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Courtney Haigler/the Gauntlet

Alberta minister amends human rights

The difference between a right and a wrong

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Human rights law in Alberta may be getting a much-needed revision in the near future. The announcement came last Friday from Lindsay Blackett, Alberta's Minister of Culture, who is seeking to change laws that are badly in need of amendment. Chief among them is making the freedom to choose sexual orientation a human right; a decision that will only be outdone by the allowance of gay marriage. The criticisms voiced by opponents are unfounded and little besides bigotry supports their cause.

Blackett has also called for the reform of the Alberta Human Rights Commission. If this law is passed, the HRC will no longer have the power to adjudicate cases of free speech and will instead be downgraded to deal with small-scale rights infringements, like citizens being denied rent or being fired for discriminatory reasons.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission is the most embarrassing social service in the province and Blackett is doing every citizen a tremendous favour by demanding legal violations be dealt with in a real court. The present system has people with no legal training trying individuals who have broken no laws-- if they had, they would be in a proper court. The charges amount to hurt feelings and seek to limit free speech in an undemocratic way. As the case of Ezra Levant has shown, the cost of defending oneself can be very high and the opposition's fees are paid with tax money. Of course, discrimination is a problem in Alberta and there has to be measures to ensure rights are met, but the HRC is currently not it.

It seems that Blackett is on a roll; these two necessary reforms should be passed. However, his desire to make positive change has gone too far by including a "parents choice" provision that will allow parents to restrict what is taught to their children at school.

I say "their" children, but this term is cloudy: to have a child should not infer ownership. Steward is a better term because society places certain demands along with the rights parents have and it is not the right of the parents to do whatever they want with their children. In a free society, it is harm that should draw the line between what is permissible and what is not and if we take this belief seriously, Blackett needs to revise his reforms before they become laws.

It is a strange thought that a gay parent would wish to limit a child's sexual education, but this is exactly what Blackett suggests will be made possible. Yes, surely homosexuality (and the unique considerations it demands) should be taught in school. This will dissolve the taboos gays face, as well as raise consciousness about why there is nothing wrong with it. The implication Blackett makes is that parents can choose the sexual preference of their child, otherwise what possible reason could be given to restrict a heterosexual child from being educated about heterosexual sex? Alternatively, if homosexual education is included in the curriculum, only harm could come to a gay child banned from seeing it.

The day after the United Nations passed a declaration banning criticism of religion, Blackett said that the rights of parents are "in the United Nations charter, and the UN is not controversial." This is not only pathetic in its logic, but very dangerous. The omission of some Catholic parents to provide their daughters with the HPV vaccination could be very harmful, as could the decision by some parents to forgo medical treatment for sick children relying instead on prayer.

Stupidity and willful ignorance do not come before the well-being of a child, every one of whom has the right to grow up free from indoctrination and physical harm. When Blackett was questioned if parents would be allowed to stop their children from learning about evolution, he claimed that even devout Christians would not want that. They would not, he says, because it would go against common sense. Unfortunately it is too common for people to believe extraordinary claims without sufficient evidence and parents have no right to demand their children remain ignorant too. Blackett has made some improvements, but must review the implications of his changes.

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Comments

In a free society, children belong to their parents, not the state. Stupid, ignorant, or not, parents have the responsibility to raise their children as they see fit.

If children aren't "indoctrinated" within their family, they will most certainly be indoctrinated outsideóby the school system and the rest of society. Should the state have the final say as to what is the proper form of indoctrination? So much for a free society.

re: Eric
AHRC is a formal part of the judicial process for this class of issue. AHRC has many issues relating to accessibility, but lack of lawyers constipating the process is not one of them.

re: Daniel
In a _free_ society, children are not property and do not "belong" to anyone in particular. We've established through taxes and the school system that parenting and making children compatible (or gracefully degrade) with society is a responsibility to be shared by private individuals and the state. Unfortunately, members of the public do not hold the state responsible when it fails to uphold its end of agreement in our schools.