25 Years Ago Today

Study: Inclusion of Sexual Orientation in AB Human Rights

David Lee – Sept 10, 2017

Introduction

The Initial Proposal

It was a different time back in 1992 when my friend Trevor contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to help with a project that he was heading up, for the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

Under the leadership of Fil Fraser, the Commission decided to conduct a study on what the impact would be, of including sexual orientation as a protected ground under their human rights act (The Individual’s Rights Protection Act”).

In my opinion it should have been more a case of “the impact of not including a group of people as equals in the eyes of the law, but it was a very different time in what was then a somewhat stunted environment in then right-wing Alberta.

At that point in my life I was 33, and had more or less “grown up” through the club years in Flashback, The Roost and Boots ’n Saddle.  During your 20’s you’re not normally thinking about human rights or other social issues (not typically, anyway).  You don’t automatically think about much other than going out the the bars and enjoying yourself.

Some people think that “millennials of any generation, including mine are self centred…etc.”  I think that every generation goes through a time like that when they were in their 20’s and usually didn’t think of much else.  This opportunity started me thinking of a “bigger picture” and lgbt rights.  Back then, it was “Gay and Lesbian rights”.

I’d known my friend Trevor Edwards and his partner Martin for a while, and had spent several fun evenings at their home for dinner, and conversation.  Trevor had worked for the Alberta Government for quite a while.

Trevor approached me about a study that Fil Fraser had agreed to do on sexual orientation, while he was in charge of the Alberta Human Rights commission.

The project was to be called “Projected Case-Load Study, Should Sexual Orientation Become a Protected Ground under the Individual’s Rights Protection Act”.

Quite the mouthful, but basically as Trevor had explained, we would take complaints as though sexual orientation was covered/protected.  Fill out the documentation and catalog it, but instead of it proceeding (which it couldn’t) it would be broken down and quantified in a report.

That report was then to be distributed to the various stakeholders like the Alberta Government, various social groups, the Pride Centre (back then called GLCCE (Gay and Lesbian Community Centre of Edmonton).

It was exciting, thinking that I might be involved in something that could be important one day.  I was nervous as hell though, since I’d never done anything like that before.

Eventually we started getting the occasional call, some about being harassed, some about denial of service in retail establishments.  Some even concerning treatment by the then Conservative Government of Alberta.

We each received the occasional call from local right-wing media, trying to “get us to slip” and say we were receiving actual wages or payment.  So someone could run a headline saying Albertans are paying money to a special interest group that wanted (and I heard this several times) “special rights”.

We wanted a level playing field, not “special rights”.  Extending what everyone else has doesn’t mean “special” – just “equal”.

Fortunately, those calls kind of stood out for what they were.

We were eventually joined by Mary Crunkilton, who was a professional editor and wanted to volunteer her time as she thought it was important.

It became more poignant than that, as we discovered that Mary was battling cancer, and wanted to do something that she felt was important with whatever time she had.

These people are who I was working with, and realized that I had a great opportunity to do something important and learn some things from a couple of outstanding humans.  Very humbling.

So, the daily work started – taking the occasional call, letting them know that it wasn’t actually protected, but that their issue could play a part in a potentially important study.

We took complaints and they were tabulated and entered into the study.  That, and fielding news calls were basically the day to day tasks.

In all, we fielded 65 calls, opening 33 files.  The areas of discrimination covered:

Category Stale Dated Current Total4  T % of Total
Employment 6 6 12 28%
Services 4 3 7 16%
Spousal Benefits 0 6 6 14%
Harassment 3 3 6 14%
Notices 1 1 2 5%
Membership 0 1 1 2%
Physical Assault 2 1 3 7%
Physical Disability 1 2 2 5%
Self-Discrimination 2 2 4 9%
Totals 19 24 43 100%

Evaluated by Respondent

Respondent Total4  % of Total
Private Industry / Retail 10 30%
Government of Alberta 9 27%
Individuals 7 21%
Non Profit Organizations 5 15%
Municipal Governments 1 3%
School Boards 1 3%
Totals 33 100%
  • I This issue is not part of the IRPA. It is covered by the criminal code of Canada.
  • 2 This issue is covered by the IRPA. However, in the case of AIDS many individuals are unaware the protection is available.
  • 3 This issue would not be covered by a change to the IRPA. It is an ongoing reality when there is no protection in law.
  • 4 Some files contain complaints relative to more than one Ground. 

Several calls were received which did not pertain directly to sexual orientation. They would have gone unreported had the study not been under way. Of these, one complaint is current and has been referred to the local office of The Alberta Human Rights Commission.

As the statistics were being tabulated, we were nearing the end of our study.   We knew that the deadline for producing the report and distributing it to the various stakeholders was coming up.  We finished it, and Trevor orchestrated the distribution as per the study’s agreed plan.

Not long after we completed the work and the documents had been sent out, we got called into the office of a woman who was of some authority within the Alberta Government, and she said that work on the study was to stop, and that it was going to be cancelled.

When Trevor explained that the study had already just completed and that the appropriate stakeholders would have received their copies already, she was definitely not pleased.  We never knew why she was trying to kibosh the study – perhaps the government being the second highest respondent?

We considered that it was somewhat miraculous in the first place, that a conservative run government in Alberta would even entertain the study at all.  That we were able to complete and distribute it on time was an accomplishment.

I held onto my copy for almost 30 years, and it was placed in the City of Edmonton Archives by my friend Michael Phair.

You can download a copy:

http://www.altabear.com/irpa/