Gay rights case hot topic

Published May 1, 1998

Sexual orientation and human rights – two of the most emotive phrases of the late 20th century – made the Internet in a big way when an Edmonton college teacher appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada to force Alberta to include homosexuality as a protected right in the province’s human rights legislation.

Delwyn Vriend was fired from his job as a chemistry teacher at a Christian college in Edmonton in 1991 for refusing to comply with the college’s guideline prohibiting same-sex partners, He tried to appeal to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. but the commission said it couldn’t hear the case because sexual orientation wasn’t a prohibited ground of discrimination.

So Mr. Vriend went to the Supreme Court and, on April 2, the court ruled that because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, so must Alberta.

Mr. Vriend said he doesn’t plan to take the case to Alberta human rights. Observers have noted that he’d probably lose his wrongful dismissal complaint there because the college would be able to claim the discrimination was based on a bone fide occupational requirement that teachers accept the morals of the college.

Opposition from many conservative Christians included a call over the Internet from the Family Action Coalition to have the ruling denounced from pulpits throughout the province.

The coalition’s bulletin maintains that the ruling would “force Mayors of Alberta cities … to declare Gay Pride Day or face severe penalties” and that materials “legitimizing homosexuality” would be distributed to school children from kindergarten onwards. It also expressed fear that churches and other religious organizations would lose control over hiring.

That is not true, countered John Fisher, executive director of EGALE (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere), whose supporters countered with their own Internet campaign against Alberta invoking the `notwithstanding’ clause and ignoring the ruling.

“All this ruling does is ensure that gays and lesbians can appeal to the commission if they feel they have been discriminated against,” Mr. Fisher said in Ottawa.

“The commission would have weighed the needs of the college against the complaint. If (Vriend) had been a janitor at the college, I imagine his sexuality wouldn’t be relevant to the school’s policy as to his ability to sweep the floor.” Margaret Dinsdale is a Toronto freelance writer.


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