“Sorry,” the word we are waiting for….

{Firstly a plug for Tereasa Maillie from the Calgary Gay History Project. She is reading from her new work of personal fiction, Just A Walk, Friday, Nov. 24th from 5-7 PM at Loft 112. – Kevin}

Justin Trudeau announced recently that Canada’s historic apology to the LGBTQ2 community had been scheduled. He will deliver it on Tuesday, November 28th, 2017 in the House of Commons. Research the Calgary Gay History Project amassed has been used by many authors in the lead up to this date, and we are grateful to have been a resource for this moment of national reflection and remorse.

One key event leading up to this apology was John Ibbitson’s Globe and Mail feature on Everett Klippert in February 2016. He specifically asked the Prime Minister’s Office for a posthumous pardon in advance of the article being published and got a surprise commitment to do so.

EGALE later launched in June 2016 the comprehensive Just Society Report on Canada’s criminal justice system providing detailed recommendations on provisions in the Criminal Code that have a discriminatory effect on LGBTQ2SI Canadians.

In November 2016 openly gay Member of Parliament (MP) Randy Boissonnault was named special advisor on LGBTQ2 issues to the Prime Minister. The advisor’s mandate includes rights protections as well as addressing both present and historical discrimination

The Government formed an apology advisory committee under MP Boissonnault which consulted broadly across the country.

The guiding questions for the apology were:

  1. From your perspective, why should the Government of Canada apologize to LGBTQ2 Canadians?
  2. Are there specific examples of wrongs that you feel should be addressed?
  3. What actions can the Government undertake in order to promote awareness of the issues LGBTQ2 people have faced and foster understanding going forward?
  4. What can the Government do to demonstrate ongoing commitment to promoting equality for LGBTQ2 people?

The apology input process was also non-partisan. Calgary MP Michelle Rempel participated, soliciting answers to these questions directly from the Calgary Gay History Project. We shared our preoccupation with the sad story of former Calgary bus driver Everett Klippert (see: Klippert month) and answered all of the guiding questions.

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Klippert Family Photo

The University of Toronto’s Centre for Ethics recently hosted a symposium on the ethics of apologies and solicited some thought-provoking papers on Canada’s gay apology. Academic Steven Maynard challenges homonationalism and outlines our messy gay history in Canada and the problems in sanitizing our queer past. Lawyer Douglas Elliot, who also was a lead author in the Just Society Report, argues there are more compelling reasons to apologize than not, with much potential social good arising out of the Prime Minister’s efforts.

Locally the same thoughtfulness is fueling the YYC Legacy Project. How will we acknowledge and commemorate our LGBTQ2 history here in Calgary? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we will be watching the apology with great anticipation next Tuesday.



Australia vote evokes our own marriage debates

This week, Australians voted for marriage laws to be changed to allow same-sex marriage, with the yes vote claiming 61.6% to 38.4%. The debate was divisive (and at times nasty), the vote was expensive, and many within and outside the country critiqued the idea that a plebiscite is an appropriate tool for determining minority rights.


Australians celebrating the yes vote. Photograph: Scott Barbour, Getty Images, in The Guardian.

In Canada, the road to marriage equality had many speedbumps, twists, and turns. Here in Alberta, our political leaders strenuously resisted changes to the definition of marriage, including agitating for a national plebiscite on the issue.

Here is a brief timeline of Canada’s (and Alberta’s) journey to same-sex marriage.

September 1995. Openly gay, Bloc Québécois, Member of Parliament (MP) Réal Ménard introduces a motion calling for legal recognition of same-sex relationships. The House of Commons votes 124-52 to reject it.

March 1998. Another gay MP, New Democrat, Svend Robinson introduces a private member’s bill to legalize same-sex marriage. It does not pass first reading.

May 1999. The Supreme Court of Canada rules in M. v. H. that same-sex couples in Canada are entitled to receive many of the financial and legal benefits commonly associated with marriage.

June 1999, The House of Commons overwhelmingly passes a resolution to re-affirm the definition of marriage as “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.”

March 2000. The Alberta Government passes Bill 202 which amends the provincial Marriage Act to include an opposite-sex-only definition of marriage. The bill also promises to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to insulate the legislation from any legal challenge based on Charter rights violations.

