3 min

Stilwell’s appointment sparks concern

'I called up Heather and said, 'You come to mind as a person who would be good": Polak


A key figure in the fight to ban gay-friendly books from Surrey schools has been appointed to the board of the BC College of Social Workers.


Heather Stilwell was appointed to the college board by Mary Polak, who was also a Surrey School Board trustee during the book ban fight. 


Polak is now the BC Minister of Children and Family Development and Minister Responsible for Child Care. 


The book ban fight began in 1997 when gay teacher James Chamberlain teamed up with Peter and Murray Corren to take the Surrey School Board to court for refusing to allow teachers to use three gay-friendly books in their classes.


The case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ordered the school board to re-evaluate the books based on secular criteria.


Forced to reconsider, the trustees upheld their ban on the original three but soon relented on a few other gay-friendly books.


Critics say Stilwells appointment does not bode well for BCs queer youth.


I would be worried that Heather Stilwell might try to impose her narrow view of the world and religious views on children and families — especially on LGTBQ issues, Chamberlain says.


The appointment also raises concerns about the placement of queer youth in foster care, Chamberlain adds.


And it might put the college on the slippery slope where it begins to push concepts of reparative therapy on youth, he suggests.


That therapy, which purports to help queer youth who want to be cured and go straight, has been widely dismissed by organizations including the BC Teachers Federation and both the Canadian and American psychiatric associations.


The American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality as a mental illness from its Diagnostic and Statistical manual in 1973.


Stilwell says she hasnt even had a chance to think about such issues.


It would be very presumptive of me to have an opinion on that, she says.


According to its website, the College of Social Workers is a voluntary professional membership association that provides support and professional development services to its members.


Our mandate is to protect the public from preventable harm, it says.


The board meets about four times a year and is composed of 10-12 appointed people, two of whom are public members. The other current public member is Victoria lawyer Bruce Hallsor, a past director of the riding association of federal Conservative Gary Lunn.


Stilwell rejects the notion that shell hijack the board.


Im one person, Stilwell says. What do they think Ill do on a 12-member board? You have only one voice, you have only one vote.


In order to get on the board, interested parties need to submit a resumé to the government. Shortlisted names are then presented to the minister for selection.


Polak says she called Stilwell and suggested she apply.


I called up Heather and said, You come to mind as a person who would be good,’” Polak says.


The fear that Stilwell will help craft policies harmful to gays and lesbians are unfounded, Polak adds.


The people on the board are going to be pleasantly surprised by the value that she brings, she says.


Polak says Stilwell has many years of public service including a lot of work around multicultural issues, ESL teaching, special needs and teacher expectation issues.


Stilwell and Polak say theyre being painted as single-issue people.


But NDP MLA Spencer Herbert says the two former school trustees worked for years to stop queer youth from having any support in the Surrey school district.


He worries that Stilwells appointment sends the wrong message to queer youth who may turn to social workers to deal with being rejected by their families.


Stilwell says the books case was about parents who were concerned about professionals hijacking their children with an educational agenda of their own.


She believes similar issues may come before the college board.


Social work is evolving, she says. Its more about empowering families, teaching families to draw on their own resources.


Im very worried that the message [the appointment sends] is that its still acceptable to hold views against GLBT folk, Herbert says.


He says queer youth are more vulnerable than other youth and need support from social workers. Queer kids should be safe and we should be doing more.


Hopefully, they keep [Stilwell] away from policies that regulate social workers and their best practices, he adds.


Stilwell once ran for premier as head of the Family Coalition Party on a platform that included re-criminalizing homosexuality.


She also briefly led the Christian Heritage Party, running federally in the 1993 election in the Surrey-White Rock-South Langley riding. That partys platform included a promise to re-criminalize homosexuality, abortion and pornography.


In 2007, the federal Conservatives rejected Stilwell as a potential candidate for the Newton-North Delta riding.