The candidates enjoy a rare shared laugh during a tough debate at the Grimshaw election forum. Left to right; UCP candidate Dan Williams, Liberal candidate Remi Tardif, Incumbent NDP MLA Debbie Jabbour, and FCP candidate Connie Russell
The question of how the different parties would protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and asexual (LGBTQA) Albertans, and especially youth, was the subject of questions from the audience at both the La Crete and Grimshaw all candidate’s forums organized by each community’s respective Chambers of Commerce.
“My question to the parties that are here is how do you support and how do you defend LGBTQ rights and the vulnerable sector of LGBTQ children?” Tanya Lindley asked all attending candidates in La Crete.
“We’ve passed the strongest legislation when it comes to GSAs in schools to prevent children from being outed,” incumbent NDP candidate Debbie Jabbour said. “We will continue to advocate for that community.”
Freedom Conservative candidate Connie Russell said, “One of the things that we have decided is that needs to be left up to the parents and school boards to choose. It’s the right of choice so that nobody is really being left out, the choice is there and the freedom is there.”
“We have to protect kids but there comes a point where how much protection we have to put there. There are parents in other provinces that are having their kids taken away because they don’t agree with their child being gay or lesbian,” Russell continued. “I don’t see that as harming a child. I believe it is as a parent to be able to have a right to say what is right. And I know there are some here that don’t agree with this but I have to state who I am and what I believe and as a foster parent for 10 years I dearly love my kids. If a child is that way, it’s not that I sit there and say you’re nothing or whatever, but these kids, it’s gotten to the point where it’s taking our rights away as parents of how this is happening and that is wrong.”
UCP candidate Dan Williams affirmed his support for the Canadian Charter of Rights.
“As far as youth in our schools particularly, I have a huge amount of consideration for the work that teachers do in our schools, and they have a duty of care that is not only a legal but professional obligation, that if there are children in harms way for any reason, no matter who they are, they have an obligation to inform child services to take action to make sure those kids are safe. I’m happy to report that this is rare and uncommon,” Williams said.
“I would say that the vast majority of the time with very few exceptions parents love their children. Parents are good for kids when they can help them. If there are extraordinary circumstances where they are being threatened by parents and I do believe it to be rare, and I believe it shouldn’t happen, then we have this responsibility to protect them. But I think that community along with every other community deserves to be respected with dignity and treated charitably, from not only individuals but from the government as well.”
At the Grimshaw forum, an anonymous audience member asked Williams how his views on LGBTQ rights compared to those of party leader Jason Kenney.
Williams again affirmed his support of the charter of rights and freedoms, and said, “I think we need to stop playing identity politics and trying to have ‘gotcha’ moments with people, and instead treat individuals with respect and dignity, and afford them the time of day and a sense of honesty in how we interact with them.”
The UCP has been under heavy criticism by advocates for the LGBTQ community after leader Jason Kenney’s recent announcement that a UCP government would revert from the School Act to the 2014 Education Act.
The change would effectively mean overturning the legislation that prevents school officials such as teachers from telling parents when their children are in GSAs.
When the Express reached out to a local member of a GSA in Peace River for comment, the student was not willing to give an interview on record due to the fact their parents are not supportive.
UCP leader Jason Kenney has also been under fire for allowing Mark Smith to remain a UCP candidate.
The Drayton Valley-Devon candidate, who has previously served as education critic, made national headlines after the audio of a homophobic and misogynistic sermon he preached in 2013 was released by the CJSR radio program GayWire.
Smith posted an apology posted to his Facebook page the day of the all candidate’s forum in Grimshaw.