January 2001. Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) Reverend Brent Hawkes attempts an end run for same-sex marriage by taking advantage of a little-used common law marriage protocol “reading the banns of marriage.” The Ontario registrar refuses to accept this marriage as legally performed triggering a lawsuit.

June 2003. The Court of Appeal for Ontario confirms a lower court ruling declaring Canadian laws on marriage violate the equality provisions in the Canadian Charter by being restricted to heterosexual couples. The court decides there would be no grace period for adjustment, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to recognize same-sex marriage. (It also ruled the MCC banns marriages legal). Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announces that the Federal Government would not seek to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

July 2003. The B.C. Court of Appeal makes a similar decision.  Same-sex marriages are now allowed in British Columbia.

March 2004. The Quebec Court of Appeals rules similarly to the Ontario and B.C. courts and orders its decision to take effect immediately. Now, more than two-thirds of Canada’s population live in provinces where same-sex marriage has been legalized.

February 2005. The Civil Marriage Act, Bill C-38, is introduced by Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government. He advises that it will be a free vote in the House of Commons. Many Liberals assert they will vote against the government on this bill. Then Calgary based Canada Family Action Coalition declares a boycott on Famous Players Theatres because of a ten-second ad that urges moviegoers to contact their MPs to say they support same-sex marriage

May 2005. Paul Martin’s minority government survives an impossibly close (153-152) motion of confidence, almost scuttling the legislation.

June 2005. Bill C-38 passes third reading in the House of Commons in an extended debate well into the evening of June 28th. The vote total is 158-133. The Prime Minister allows the Liberal backbenchers a free vote but whips his cabinet into voting for the bill causing Minister Joe Comuzzi, a traditional opponent of same-sex marriage, to resign from cabinet. The voting breakdown is:

Party For Against Absentees Total
Liberals 95 32 4 131
Conservatives 3 93 2 98
Bloc 43 5 6 54
NDP 17 1 1 19
Independents 0 2 2 4

Calgary Centre MP Lee Richardson is one of only a handful of Conservative MPs who vote in favour of Bill C-38. Stephen Harper controversially claims that “the law lacks legitimacy because it passed with the support of the separatist Bloc party.” NDP MP Bev Desjarlais is stripped of her position in the NDP’s shadow cabinet for voting against it. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein opines that the Alberta Government might opt to stop solemnizing marriages entirely, suggesting that the Government would issue civil union licences to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

July 12, 2005, Klein concedes that expert legal advice suggests that refusing to marry same-sex couples had little chance of succeeding in a court challenge. “Much to our chagrin,” he adds.

July 20, 2005. Bill C-38 receives royal assent after passing in the Senate the previous day. The law affects Alberta, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, the only jurisdictions in Canada whose courts had not yet decided in favour of same-sex marriage.

December 2006. Prime Minister Stephen Harper brings a motion to reopen the definition of marriage with his Conservative minority government.  The House of Commons defeats the motion 175-123. Prime Minister Harper declares the issue concluded.


In a recent interview, former Prime Minister Paul Martin acknowledged his conflicted voting history on the issue. Martin noted that he opposed same-sex marriage in 1999 but later realized that he had not given sufficient consideration to the question. He related a personal anecdote of close family friends who have a lesbian daughter. She was happily partnered in Vancouver. He emphatically said: “What right do we have to deny happiness to people?” This personal revelation helped make Canadian history.


A History of GSAs in Alberta

{Here is a timely post written by our colleagues, Nancy and Shawn, from the University of Calgary. As Alberta grapples with Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances it is useful to consider the historical context of GSAs here. This essay was published last week on ActiveHistory.ca and is reprinted with their permission. – Kevin}

Sex Ed, Gay-Straight Alliances, and the Alberta Curriculum

GSAs Save Lives

Protesters demonstrate in favour of gay-straight alliances at the Alberta legislature on Dec. 4, 2014. Codie McLachlan / Edmonton Journal

