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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 2, October 2006

Individual complaints lead to individual solutions

by Jane Turner

Like so many things in life, there are great ironies in the Murray and Peter Corren settlement with the provincial government ensuring that public education does not discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered people.

It seems that those who oppose homosexuality are outraged that two individuals have the right to review curriculum to ensure it is diverse and inclusive. Why should two individuals have all of this power, they piously intone? The Correns actually don’t have "all this power," but that’s not what they are really upset about. They are unhappy that public education is finally going to be inclusive and non-discriminatory toward homosexuals.

Ironically, it is the change the provincial Liberals made to the human rights complaint process in British Columbia that produced this kind of an outcome. The Human Rights Commission was disbanded by the Liberals and replaced with the Human Rights Tribunal. The difference between the commission and the tribunal is significant. The commission could receive class action complaints (groups of people could lodge a human rights complaint about a particular issue or action that affected groups within society). The tribunal can only receive complaints from individuals about an individual loss of rights. Under the tribunal, when a complaint is heard and resolved, the resolution can only be for the individual(s) who filed the complaint. There can be no general, class resolution to a complaint as classes of people can’t file complaints—only individuals can file a complaint. You can see where this is going.

When Murray and Peter Corren first raised the question with the then-NDP Minister of Education as to why sexual orientation wasn’t part of Appendix C of Ministry IRPs (Appendix C being the list of things that curriculum and resources had to be aware of in order to be inclusive and represent the diversity of learners in the province) and asked if sexual orientation would be included, they were told "no." The Correns officially complained that Appendix C was discriminatory as it left out sexual orientation. All that had to happen to resolve this problem was to include sexual orientation in the long list of isms that existed—sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, political activism, etc. In its wisdom, the government thought it would be easier to get rid of the list instead of adding two words, sexual orientation, to it. It eliminated Appendix C from the IRPs.

The government did not reckon on the Correns. Murray and Peter continued their complaint, this time under the aegis of the Human Rights Tribunal. An individual’s complaint received an individual resolution. The resolution is that the ministry "will draft internal review guidelines...to ensure that every draft IRP incorporates consideration of equality and respect for all learners... and respect for diversity with respect to sexual orientation and other grounds of discrimination..." and the ministry will consult with the Correns about this process. This is pretty much where we started 10 years ago.

This shouldn’t have been about the Correns. It should have been about all teachers and learners respecting children and families no matter what their composition or orientation, sexual or otherwise. However, the change to the human rights process in BC made this about individuals. Life is full of ironies.

Jane Turner is an assistant director, BCTF Professional and Social Issues Division.


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