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Alberta’s Bill 44 unchanged after marathon debate

Controversial bill threatens lessons on sexuality

NOT BUDGING. Alberta MLAs debated Bill 44 late into the night, but almost no changes were made to the bill. A proposal by Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman to scrap the parental rights clause was voted down by every single Tory MLA. Credit: Ted Kerr photo

As people took to the streets in major US cities to protest yesterday’s Prop 8 court ruling, members of the Alberta Legislature debated Bill 44 in preparation for a “free vote” as promised by Premier Ed Stelmach. Using Twitter and blogs, hundreds of Albertans kept up with the debate — which ended shortly before 3:30am.

Bill 44 amends the province’s human rights legislation to officially recognize sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination, but it also contains a controversial clause that would allow parents to pull their children out of school lessons on sexuality, sexual orientation and religion.

During the debate, opposition MLAs put forward amendments to Bill 44 that would have recognized gender identity and aboriginal heritage — both of which were rejected.

As promised, Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett amended some of the bill’s language to exempt “indirect or incidental” mentions of sexual orientation, sex and religion from being included in the bill’s scope. These changes he said were to “reduce undue fear,” but effectively change nothing about Bill 44.

At a press conference earlier in the day, Mike Gray, communications chair for the Alberta chapter of the Centre for Inquiry, shot back at the Progressive Conservative Party. He says the government is pandering to the gay community in an attempt to push through a potentially harmful bill.

“As a gay man, I am prepared to wait for my human rights to be enshrined by the Alberta government,” he said. “I am prepared to wait until the government offers equal human rights for homosexuals without the baggage of hurting Alberta’s education system. I am offended that the acknowledgement of homosexual rights in our province is only being used to make an otherwise intolerable bill sound more appealing. Mr Premier, do not use the appearance of gay rights as a cover to advance a fundamentalist agenda.”

Despite fierce opposition Bill 44 is expected to pass third reading this Thursday at the Alberta Legislature, the final step before it becomes law.