Shawn W. Brackett and Nancy Janovicek

The Alberta government is engaged in a six-year comprehensive overhaul of the K-12 school curriculum, the first major reform in thirty years. In response to calls for consultation with stakeholders, the Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta (CCSSA) has proposed an alternate sex education program that reflects Catholic teachings. Inclusion and diversity are core principles of education policy in Alberta, which now recognizes the need to protect the rights of students on the basis of gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Minister of Education David Eggen has rejected the CCSSA proposal, insisting that the government will not accept curriculum that is not inclusive of LGBTQ2S students.[i]

Critics of separate school boards have asked why public dollars are supporting schools that prioritize religious values over the obligation to defend the rights of all youth.[ii] In 1905, Alberta agreed to separate schools that would protect French-language rights because most Francophones sent their children to Catholic schools. Governments have funded separate schools under the agreement that they could include religious instruction, but that such material would be in addition to (but not in replacement of) a unified curriculum. In the current debate about protecting religious rights in the school system, social conservative groups have invoked parents’ rights to push back against Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and inclusive lessons on human sexuality. Implicit in the demand by LGBTQ2S students for recognition of their identities is a call for Alberta Education to maintain its historical position in defence of minority rights more broadly.

Alberta Public and Separate School Boards: Historical Context

Schooling has always been an expression of community values and aspirations. The place of minority groups in a schooling process designed for majoritarian purposes has naturally come up for discussion and compromise throughout the history of the province. Since Alberta was part of the North-West Territories, politicians and communities have navigated complex relationships among public schools, separate schools, and government, and how those relationships expressed themselves in curriculum. In the context of a country that has experienced significant legal and social divisions along ethno-religious and linguistic lines, it is useful to explore how Alberta has approached schooling. Understanding the long-term constitutional and social factors that led to the province’s unique system will inform current discussions about educational reform, student rights, and community values.

Ironically, national issues have characterized a provincial responsibility. The British North America Act (BNA Act) of 1867 reserved educational authority to the provinces, but Parliament was intimately involved in crafting legislation that established the provinces. Politicians in Ottawa debated the Alberta Act of 1905 and, after entrance into Confederation, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta passed laws in the midst of vociferous debate in Manitoba and Ontario over linguistic and religious rights in schools. At the turn of the twentieth century legislatures, citizens, and churches struggled to reach a compromise about schooling because it represented, in many ways, the future of minority rights in Canada.

Alberta has always linked curriculum with public funds, inheriting the framework of its schooling system from that of the North-West Territories. The School Ordinance of 1892 abolished what had been a dual confessional approach with two systems of Protestant and Catholic schools teaching distinct curricula in favour of a single system of funding and curriculum delivered by public schools and separate schools.[iii] Public schools tended to represent the religion of the majority—in most cases Protestant Christians—but admitted students of any faith.  Separate schools were established when and where sufficient members of the Christian minority existed and successfully petitioned the government.[iv] Parents had the right to establish separate schools under certain conditions, but they did not have the right to opt out of the provincial curriculum. All public and separate school boards had to operate under the same system of funding, teacher certification, and curriculum set by the province. Because the BNA Act and Alberta Act entrenched the educational system of a province at time of Confederation, schooling as it existed in 1905 has largely persisted to this day—with the notable exception of the expansion of services and programs for other minority groups in schooling.

Despite the common convention of treating public school boards as part of one “system” and the separate school boards as part of a distinct “system,” the province has historically asserted its right to maintain a single system following a unified curriculum because both public and separate schools are fully funded by public tax dollars. Alberta has permitted the establishment of private schools since 1967, but those institutions are only eligible for financial support if they teach the approved curriculum.[v] Representatives of separate schools have generally agreed with provincial control of curriculum. Historian Amy von Heyking notes that in 1943, Catholic bishops expressed ambivalence toward the province’s implementation of a progressive education model, but ultimately avoided taking a strong stance by highlighting that the province had responsibility for crafting curriculum.[vi] The Cameron Commission of 1959 studied the institutions, participants, and issues of education in Alberta with an eye toward evaluating progressive education. Catholic Bishops took this opportunity to more forcefully make requests for Catholic versions of textbooks and provincially-approved Catholic teacher-training institutions.[vii] The Commission did not respond to either request.

