Wall’s Concerns Over Gay-Straight Alliances And Religious Schools

Today was the Day Of Pink, the international day against bullying and discrimination. Not surprisingly the subject of bullying and what can be done about it came up in question period in the Saskatchewan legislature. And there was an interesting exchange between NDP MLA Cam Broten and the Premier.

Broten pressed Wall about gay-straight alliances in schools. He pointed out that these groups can be a helpful tool to stop the harassment of GLBT youth. Then he asked if the government would do more to provide information about them to schools.

Wall said that he wouldn’t rule anything out and that he’d happily take advice from the opposition, but then he added this:

There are some other issues in provinces that we’ve noted and I think we need to explore those issues with respect to the alliances. And I think specifically of religious schools that are operating in the province today, not just Christian schools. We have to be concerned, and I hope the member is concerned about the protection of freedom of religion as well. Mr. Speaker, that’s very much a part of the sentiment that we support, expressed today in the House.

How odd. Premier Wall certainly seems to be suggesting that providing information about gay-straight alliances to schools could somehow conflict with religious freedom.

If that was what he was getting at, I not only find the notion ridiculous, I’m damn confused as to why he even felt the need to bring it up.

After the break, Broten and Wall’s complete exchange.

 

Mr. Broten: — Well thank you, Mr. Speaker. As we have already discussed today through member statements, today is known as the Day of Pink and it’s the international day against bullying, discrimination, homophobia, and transphobia.

One of the first things I did, Mr. Speaker, after becoming the Leader of the Opposition, is to appoint the member from Saskatoon Centre as our new critic for diversity, equality, and human rights. I made this critic appointment, Mr. Speaker, because I think we have so much more to do in this province when it comes to fighting discrimination, promoting equality and, Mr. Speaker, the Sask Party has not been doing enough on these fronts. So my question to the Premier on the Day of Pink is this: what specific steps has he taken to eliminate discrimination, make all forms of bullying unacceptable in our schools, and fight homophobia and transphobia in our society?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Premier.

Hon. Mr. Wall: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I thank the member for the question today. Mr. Speaker, this is a very important day, not just for the people of the province but, you know, far beyond our borders. Mr. Speaker, we wear pink today to remind all of us of the importance of anti-bullying, the importance of preservation and the protection of rights for all.

Mr. Speaker, we need to go beyond wearing a certain colour on a certain day of the year. Mr. Speaker, certainly this government takes the issue very seriously. In a recent announcement in the appointment of Legislative Secretary duties for the government caucus, we’ve asked the member for Saskatoon Fairview to make a special focus, a special point of this very issue, working not just with the Ministry of Education but other ministries in government as to how we can, frankly, have better policies, better protections, the likes of which have been referred by the Leader of the Opposition. Mr. Speaker, we look forward to her good work as well as the continued efforts of the public service and the various ministries involved in this particular issue.

The Speaker: — I recognize the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Broten: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And I’m glad that the Premier is talking about specific actions that can be taken. We’ve had a focus as an opposition, Mr. Speaker, on the need for a mandate of zero tolerance on any incidents of queer bashing or other related harassment and discrimination in our schools.

And when we look at what specific steps can be taken in our schools, Mr. Speaker, one avenue in order to help students are gay-straight alliances. We believe it’s a common sense approach, Mr. Speaker, that could help combat bullying and ensure that our schools are safe and welcoming for all children. If students and teachers and allies want to get together, Mr. Speaker, in order to form these clubs, we think that’s a good thing.

So my question to the Premier is: what is the Sask Party’s position on gay-straight alliances? Do they support them in our schools? And if the Sask Party government does support        gay-straight alliances in our schools, what steps is the government taking to promote the establishment of these clubs?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Premier.

Hon. Mr. Wall: — Mr. Speaker, these clubs can be formed in schools today in the province of Saskatchewan. I don’t think the Government of Saskatchewan would stand in the way of that happening. I would say this as well, Mr. Speaker, that the work that we’re going to be receiving from the member for Fairview, the member who’s been tasked as the Legislative Secretary specifically on the issue of anti-bullying, I’m sure will touch on this and touch on a number of other important issues.

