This is the text of Janet Keeping’s submission, on behalf of the Green Party of Alberta, to the hearings held by the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association on the topic of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Alberta schools
Green Party of Alberta submission to Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association hearings on GSAs
Presenter: Janet Keeping, Leader, Green Party of Alberta
January 27, 2015, Calgary
January 29, 2015, Edmonton
How children fare in school must be one of the best predictors as to how they fare in life. It is not just a matter of how well they do academically but also how they feel in school: are they comfortable or ill at ease?; do they feel secure and safe or are they frequently frightened?; do they feel respected or do they often experience humiliation? There are other strong influences on how children develop – in particular of course, their families. But other than family, little can have more power to shape a child than how they feel as they go through school.
It is therefore imperative that schools make every effort to ensure that children do feel comfortable, secure/safe and respected in school. And when proposals for measures to ensure that students do experience school in this positive way come from the student body itself, it is virtually impossible to see how schools devoted to furthering the best interests of children could justify denying those proposals.
2. GPA policy on GSAs
The Green Party of Alberta has adopted the following policy on GSAs:
The Green Party of Alberta would require all schools that receive funding from the provincial government to take positive steps to support students who want to establish student groups that further understanding and acceptance of difference in society at large and within schools and, in particular, to take positive steps to support students who want to establish gay-straight alliances and conduct activities consistent with the goals of such alliances.
Greens would make compliance with this policy, as stated above, compulsory: GSAs would have to be supported by every Alberta school where a group of students evidences an interest in starting such an alliance.
3. Green principles which support this policy
Having policy in favour of GSAs is not an opportunistic move on the part of the Green Party of Alberta. Instead the policy flows from several of the principles which inform the global Green movement: Social Justice, Respect for Diversity and Sustainability.
Social justice is self-explanatory: GSAs are about supporting fairness, making sure that gay students (and other sexual and gender minorities) have an equal chance to enjoy and benefit from school.
Greens are supportive and respectful of diversity of all kinds not just in environmental terms but also in social contexts.
Sustainability is a touchstone for Greens and nothing undermines sustainability more than failure to protect human rights and the dignity that lies at the heart of all human rights protections.
4. Other GPA policies on public education
Greens in Alberta have adopted other policies as well in support of compassionate educational values. For example,
a.The GPA supports school programs geared to improving civility and eliminating violence and bullying.
An example of this is the “Roots of Empathy” program, created by Canadian Mary Gordon. This program facilitates monthly classroom visits by neighbourhood families with new babies. The program helps children develop tolerance and respect for others by imagining “their” baby’s perspective.
b. The Green Party is in the process of adopting policy – some of it is already adopted, some needs further work – aimed at reducing the stress children feel in school.
In general, we find the Finnish approach to public education offers many ideas on how school can be made more humane and at the same time highly effective.
c. The Green Party of Alberta would hold a provincial referendum on whether separate school boards in the province should be disbanded and combined with the public system.
Greens are of the view that it is no longer possible to justify having religious schools within the public education system. In the context of whether schools should have to guarantee that students who want GSAs shall have the opportunity to establish them, it is our understanding that the Catholic school system, and in particular the religious leaders who seek to impose their views on that system, are the primary obstacle. That this should be the case constitutes one more excellent reason why the Catholic schools should have to give up their religious identity and merge with the public system.
Because the special benefit given Catholics through the separate school system in Alberta is embedded in the Constitution, it cannot be ended simply by amending the provincial School Act. Albertans would have to vote on whether the separate school system should be disbanded and rolled into the public system.
5. The supposed interference with parental rights
It is virtually impossible to see how allowing students in a school to form a GSA as a voluntary club could invoke parental rights. Parental rights to what exactly?
Anyone who has the best interests of children at heart should view the formation of GSAs with enthusiasm – they are examples of students showing leadership, compassion and good sense. It is unfortunate that not every school administrator understands his/her duty to encourage students in such directions. Whether schools should be forced to allow GSAs should never have arisen. If students want one, it should follow automatically that they would be allowed to form one. But it has. And since it has, people and organizations of good will have to come forward to support students’ rights around GSAs – both the rights of the students who need the support the alliances offer and the rights of those students who want to show ethical leadership and initiative in their school communities.
The School Act should be amended to require all schools which receive public funding of any kind and in any amount to permit the formation and activities of GSAs in the same way as they would facilitate the formation and operation of any other school club. And just to be clear, this legal requirement should also provide that those clubs could be called “Gay Straight Alliances.”
This submission is made by Janet Keeping, Leader, Green Party of Alberta
 Barring of course, significant expenses associated with the implementation of the idea or some other obvious practical impediment.