In the late 1980s, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association recommended the inclusion of a statement in the preamble of the proposed School Act that would recognize the equal status of Catholic education with the public system. Their recommendation was accepted by the Education Caucus Committee and the preamble to the School Act referenced the school system’s “two equal dimensions, the public schools and the separate schools.”[viii] This clause remains in effect today.[ix] Though Alberta’s approach to schooling has endured occasional challenge, it remains fundamentally the same in 2017 as it was in 1905: a system that protects the rights of minority groups.

Sex Ed, Gay-Straight Alliances, and Parents’ Rights

The current debate about GSAs and inclusive sex ed programs pits LGBTQ2S rights against religious freedom. The CCSSA proposal for an alternate sex ed curriculum builds on a movement that demands protection of parents’ right to make decisions about their children’s education. In 2009, social conservatives introduced amendments to the Alberta Bill of Rights that required school boards to give written notice to parents when material on sexuality would be taught so they could remove their children from class. The parental rights clause was introduced in the same bill that recognized discrimination based on sexual orientation.[x] Student demands for GSAs were supported by two Liberal motions in 2014; both were defeated. Bill 10 An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect our Children, a Progressive Conservative attempt to strike a balance between students’ rights, parental authority, and religious freedom, was controversial because it gave school boards the final say on GSAs. The initial bill allowed school boards to deny GSAs. Amendments to the bill would have given the Minister of Education the authority to approve a student group’s request to form a GSA if a school board rejected it, but the club would not have met on school grounds. Students and LGBTQ2S activists were outraged by the suggestion that students could fight school board decisions in civil court. The government delayed the vote on the bill.[xi]

Since coming to power in 2015, the NDP government has advocated for GSAs. Section 16.1 of the Alberta School Act stipulates that principals must support students who want to form a GSA and in 2015, the Ministry of Education instructed all schools to submit LGBTQ policies. A 2016 Alberta Health Services report found that only 58 per cent of publicly-funded schools had developed a policy.[xii] Facing opposition from parents and politicians who argue that parents have a right to know if their children belong to a GSA, Minister Eggen has recently proposed an amendment to the School Act to ensure students’ right to establish GSAs and to protect the privacy of those who join them.[xiii] Eggen defended the government’s position that separate schools follow policy: “If you are receiving public money the law should apply to those schools just the same as any other.”[xiv]

The Alberta government has not yet released a draft of the new curriculum. The CCSSA proposals rest on the presumption that the new curriculum will “promote” lifestyles and gender identities that do not follow Catholic values. The CCSSA identifies teaching outcomes that would be “problematic”, including “homosexual relationships and/or lifestyles” and “‘gender’ or ‘gender identity’ as disassociated from biological sex.” Jason Kenney, the newly-elected leader of the United Conservative Party, has stated, “it’s not for me or the premier to dictate to the Catholic education system how it teaches Catholic values.”[xv] The historical record proves Kenney wrong. Despite assertions to the contrary, the School Act has protected religious instruction, but on the condition that publicly-funded schools – both public and separate – teach the same curriculum.

The debates about GSAs and inclusive sex ed curricula are playing out on the backs of an extremely vulnerable community. Recent studies estimate that 25-40 per cent of homeless youth in Canada identify as LGBTQ2S. Family rejection is a major reason why many leave home.[xvi]For Want of a Home: Experiences of LGBTQ2S Homelessness in Wild Rose Country, a 2015 video presented by Safe Accommodations for Queer Edmonton Youth, documents some experiences of queer youth who became homeless after they came out to their families. The filmmakers acknowledge that the video does not include Indigenous youth and LGBTQ2S people of colour who face greater risk due to systemic racism. One trans Indigenous youth who had agreed to participate in the project committed suicide before their interview. Students demanding GSAs insist that these peer support groups save lives. 

Anxiety about sex ed is not new. Parents’ and religious groups have been uncomfortable with the idea since it was proposed in the postwar period.[xvii] We know very little about how high school students engaged in past debates. Today, they are vocal and visible participants who demand a curriculum that recognizes LGBTQ2S identities. Monica Gugliotta, a Grade 11 student who left the Catholic school system after her school removed Pride decorations, explains the potential impact of the CCSSA proposals on students in Catholic schools: “If that happens then there will be discrimination against the LGBTQ community. If these teachings are [included] then that right of people being able to identify a different way, other than straight, is taken away.”[xviii]

Shawn W. Brackett is a PhD student at the University of Calgary. He specializes in the history of education in the North American West.

