Anti-bullying GSA bill receives second reading

NDP bill would require gay-straight alliances where a student requests one

An NDP bill that would require all publicly funded schools to help a student form a gay-straight alliance (GSA) where one is requested took another step forward in the legislative assembly Thursday.

“We’re calling on the government to get on board with this bill – it really is the right thing to do,” said David Forbes, the NDP critic for diversity, equality and human rights. “We know that having a GSA in a school reduces bullying and suicide attempts for both gay and straight students because it really creates a better school environment for everyone. Why the Sask. Party is resisting that is beyond me.”

The bill, The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act, received second reading in the legislature on Thursday, moved by the NDP.

A study by Egale Canada concluded that 64 per cent of LGBTQ youth feel unsafe at school, 80 per cent report being bullied, and half have thought about suicide.

The study also showed that a GSA established in a school for three or more years reduced the rates of discrimination, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts by half in both LGBTQ students, and straight boys.

Despite nearly identical laws in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, the Sask. Party has refused to support the NDP bill in Saskatchewan.

To date, the Sask. Party has claimed a law isn’t necessary – although Education Minister Don Morgan admitted in a media interview in May that he’d heard a number of instances in Saskatchewan in which students have been too afraid to ask for a GSA, or they’ve asked and been declined. He even said students were far too afraid to identify themselves, so he’s been unable to follow up with some who tried to raise concerns with him.

“This law is really about the safety of kids,” said Forbes. “They’re young, many are going through a tough time, and it’s just wrong to expect each of them to blaze a trail again and again if they want to create that safe space in their school or have their rights recognized. These kids shouldn’t have to be the leaders here – that’s up to us.”

Statement from NDP Leader Cam Broten regarding the Sixties Scoop

Last week, I called on the Government of Saskatchewan to apologize for Saskatchewan’s role in Canada’s Adopt Indian Métis program, also called the ’60s Scoop. Today, the government responded positively. I’m pleased, and ready to work together with all members of the Legislative Assembly and First Nations and Métis leaders and community members on this process.

Apologies can be powerful, especially when they’re accompanied with by concrete actions.

Easier access to birth records as well as access to counselling are concrete steps the government should take to assist individuals and families affected by the ’60s Scoop. I also want the provincial government to host a roundtable with ’60s Scoop survivors, to hear their stories, and develop an action plan to move toward healing and reconciliation.

Extending opportunity to more and more people is critical to improving our shared futures, and to building a stronger province both socially and economically. Acknowledging the ’60s Scoop as a damaging historical wrong with long-lasting consequences can help tear down a barrier to a better life for many in our province.

I encourage all members of the Legislative Assembly to lay aside political differences to work in cooperation on this important process. Apologizing to those who were taken as children, and to their families and communities, needs to be a significant and meaningful process.

Time for apology and action to repair damage done by Sixties Scoop

On the eve of National Aboriginal Day, NDP Leader Cam Broten said it’s time for the Government of Saskatchewan to formally apologize for the province’s role in Canada’s Adopt Indian Métis program, also known as the ’60s Scoop.

The program took First Nations and Métis children from their parents without consent and placed them in non-Aboriginal households. Parents were typically not told where their children were. Saskatchewan formally participated in the program from 1966 to 1975.

“It’s important to recognize the harm that this practice caused and continues to cause,” said Broten. “Ripping families apart has long-lasting effects, not only for individuals and families, but also for communities, our society and our economy. We cannot reasonably expect individuals, families and communities to heal until we acknowledge and address the root causes of trauma, like the residential schools and the ’60s Scoop.”

On Thursday, the Government of Manitoba formally apologized for its role in the program. Broten wants the Government of Saskatchewan to do so as well.

“The healing process begins with a meaningful apology, and with concrete actions behind the words. A common sense place to start is making birth records easily accessible to stolen children and their birth families so they can reconnect, and making counseling available to those affected.”

Broten also urged the provincial government to host a roundtable with ’60s Scoop survivors to hear their stories and develop an action plan to move toward healing and reconciliation.

“I want to build the strongest Saskatchewan we can. The choice to be our strongest – socially and economically – begins with the choice to extend opportunity to more and more people. The repercussions of the ’60s Scoop are a barrier to a better life for many in our province. It’s time to start tearing down that barrier.”

Across Canada, the number of children taken from their parents as part of the ’60s Scoop is estimated to exceed 20,000.

Huge support for anti-bullying and GSA bill during pride month

Before pride month ends, the NDP wants the Sask. Party to agree to pass the bill that addresses bullying and allows students of any publicly funded school to set up a GSA, a gender and sexuality alliance, also called a gay straight alliance.

