As Bill 44 passed early Tuesday morning, Alberta became the last province to formally recognize gay rights and the first to recognize the controversial idea of parental rights.
“Tomorrow the sun will rise, teachers will conduct their classes, and all will be right with the world,” claimed Alberta Progressive Conservative Culture and Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett. Many in Alberta disagree.
Blackett spoke at 1:30am Tuesday morning at the third reading of Bill 44, which formally adds sexual orientation to Alberta’s Human Rights Act at the cost of also enshrining “parental rights.” Section 9 of Bill 44 will allow parents to remove their children from class when lessons on religion, sex or sexual orientation are being taught.
In reaction to Bill 44, David Swann, leader of the official opposition said that when it comes to democracy, he is “profoundly disappointed with Alberta today.”
The day leading up to the vote was dubbed the “Day of Protest Against Bill 44” by Edmonton’s queer community, who were out in visible force throughout the day.
At 11am on the legislature steps, prominent activists from the community held a press conference to denounce Bill 44. The group included lawyer Julie Lloyd who was involved in the Vriend vs Alberta Supreme Court case, which ruled sexual orientation must be included in provincial human rights legislation across Canada. Also in attendance were police commissioner Murray Billet, long-time activist and former city councillor Michael Phair, Kris Wells of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, and Lance Anderson, a gay father of two who along with his husband won a major adoption battle in Alberta.
During the press conference Billet noted that this all started 11 years ago with the Vriend vs Alberta Supreme Court ruling when “a teacher was fired for being gay.” Now, the province is “making it so a teacher can be fired for teaching gay,” he says.
The most poignant moment came when Anderson, through tears, cried out for the Alberta government to fight him instead of his kids. “I fought this government before to adopt my children,” he said. “I won. I’ll do it again.”
Later in the day families gathered on the steps of the Alberta legislature to chant and show their opposition to the bill.
Like last week’s second reading of the bill, the debate was scheduled for late into the night, and people across the province watched it unfold on streaming video online and by commenting via Twitter. In the end the bill passed 35 to 7 with all of the members of the Progressive Conservative party voting for it, even though there had been some rumours that not all members were for it. Premier Ed Stelmach promised that the vote would be a “free vote,” meaning members did not have to vote along party lines.
Before the vote even happened Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason vowed “the battle to repeal Bill 44 starts tomorrow.” Later Swann suggested calling for a referendum on parental rights.