Well, that certainly blew up, no help from us…

In question period on Wednesday, NDP leader, Cam Broten, asked Premier Wall if his government would consider providing information to schools through their website about Gay Straight Alliances. Wall said his government would keep that in mind when forming their anti-bullying policy then he wandered off on a tangent about not wanting to risk infringing on religious freedom.

We reported on this Wednesday night.

And apparently, we weren’t the only people to find Wall’s comments disturbing because Broten followed up in question period yesterday with more questions for Wall.

The controversy is even being followed in “the real media” (and incidentally, it was through the Twitter feeds of a couple reporters in the real media, Murray Mandryk and Stefani Langenegger, that I first heard about Wall’s comments) and Wall is having to defend himself to the Leader Post.

And it’s worth noting that Broten’s concerns aren’t just over the way Wall seems to be trying to shift a debate about passively providing information about Gay Straight Alliances on a website — a measure I would describe as trivial, innocuous and, frankly, inadequate — to a one about religious freedom. He also pressed the government on the fact that their anti-bullying press release on the Day of Pink at no point made mention of homophobia.

As Broten pointed out to the Leader Post, “the premier has trouble saying ‘gay’ in question period, it sounds like.”

Anyway, thought it would be helpful to see what exactly Wall and Broten actually said in question period yesterday so I’ll include a transcript of their most recent exchange after the fold and you can make up your own mind about what the hell is going through Wall’s head. Obviously, I have some thoughts on the subject, but apparently I’m a partisan hack just for fukken noticing that this is happening.

Mr. Broten: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday in question period I raised some very basic questions about the promotion of gay-straight alliances as a common sense way, Mr. Speaker, of ensuring that our schools are safe and ensuring that our schools are welcoming places. I asked the Premier, Mr. Speaker, if he would consider putting information, simply information, about GSAs [gay-straight alliance] on the Ministry of Education’s website. And I think this was a constructive suggestion, Mr. Speaker, and I think it’s a common sense approach.

The response that we had, Mr. Speaker, though was surprising to me. Because instead of looking at the merit of that proposal, Mr. Speaker, we saw the Premier talk about the issue of religious freedom, Mr. Speaker, suggesting that simply providing information on the website would infringe on religious freedom. Mr. Speaker, this isn’t about forcing schools to do anything. This is about providing a safe and welcoming environment for children here in Saskatchewan.

My question to the Premier: how exactly does putting some basic information on the government’s website about the benefits of GSAs equate to lost religious freedom?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Premier.

Hon. Mr. Wall: — Mr. Speaker, we were having a wide-ranging discussion. Included in that was the suggestion from the hon. member with respect to the website. There is a discussion across the country about GSAs in particular and anti-bullying initiatives that I think is a discussion that we want to have in the province.

More than that, we’ve asked an MLA to focus on this particular issue, working with the ministries involved. And I remember when I did say, rhetorically I think, we wanted to strike a balance in all things that we do in terms of rights that are protected in the Charter and in our own Human Rights Code here in the province, rights to freedom of religion, and rights around sexual orientation and the issue of gender. When I indicated in the House that I thought a balance was important, I thought I saw the Leader of the Opposition nodding his head in agreement.

Mr. Speaker, we are going to continue with the initiative of the member for Fairview. She is going to work with the ministers involved. We’ll take suggestions such as has been put forward by the opposition and, Mr. Speaker, we look forward to working together with the opposition and the rest of the people of the province on an anti-bullying initiative here in Saskatchewan.

The Speaker: — I recognize the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Broten: — Mr. Speaker, I want to be clear. The suggestion of putting more information on the website, Mr. Speaker, has nothing to do with infringing on religious freedom. I’m not talking about legislative measures, Mr. Speaker. That is not where the discussion is at.
What I’m talking about, Mr. Speaker, is the leadership role that the Ministry of Education could play in putting information about the benefits of GSAs, how gay-straight alliances are established, how they operate, on the ministry website. To me, Mr. Speaker, this is a no-brainer. To me, Mr. Speaker, this is about providing information to youth who may be bullied, youth who may be feeling ostracized, and providing to allies who want to support those individuals.

