a “right” they must be extended to everyone. Without rights being equal and available to everyone they carry no weight and are just a useless piece of discriminatory paper. Human rights are the basic building blocks of our society.

Despite my staunch position in this regard, I’ve waited a while before weighing into the Bill 44 debate because I’m not sure what my opinion on it is. Specifically I’m thinking about the contentious portion that declares a parent’s “right” to remove a child from a public school class they believe will be against their personal beliefs and teachings.

Where to start with my thoughts?

I guess I’ll start with the fact I don’t disagree with a parent’s right to protect their children from things they believe to be erroneous. Many may disagree with me on this, but this is a parent’s prerogative. Protecting a child is what makes them good parents. Now it is true that I also believe that public education should be taught the way the majority wishes it to be taught – religious understanding, cultural diversity and scientific theory (including evolution) are what we as a society have chosen to teach in our public schools. If a parent wishes to protect their child from these kinds of things public school is obviously not the place for them to send their children for eight hours a day. There are other more appropriate schools for parents wishing their children learn a different view. We – the people – have made this concession through separate schools, charter schools and private schools as well as the availability of home schooling. This is a good thing. Our government should not force our children into public education if the parent believes this is not the most appropriate place for them to grow and learn.

For me, where my opinion on this section of Bill 44 gets muddled is when trying to figure out why it is needed in the first place. Is the right of a parent to choose to which classes in a public school are appropriate for their child really a “fundamental human right”? I’d put that akin to: is my option to communicate with colleagues via telephone a “fundamental human right”? In both cases there are other options available – email, fax, Facebook, Twitter vs. separate schools, private schools and home schooling – so I don’t think the comparison is that far off base or that trivial. (Not being able to use Facebook at work would cripple my ability to be successful in my job.)

What I’m really saying here is a parent’s right to protect their child from different teachings SHOULD be protected. Even if I disagree with their reasons for wanting to do it in the first place. I don’t however think a bill of rights is the place to do it.

A Bill of Rights should be something the vast majority of citizens hold to be true. There should not be anything contentious in it. If we can’t agree it is a basic human right, then clearly it is not a BASIC right.

So please cut the contentious clause. It doesn’t make any sense whichever way I look at it. And protect this option for parents to select schools in regular legislation. (Which, by the way, I’m told it already is under the School Act.)

That’s my ill informed two cents. My position on Bill 44 and this post may not be clear to you. If that’s the case, I’m sorry, because it is not that clear to me. For more detailed analysis Ken Chapman has plenty to say here, here and here. So does Tiny Perfect Blog here, here and here. The Enlightened Savage and Anvish at Straight Outta Edmonton have good thoughts too.