Mr. Speaker, members of this House will know that the Ministry of Education has an anti-bullying initiative today. School boards, school divisions in the province, are undertaking their own program. I noted today on social media that even the town of Eston is, as a community, as a municipality, is passing its own bylaw with respect to bullying. So, Mr. Speaker, there is more work to be done in the file. That’s why we’ve tasked someone specifically to do this very thing within government, Mr. Speaker. And there’s a track record there.

We also asked this very same member to focus more on the involvement of women in boards of Crown corporations. I’m happy to report to the House the work was done. A very excellent list of women who are interested and more than qualified to serve on boards was submitted and the appointments have already begun. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: — I recognize the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Broten: — I thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s good when cities and towns and when school divisions show leadership, Mr. Speaker, for the establishment of such clubs and the extension of safe places for children who may be vulnerable to bullying. That’s a good thing. But the provincial government and the provincial ministry could be showing much more leadership on this front.

One thing, Mr. Speaker, that the ministry could be doing is providing information on their website, able to access in an easy manner, that could provide information about these clubs, the benefits, how students or teachers could go about establishing these clubs, Mr. Speaker. And we’ve seen stronger leadership from other provinces where this information has been available, where there have been more targeted efforts to reduce bullying and ensure that all children have a safe and welcoming place to go when it comes to school.

So my question to the Premier is this: will the Sask Party government commit to providing, on the ministry’s website, additional information so that when there are students, teachers, allies, who are interested in establishing a GSA [gay-straight alliance], they are able to access the information that they need and not simply rely on what might be occurring through a school division or what might not be occurring through a school division? Will they commit to that today?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Premier.

Hon. Mr. Wall: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I don’t think the government would preclude anything. I think we want to let the member from Fairview do her work, let the ministries do their work. We’re happy to take advice and counsel from the Leader of the Opposition, from members opposite.

There are some other issues in provinces that we’ve noted and I think we need to explore those issues with respect to the alliances. And I think specifically of religious schools that are operating in the province today, not just Christian schools. We have to be concerned, and I hope the member is concerned about the protection of freedom of religion as well. Mr. Speaker, that’s very much a part of the sentiment that we support, expressed today in the House.

So there are a number of issues. The work is going to be done by the Legislative Secretary to the Minister of Education, in conjunction with the ministries that are involved, Mr. Speaker. And I expect, as we’ve seen in the past from this member from Fairview, an excellent report and good work and we’re open certainly to the advice and counsel that might come from members opposite.

 

 

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5’10” tall and he was born in a place. He’s not there now. He’s sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It’s “Girl From Ipanema”, thanks for asking.

You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

7 thoughts on “Wall’s Concerns Over Gay-Straight Alliances And Religious Schools”

  1. Wall is not a serious man. If we weren’t so insulated and protected by our resource sector, he’d be on his way out.

  2. Man, did he get broadsided with this? This exchange doesn’t really make it look like Wall was particularly prepared for this line of questioning.

  3. There’s a fair bit of judging, perhaps hasty judging, going on among commentors, not the least of whom is the poster of the article. As I read the exchange, for which I’m grateful, as it provides a needed context, the government is awaiting a report from an MLA tasked with looking at further ways to eliminate discrimination in the province, while the Leader of the Opposition wants it not to do so but to jump the gun. It strikes me that the SK govt wants to avoid the stupid keffuffle in which the govt of Manitoba finds itself, and that is why the statement has been made that the govt will not stand in the way of GSAs being formed, but that it is cognizant of the delicate ground to be walked.

  4. Why, Emmet, I thought you’d shaken the dust of this blog off your outraged feet months ago.
    And I’ve seen the word spelled various ways.

  5. ATT: Barb Saylor
    Agreed Barb there should be more debate and consultation before any policy is announced. Love the internet pitbulls who got head straight towards Walls ankles before anything is actually announced

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