By ramping up the discussion, Mr. Speaker, taking it to the approach of losing religious freedom, Mr. Speaker, I’m worried about the tone that that sets. And I’m worried about the message that that sends to gay youth in our schools, Mr. Speaker, who are struggling with this and who have been bullied, Mr. Speaker.

My question to the Premier: when discussing this issue, why did he choose to go to the place about losing religious freedom, wrapping up the discussion in that way, in a divisive way, Mr. Speaker, in a way that I think clouds the issue, Mr. Speaker? Why did the Premier not simply agree that providing this information on the ministry’s website is a smart thing to do and would help youth here in the province?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Premier.

Hon. Mr. Wall: — Mr. Speaker, I’ve already answered the question. The question was asked twice; the answer remains the same. The debate that we had in the legislature yesterday is an important one, more than just the debate, the discussion. We’re going to take action with respect to anti-bullying over and above what already exists with respect to the ministry and in school divisions.

As you have this discussion across the country today around GSAs in particular, there is the debate from the religious community about its implication for certain schools. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that the NDP and the Leader of the Opposition is not calling specifically for legislation in this regard, and maybe he should . . . If that’s the position of the NDP, they may want to clarify that because we do want to look at all the options. Legislation actually might be one of them, and if he has suggestions around it we’d be interested in those.

But, Mr. Speaker, I just want to be very, very clear. The debate was broad yesterday. It wasn’t just about a suggestion around the website for the Ministry of Education. And I think in all matters, we want to make sure we’re balancing all the rights that are protected in Canada’s Constitution and the Human Rights Code, all the rights. We can find that balance. That would be the priority of this side of the House. I expect it would also be the priority of members opposite.

The Speaker: — I recognize the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Broten: — Mr. Speaker, my questions yesterday were very specific. They were about the steps that the government could take on adding some information to their website. My questions were not about forcing school divisions, forcing schools to do things through legislation. It was about leadership that the government could take in providing information to students, to parents, to teachers, to allies here in Saskatchewan.

Mr. Speaker, on the day that the Premier was on his feet in this Chamber saying that providing some of this information raises questions of losing religious freedom, Mr. Speaker, it was the same day as we know as Day of Pink, and that the government ministry had a news release posted on their website about the Day of Pink. The Day of Pink is actually the international day against bullying, discrimination, homophobia, and transphobia in schools and communities. So by the Premier’s own logic, by providing this type of information on the website, Mr. Speaker, that post about the Day of Pink would have been in violation, would have been overstepping, in his view, issues of religious freedom.

My question to the Premier: why is he threatened, Mr. Speaker, about putting this issue on the website? Why is he concerned about providing this information to Saskatchewan people, Mr. Speaker? And why did the government’s news release on the Day of Pink not even mention homophobia or transphobia?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Premier.

Hon. Mr. Wall: — Mr. Speaker, what an incredible stretch, Mr. Speaker. What an incredible stretch from the Leader of the Opposition to suggest that in the course of answering a question in a general discussion on GSA when we referenced the importance of, well the existence frankly, of a debate today in Manitoba and in Ontario where legislation exists around the issue of freedom of religion — also protected in the Charter, also part of this province’s Human Rights Code — that that member, that that Leader of the Opposition would stretch that to the extent he just did, Mr. Speaker. That is frankly politicizing the issue in a very partisan way, maybe to try to score some sort of points.
I said yesterday, Mr. Speaker, that we were interested in ideas from that member and that party. Mr. Speaker, his suggestion with respect to the website for Education may well be part of the recommendations that come from the efforts of the member for Fairview. We’re taking an open mind to all of those suggestions. There are other issues around cyberbullying that have real concern, I hope to members on all sides of the House. They’re a concern to parents. She’s going to be looking at that. She’s going to be looking at all aspects of anti-bullying.

The suggestion the member mentioned yesterday and today may well be included in that final initiative that the government enacts. But, Mr. Speaker, we’re going to approach it as a total package. We’re going to do all of the homework, led by the member for Fairview in conjunction with the Attorney General and Minister of Education. That’s precisely how it should be done, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: — I recognize the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Broten: — Mr. Speaker, if they’re approaching this issue as the total package, looking at how individuals can be bullied, you would think that the government’s news release on the Day of Pink would talk about homophobia and transphobia. That would be taking it as the whole package, Mr. Speaker, looking at all of the issues of bullying that young people in our schools face.

