Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca), which represented parents and schools in their successful challenge to Alberta’s Bill 24.
In 2017, Alberta’s NDP government passed a law requiring teachers and principals to keep secrets from parents about their children—children as young as five.
Known as Bill 24, the new law took away the discretion of teachers and principals to inform—or not inform—parents about their children’s involvement with a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or GSA-related activities.
Over two dozen parents and schools challenged the constitutional validity of Bill 24 in court. The court action exposed disconcerting facts about GSAs being used by activists as ideological vehicles to encourage transgenderism. In one case, a vulnerable autistic girl in Calgary was encouraged by the school’s GSA to dress, live and act like a boy at school, all without informing her parents. It wasn’t until the girl tried to commit suicide that the school finally informed her loving and supportive parents of what had been going on behind their backs.
In another case, a 15-year-old boy was encouraged to skip classes in order to attend a GSA conference in central Alberta, all without informing his mother. “Don’t worry, she won’t find out,” is what an activist teacher told the boy. Of course, the mother eventually did find out; moms almost always do. The mom learned that her son had skipped classes. She also learned that the GSA conference had distributed a graphic step-by-step sodomy instruction manual to her son and to other children, complete with full-colour illustrations of two naked males engaging in this act.
Bill 24 surrounded GSAs with secrecy. Secrecy about which adults speak at GSA meetings and have access to children, unbeknownst to their parents. Secrecy about what sexual and political materials kids are exposed to at GSA-related activities and events. The Alberta government’s official GSA website, directed at K-12 children, had links to vile pornography, causing reasonable parents to have valid concerns about the contents of what their children would be exposed to at GSA meetings and GSA activities at schools.
For any reasonable person, keeping secrets from parents is an obvious red flag that warns of unacceptable danger. Would you enroll your child in a martial arts class if you were told that a portion of the class would be secret and that parents would not be informed about what transpired during those times? Would you allow your child to play hockey if the coach told you that anonymous strangers would teach your child about sexual topics? Would you be OK with not knowing the sexual and political contents of what your child will be exposed to at soccer practice or during a girl guide meeting? Yet this was the secretive reality of Alberta’s schools under Bill 24.
The NDP characterized Bill 24 as necessary to prevent the “outing” of gay kids to their own parents. But prior to this new law, schools were not required to provide information to parents in cases where doing so would risk child abuse. Before Bill 24, the law trusted teachers to practice good judgment, and distinguish between a very small minority of abusive parents, and the vast majority of parents who love and accept their children unconditionally. Bill 24 crushed this discretion of teachers, making it illegal to convey any information to parents about their own children—as young as five—being involved in GSAs or GSA-related activities at schools.
Bill 24 was premised on the notion that parents are their own children’s enemies, or that parents are somehow less trustworthy than school staff and political activists. Not only did Bill 24 fail to distinguish between good and bad parents, but this law also failed to distinguish between a 17-year-old in grade 12 and a five-year-old in kindergarten. Under Bill 24, there was no legal distinction between a child in kindergarten and a same-sex attracted teenager who does not wish to discuss sexual topics with his parents.
The court action against Bill 24 united parents and schools across Alberta, creating a network of informed citizens who were able to educate the public—and politicians—about this harmful law. The court action also kept Bill 24 in the news, through to its ultimate repeal in 2019 by a new government.
The court action made it possible for schools to withstand unrelenting pressure from the Alberta government. For example, in September of 2018, NDP Education Minister David Eggen threatened religious schools with defunding if they refused to remove religious content from their own school policies. This caused immense stress and anxiety to thousands of parents, principals, teachers and children across Alberta. Under the umbrella of the court action, the schools stood firm and refused to back down. The Education Minister blinked, and no schools were defunded.
As children return to school in September 2019, Bill 24 and its secrecy provisions are no longer in force. School boards are free to adopt policies whereby teachers and principals can once again exercise discretion in informing parents about what is going on with their own children at school.