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GAY - CHRISTIAN COLLEGE CIVIL RIGHTS CASE IN ALBERTA, CANADA

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Sponsored link.

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Reference: The Globe and Mail, a Toronto ON newspaper. 1997-NOV-4, Page A4

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Delwin Vriend, 31, was a teacher in King's University College of Edmonton, a Christian college in Alberta. In 1991, he revealed that he was gay and was fired. The case has arrived at Canada's Supreme Court and will be heard on 1997-NOV-4

Civil rights in Canada are handled by both the Federal and Provincial governments. Of the 10 provinces, all but 3 (Alberta, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island) include sexual orientation as a protected class (along with religion, race, gender, etc) in their civil rights legislation. These three provinces are generally regarded as the most religiously conservative in the country. Sexual orientation is also protected nationally under the Canadian Charter of Rights.

After being fired, Mr. Vriend complained to the Alberta Human Rights Commission who rejected the complaint on the basis that sexual orientation was not a protected class in the province. He then sued the college in the " and won. The court ruled that the province must read protection of sexual orientation into Alberta's Individual Rights Protection Act. The Alberta Court of Appeal overturned that ruling in 1996-FEB, saying that the courts do not have the right to make rulings that are within the jurisdiction of the provincial legislature.

Mr. Vriend is now asking the Supreme Court for a reinstatement of the original decision. The Alberta government is asking to allow it to decide whether sexual orientation should be a protected class. Supporting Mr. Vriend are the Alberta Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Jewish Congress and the United Church of Canada. The United Church is the largest Protestant church in Canada. Opposing Mr. Vriend is the Government of Ontario (currently an extreme-conservative government) and a number of small religious organizations, like Alberta Federation for Women United for Families. They feel that the decision of extending civil rights to gays and lesbians should be left up to a public referrendum.

This last suggestion has interesting implications. If a majority vote in a referrendum can extend fundamental civil liberties to a group, then they could take existing civil liberties away from unpopular, minority groups. So, unpopular religions, nationalities, races, genders, etc could suddenly find themselves without rights. That is a scary thought.

In the past, in the US, when groups of people were granted rights by governments or courts, it was probably done in opposition to a majority of citizens in the states concerned. When slavery was abolished and slaves were given freedom, it is probable that a local referrendum at the time would have overturned the decision. When courts took action to abolish racial segregation, to allow inter-racial marraige, and (for a few hours) to allow same-sex marriages in Hawaii, the decisions were taken in opposition to public opinion.

Mr. Vriend is expected to win the case. There have been many Canadian legal precidences in similar cases that can be cited. The Supreme Court decision will only affect protection in employment, accomodation and the right of access to certain establishments within Alberta. However, a successful outcome will probably intensify efforts at court challenges in the remaining two provinces which still allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.With an affirmative decision from the Supreme Court, cases in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island will be facilitated.

It is ironicthat the terms homosexual, gay, lesbian etc do not appear in any provincial or federal legislation. Only the term sexual orientation is seen. Thus, heterosexuals, asexuals, bisexuals, gays and lesbians are all equally protected under law.

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