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Curriculum hearing adjourned to next year

'Trial by ambush'

The hearing into Peter and Murray Corren’s struggle against the BC Ministry of Education was abruptly adjourned for a year before opening statements even began Jul 11, because neither the ministry nor the Human Rights Tribunal had complete copies of the Correns’ complaint.

It’s not clear exactly how, but the Human Rights Tribunal and the Ministry of Education say they each received only two pages of the Correns’ eight-page complaint document.

The Correns initially filed the complaint against the ministry six years ago alleging the absence of any mention of gay, lesbian or transgendered relationships in curricula material available to BC’s teachers is discriminatory to gay people.

“You messed up a fax, Nitya, and now you’ve cost us another year,” fumed Peter Corren at Ministry of Education counsel Nitya Iyer before the hearing was adjourned.

“One of the actual issues is the complaint initiation form,” tribunal member Judy Parrack told the parties. “Not all the attachments are included. Attached documents were not received by the tribunal.”

The Correns have repeatedly accused the ministry of dragging its feet on the issue and using delaying tactics in the hopes they would just give up.

Before the hearing was adjourned because of the missing documents, after six years of preliminary work, the Ministry of Education submitted an application to the tribunal to redefine the scope of the complaint.

One of the issues for the ministry was whether or not the complaint applied just to public schools or to the independent school system as well.

Eighty percent of BC’s publicly funded independent schools are run by religious groups that have traditionally resisted teaching children about queer people.

Counsel for the Correns, Tim Timberg, tried to convince Parrack that Peter Corren should be allowed to give testimony as to the scope of his complaint before the hearing was adjourned.

“From our perspective, this is trial by ambush,” Timberg told Parrack. “The scope application landed on us today.

“This is a very significant preliminary decision on a matter going back six years. Mr Corren is the best person able to replicate the issues surrounding the complaint.”

Did the hearing achieve anything?

“I think the education ministry people did achieve something,” says Steve LeBel, a Vancouver teacher on leave who was to be a witness for the Correns. “They got that damn case basically adjourned for at least a year.

“Murray and Peter are the ones who had all the preparation as much as possible with the lawyer and knew the case well,” he continues. “It’s one thing to have your application adjourned on the merits of the case, but this had nothing to do with the merits of the case.”

LeBel says regardless of all the legal manoeuvring in the world, the Correns’ complaint is a simple one that can be summed up in just one sentence. “It’s a lack of clear learning outcomes that address homophobia in LGBT people and a lack of resources to deal with those issues,” he says.

LeBel thinks a big part of the problem the Correns are facing in getting this issue resolved is the structure of the human rights process in BC.

“We’re the only province that doesn’t have a human rights commission,” he says. “One of the functions of the commission was education and issuing annual reports that would also put pressure on government, quasi-government and private bodies to change their processes and practices. With the commission gone, there is nothing like that.”

LeBel says even though the Human Rights Tribunal is a terribly drawn-out and inefficient process, it’s really the only way for the Correns to fight on this issue.

Parrack adjourned the hearing until July 2006. She set out a series of deadlines over the next couple of months to ensure all the administrative issues are resolved before another hearing starts, and she encouraged the parties to try to reach a settlement over the course of the year.

“It’s not an efficient use of my time or yours,” said Parrack. “This matter has gone on for a very long time and it needs to be concluded.”

Peter Corren declined to speak with Xtra West.