EDMONTON — Alberta's United Conservatives say they're concerned the government is using a bill on gay-straight alliances to prepare for kids to be taught sex education without parents being told.
"Now is the time for the government to reassure Albertans that they have no intention of coming after their rights as parents," United Conservative critic Mike Ellis told the legislature Thursday.
"Now is the time for the government to prove that it doesn't have anything up its sleeve."
The bill makes it illegal for school officials to tell parents when a child joins an alliance.
Ellis, saying it would clear up the issue, proposed an amendment.
Premier Rachel Notley's New Democrats, using their majority, rejected the amendment on the grounds the bill already makes it clear that student-led social clubs such as gay-straight alliances do not teach the sex-ed curriculum and therefore are exempt from automatic parental notification required by law.
"Health lessons, for example, are taught in health class, but GSAs are peer support groups. There's a clear differentiation there," said Education Minister David Eggen.
Ellis said it's a grey area given teacher instructional documents for the alliances talk about bringing in speakers or holding educational activities.
Gay-straight alliances are peer-support clubs set up by students to promote understanding and help LGBTQ kids feel safe and free from bullying.
They have been lightning rods of debate in Alberta given they overlap the areas of religion, education, parent and student rights.
Debate was renewed this past spring when Jason Kenney, before he became leader of the United Conservatives, said parents should be notified if their children joined a gay-straight alliance unless that put a child at risk.
Advocates say it must remain a child's choice to tell anyone, including parents, about his or her sexuality.
The NDP has labelled Kenney's stance a cynical, cruel Trojan horse — advocating for the alliances while promising changes that would, in effect, scare away students from joining them.
Kenney said the bill diverts attention from other issues such as the budget deficit and mounting public debt.
Earlier this week, he said teachers are in the best position to decide whether to notify parents if a child joins an alliance.
The Alberta Teachers' Association supports the bill. It argues that having a student — not teachers — inform parents of participation in a gay-straight alliance s the best way to ensure safety and privacy.
The NDP say the United Conservatives want to out students, but Ellis told the legislature the party believes parental notification is not mandatory so they are not advocating outing students.
On Wednesday, Notley labelled that reasoning "fundamentally dishonest" and "Orwellian doublespeak."
"If you're going to vote against this bill, own why it is you are voting against this bill — you believe that adults should have the right to out gay kids against their will," said Notley.
"You know as well as I do that only one person and one person only has the right to out a gay kid.
"And that, of course, is the kid."
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press