Nancy Janovicek is associate professor of history at the University of Calgary, where she teaches twentieth-century Canadian history and women’s and gender history. She is a board member of the Women’s Centre of Calgary and co-chair of its Social Policy Committee.

We acknowledge the traditional territories of the Blackfoot and the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta. These are the traditional territories of the Blackfoot and the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta. This includes the Siksika, the Piikuni, the Kainai, the Tsuut’ina and the Stoney Nakoda First Nations. The City of Calgary is also home to Metis Nation of Alberta, Region III.


[i] Andrea Huncar, “Alberta education minister rejects sex-education curriculum of Catholic schools,” CBC News, 23 October 2017.

[ii] Jessica Chin, “Alberta IDEA petition calls for Referendum on Abolishing Catholic Schools,” Huffington Post Canada, 10 October 2015.  

[iii] J. W. Chalmers, Schools of the Foothills Province: The Story of Public Education in Alberta (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967), 323 and Michael Bryn Kulmatycki, “Influences on the Rise of Catholic Education in Alberta: An Historical Study” (PhD dissertation, University of Calgary, 2009), 148-149.

[iv] Most often, the minority was Catholic, but several Protestant separate school boards have been established.

[v] In 2017, accredited private schools received 60% of the base funding rate of public and separate schools. Alberta Education, Funding Manual for School Authorities, 2017/2018 School Year (Edmonton: Alberta Education, 2017), 89 and 94. See also Alberta Education, “Private Schools in Alberta,” https://education.alberta.ca/private-schools/private-schools-in-alberta/, accessed 1 November 2017.

[vi] Amy von Heyking, Creating Citizens: History and Identity in Alberta’s Schools, 1905 to 1980 (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2006), 97-98.

[vii] Michael Bryn Kulmatycki, “Influences on the Rise of Catholic Education in Alberta: An Historical Study” (PhD dissertation, University of Calgary, 2009), 150 and 194.

[viii] Robert Carney, “‘Hostility Unmasked’: Catholic Schooling in Territorial Alberta,” in Exploring Our Educational Past: Schooling in the North-West Territories and Alberta, ed. Nick Kach and Kas Mazurek (Calgary: Detselig, 1992), 17.

[ix] While the Education Act was passed and given royal assent in 2012, it has not been proclaimed. Janet French, “Education Minister David Eggen Would Rather Amend School Act than Finally Proclaim Education Act,” Edmonton Sun, 7 September 2017.

[x] “Alberta passes law allowing parents to pull kids out of class,” CBC News, 2 June 2009. The clause has been removed.

[xi] Justine Giavanetti, “What you need to know about Bill 10 and Alberta gay student’ rights,” Globe and Mail, 4 December 2014.

[xii]Andrea Hunkar, “Leaked report suggests one in five Alberta School Boards may lack LGBTQ policies, CBC News, 17 June 2017.

[xiii] “Alberta to outlaw outing of GSA students, education minister says,” CBC News 28 September 2017.  

[xiv] Dean Bennett, “Alberta NDP blasts Jason Kenney’s comments on outing children who join gay-straight alliances,” The Globe and Mail, 29 September 2017.

[xv] “Alberta Premier can’t Dictate School Sex Ed: Jason Kenney,” Huffington Post Canada, 26 October 2017.

[xvi] Alex Abramovich, A Focused Response to Prevent and End LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness. Prepared for the Government of Alberta, 30 June 2015.

[xvii] Mary Louise Adams, “Sex at the Board or Keeping Children from Sexual Knowledge,” in Histories of Canadian Children and Youth, ed. Nancy Janovicek and Joy Parr (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2003), 291-304; The Trouble with Normal: Postwar Youth and the Making of Heterosexuality(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997).

[xviii] Hunkar, “Alberta education minister rejects sex-education curriculum.”