Mr. Speaker, what I’m concerned about is when we’re talking about a serious issue about bullying, we’re talking about an issue where many LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] youth in our schools are facing bullying, are feeling like they’re ostracized, Mr. Speaker, I don’t know why the discussion in yesterday and in question period, Mr. Speaker, had to go to the topic of losing religious freedom because that clearly wasn’t what the discussion was about. And that’s not what people are concerned about here in the province, Mr. Speaker. What people want in Saskatchewan is to ensure that there is a safe and supportive and a secure place for every young person in our school systems, Mr. Speaker. That is what is important.

My question to the Premier: if the approach is a holistic one, looking at all areas of bullying, Mr. Speaker, once again why did the government’s news release on the Day of Pink not talk about homophobia?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Premier.

Hon. Mr. Wall: — Mr. Speaker, I just want to be very clear about this again because the member continues to try to make this stretch with respect to a comment I made in one of the answers with respect to the overall context of a discussion on this matter and others, including the discussion we had in this country around marriage, Mr. Speaker, where freedom of religion for those churches, for those organizations that did not want to, for religious reasons, marry gay couples, Mr. Speaker, that there was an accommodation for that. It is part of the discussion. It is happening around this issue in other provinces, whether that member likes it or not.

I know the Archbishops in Catholic have put forward an alternative that accommodates the concerns that have been referenced in this House — quite reasonable concerns, and the concerns we should be focused on — but also focuses on all areas of differences. I think rather than GSAs, they’re talking about committees that would be called respecting differences, Mr. Speaker. This is something that, this is another idea that’s been proposed that would help accommodate certain religious institutions that are involved in education.

Mr. Speaker, the government takes this issue seriously. We’ve appointed a Legislative Secretary to work with the ministers involved. We’ve told members opposite earnestly that we want their input and their advice. We hope that they will continue to be involved. We’ll look at all suggestions, including what is in government press releases, Mr. Speaker, in the future, and also including what might be on the Education ministry’s website.

The Speaker: — I recognize the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Broten: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I’m a person of faith, as is the Premier. I think that’s important to recognize. But I’m not afraid, Mr. Speaker, about having gay-straight alliances in our schools. Because this isn’t about forcing things on school divisions, Mr. Speaker, this is about ensuring that children are safe, Mr. Speaker. A gay-straight alliance in a school is not about putting posters in the hallways saying that students should be gay or that something should be a certain way. But what it is about, Mr. Speaker, is providing a safe space for students who are being bullied and for teachers and allies who want to support those students.

And it’s important to look at the context as well. For example in Saskatoon, Mr. Speaker, five out of seven of the Catholic high schools, the Catholic high schools in Saskatoon, have a gay-straight alliance or a club very similar, Mr. Speaker. These have existence in some schools. It’s not about forcing a school division to do something, but it’s about creating the space, Mr. Speaker, that is safe for students.

So my question to the Premier: I’m encouraged and I appreciate his willingness to work together on this issue to find areas where we can agree and where we can advance the promotion of safety and inclusion for all students. A concrete and a no-brainer approach, Mr. Speaker, is to provide information on the ministry’s website. Will the Premier commit today that they will improve the ministry’s website to provide more information on gay-straight alliances?

The Speaker: — I recognize the Premier.

Hon. Mr. Wall: — Mr. Speaker, in part at least, the hon. member’s question is answered in its preamble, Mr. Speaker, because we have GSAs being formed or groups that are accomplishing the objectives of GSAs. Perhaps the nomenclature is different, as the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out. They’re happening today. They absolutely can happen in the province of Saskatchewan today. We encourage their creation whenever students want to come together with teachers, with allies to make them happen.
With respect to resources that can come from this government or any other source related to government, funded by government, this is going to part of what is going to be considered in terms of the work of the member for Fairview, the Legislative Secretary for the anti-bullying initiative.