Alberta Puts Off Updating Human Rights Code

April 14th, 2008

Free Warning Sticker

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has announced that he will not bring Alberta’s Human Rights code up to date with the rest Canada this legislative session.

Alberta is currently the only Canadian province that doesn’t include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation in its human rights code. While Stelmach told the Calgary SUN that adding these protections is “one of several issues under review” for future sessions, he offered no timeline or hints of priority, saying the changes would not be simple.

Unsurprisingly, The SUN appears somewhat indifferent, declaring that protections in Alberta’s human rights code is merely “symbolic” anyway, since “federal law has protected people on the basis of sexual orientation for a decade.”

Having lived in Alberta for 26 years before I moved somewhere more compatible, I wouldn’t say that’s accurate. It has been illegal to, say, fire an employee because of sexual orientation for about a decade, but Alberta had taken special measures to ensure that gay people were not treated equally under the law much later than that.

Until 2005, Alberta had over-ridden Canada’s Charter of Rights using the obscure notwithstanding clause to introduce an otherwise unconstitutional law banning same-sex marriage. In 2006, Tory backbencher Ted Morton introduced an unconstitutional bill that would have required that school teachers not discuss any gay topics without first issuing parental permission slips, and would have allowed civil marriage commissioners to refuse their public services to gay couples. (That bill was only defeated through procedural tactics by the opposition, and otherwise had majority support.) Also, until just last year, Alberta same-sex couples were not equally eligible for adoption through government agencies as opposite-sex couples and single people in the province.

So, while Alberta may have issued the very basics of legal protections for gay people, this does not make a proper human rights code moot. Alberta is dead last, as usual, in recognising the rights of its citizens equally, and they’re shuffling their feet on correcting it.

Update: Nick, an aspiring lawyer in Ottawa, wrote in to say that the Supreme Court has previously “read in” protections based on sexual orientation into Alberta’s constitution, making it true that an explicit protection would be mostly symbolic—at least as far as the courts are concerned. That said, Alberta’s lawmakers are clearly oblivious to this, and until proper recognition is afforded in the document itself, they’ll continue their push for unconstitutional laws. (Ted Morton has vowed to re-introduce his failed “parental warning” bill, for example. What a guy!)