The BC Human Rights Tribunal has taken the next step in a long-running battle between a queer married couple and the BC Ministry of Education.
Murray Corren, a Coquitlam elementary school teacher, and his husband Peter Corren filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Commission seven years ago this month.
In it, they allege the ministry “discriminates against non-heterosexual students, and their parents, regarding a service that is customarily available to the public because of their sexual orientation.”
The complaint specifically refers to a social studies curriculum for students in Grades 8 to 10 that dealt with inclusion and diversity of minorities, but made no mention of queer issues.
The case went before the BC Human Rights Tribunal in on Jul 11, 2005.
“[We] shall bring evidence to prove that the ministry has not only been guilty of discrimination by omission, but by commission,” wrote Peter Corren in a letter to Egale Canada in April. “We shall prove ministry officials have endeavoured to suppress anything to do with queer issues being included in curriculum.”
But the hearing was abruptly adjourned on the opening day, before any testimony could be heard, because the tribunal hadn’t received a complete copy of the complaint and because the ministry wanted to redefine the scope of the complaint.
As the hearing was adjourned, tribunal member Judy Parrack promised to rule on the scope issue by the end of 2005 to ensure the hearing could proceed as quickly as possible, but the Correns are unavailable until July of 2006.
In her Nov 2 ruling on the scope Parrack wrote: “Although I understand that both parties recently retained new counsel, and they should be commended for having spent considerable time and effort preparing for a difficult hearing, it does not explain why, six years after [the initial complaint] was filed, the scope of it was still in question. It has resulted in wasted tribunal resources and, in my view, is unfair to both parties.”
When the hearing recommences this summer, most of the social studies materials initially referred to in the Correns’ complaint will be on the table, Parrack ruled.
But allegations by the Correns that the ministry failed to prevent homophobic bullying and harrassment in schools, and that the ministry condoned a discriminatory climate with respect to the establishment of gay-straight alliances, will be excluded from the hearing.
“[Parrack] was pretty clear in her reasons about why she included some things and not others,” says Gay and Lesbian Educators of BC spokesperson Steve LeBel. “Either they were definitely add-ons not related to the amended complaint, or they barely touched on the nature of the complaint.
“I think it’s going to make it easier to go ahead for the complainants and the defendants now that this has been clarified,” continues LeBel. “It’s sad as hell that it takes so long.”
Peter Corren declined to speak with Xtra West for this story.