Change still required for greater respect of civil liberties in Alberta

Has Alberta’s Civil Liberties World Changed?

Following the win of the New Democratic Party and change of government in Alberta, we have been asked if the mood about various civil liberties issues in Alberta has changed, especially by government officials. Until we have had discussions with the new government, it is not clear where and how changes might occur with respect to civil liberties. RMCLA plans to pursue discussions with various Alberta Ministers in the coming months. We would like your feedback as to what should change in Alberta to foster greater respect of civil liberties. Please let us know if the issues below or other issues need to be pursued in Alberta. With this in mind, here are some thoughts below.

Are there still problems related to Freedom of Expression in Alberta?

The short Answer is yes. A change of government has not yet meant a change in attitudes or legislation about free expression.

RMCLA has for many years pressed for greater openness in free expression in Alberta. We have pursued the revocation of the opt-out clause in s. 11.1 of the Alberta Human Rights Act. This clause allowed parents to remove children from classes that include discussion on sexuality, religion, and sexual orientation. Following RMCLA’s report on Gay Straight Alliances, this clause was taken out of the AHRA, and moved to the Education Act. We will be asking for its removal from this act as well to support free expression by students in their classrooms. RMCLA feels that freely debating issues in schools both fosters free expression and also allows adolescents to develop skill they will need throughout their lifetime to make decisions for themselves.

RMCLA would also like to pursue, as it has for years, the revocation of section 3 of the AHRA that restricts offensive speech. RMCLA feels that the best way to fight offensive speech is to counter it with opposing statements. If there is a role for government regarding offensive speech, then it may be to support counter speech, by encouraging openness and even to train citizens to counter offensive and discriminatory speech. A role of government should not be to stop its citizens’ free speech, even those that some people might find offensive. You can see our report at: http://rmcla.ca/blog/?p=314

Another area of concern relates to free expression on boards and commissions in Alberta. There have been numerous recent examples where members of various boards and commissions in Alberta have brought forward motions to censor fellow dissenting board members. Good decision making on boards involve all points of view, including those of dissenting members. In fact, dissenting views are essential to consider in good decision making. It is possible that legislation should be examined to foster free expression by members of boards and commissions in Alberta.

The final area that RMCLA is pursuing is regarding the federal Bill C-51. Many groups have called this Federal anti-terrorism bill very concerning for civil liberties. We applaud the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for launching a charter challenge against this bill. CCLA has noted considerable civil liberties problems with this bill and noted,

“The Bill also threatens freedom of expression as it would criminalize ‘advocating’ terrorism. The CCLA finds the wording overbroad and is concerned the provision could be triggered even where the speaker has no intention of committing a terrorist act. The danger here is clearly to freedom of speech, and the criminalization of legitimate speech. The potential chilling effect on academics and journalists and bloggers is easily imagined, and the loss would be to a free exchange of ideas so necessary in the pursuit of truth and in combatting radicalization.”

RMCLA is currently putting together a candidate survey regarding bill C51. This will be sent to you once it is ready.

Get Involved

RMCLA would like your involvement. We are currently seeking new board members. We are also seeking volunteers to sit on committees to help research issues and press for change. If you are interested in becoming involved, email secretary@rmcla.ca .

Donate

RMCLA cannot do its work without your financial support. We can only offer events; conduct research; publish articles reports or newsletter, and stay on-line with donations from you. If you want a voice for civil liberties in Alberta, then please give a donation. Donate today at: http://rmcla.ca/donate.html

Kelly Ernst, President, Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association

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