The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act is private member’s bill introduced by the NDP. It addresses bullying and cyberbullying, gives students with a disability the right to be accommodated and requires all schools that receive public funding to help any student that asks to establish a GSA. The bill has found immense support during pride month in Saskatchewan.

“People have approached New Democrat MLAs and candidates during pride events to say what that bill means to them. People tell us that having a GSA when they were a student would have made a huge difference,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon, who will march in the pride parade in Regina on Saturday.

“We’ve also heard from students who say they were turned away when they asked for a GSA in their school. It’s time to take the pressure off these kids and make the right to form a GSA law. Whether it’s a friend or family member or someone we read about in the news, we all know a child for whom this law will come too late.”

Statistics show that 64 per cent of gender and sexually diverse students feel unsafe at schools. 80 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) youth report being bullied. 50 per cent of all LGBTQ youth have thought about suicide. Having GSAs established in a school for three or more years reduces rates of discrimination, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts by half.

“GSAs save lives,” said Wotherspoon. “We’ve had hundreds of people lining up to sign a petition to call on the Sask. Party to pass this law; and. Kids shouldn’t have to be the leaders in fighting for their safety and their rights here – that should be up to us.”

Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick already have similar GSA laws.

The NDP bill was introduced by David Forbes, the critic for Diversity, Equality and Human Rights, in the spring.

NDP questions Regina bypass company VINCI’s human rights record

CBC News, June 10th, 2015

The Saskatchewan NDP is wondering if the government asked the right questions about the human rights record of a company hired to build the new Regina bypass.

The Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure selected VINCI, a French corporation, at the end of May as the preferred proponent in a 30-year contract to construct the $1.2-billion project.

VINCI has faced allegations regarding the violation of workers’ rights in Qatar, where the company is constructing a stadium for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

In March, the human rights organization Sherpa filed a complaint against VINCI and its subsidiary in Qatar for forced labour, servitude, and concealment.

Sherpa’s release states: “Modern slavery does not consist of shackling and whipping workers. It is subtler: the penal code defines a vulnerable population, under the threat of an employer and extreme economical dependency, as having no choice but to accept the deplorable working conditions and therefore renew its contract.”

The company has refuted all of these claims and filed a defamation lawsuit against Sherpa.

“We have repeatedly welcomed unions, international NGOs and journalists onto our building sites,” VINCI said in a release. “They have ascertained that we do more than merely comply with local labour law and respect fundamental rights.”

The VINCI release adds that all employees are free to retrieve passports at any time and that appropriate working hours are observed.

However, Sherpa has remained steadfast in its allegations.

David Forbes, NDP critic for labour, as well as quality, diversity and human rights, addressed these controversies on Wednesday.

“If they are found guilty there, clearly we’ll have questions about that. But we want to make sure their practices here are following Saskatchewan standard,” Forbes said of the VINCI corporation.

He said people are anxious to prevent any mistreatment of workers in this province.

“We want to know that the government has asked the questions to ensure that kind of thing won’t be happening here in Saskatchewan,” Forbes said.

The government said it is already aware of the allegations against VINCI and that the contract could be terminated if any of those allegations are proven true.

Human rights abuse allegations hang over bypass builder gov’t chose

France investigating VINCI and its Qatar FIFA World Cup soccer stadium project

The France-based corporation that will build and maintain the Regina bypass on a 30-year contract has been mired in troubling allegations, and an investigation by the Government of France into its human rights practices. The NDP wants to know if the Sask. Party asked the right questions, or just looked the other way before awarding the corporation a massive contract.

VINCI is the company the government chose to build the Regina bypass. It’s also the corporation building the Qatar soccer stadium in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Paris-based human rights organization Sherpa accuses VINCI of, allegedly, withholding the passports of the migrant workers, forcing them to work long days and preventing them from moving to non-company housing. French authorities determined in April that there is enough evidence to warrant an initial investigation into those allegations.

“We want to know if the government asked the tough questions before inviting this corporation into Saskatchewan, and we want to know what the Sask. Party plans to do should any of the claims be proven in court after their massive deal is finalized,” said NDP labour critic David Forbes.

“This is a corporation we will be tied to for 30 years. Going with a corporation that is connected to alleged human rights concerns just does not match Saskatchewan values.”

In addition to awarding VINCI a contract to build Regina’s $1.2 billion bypass, the government plans to pay a VINCI subsidiary to operate and maintain the bypass for 30 years.

VINCI denies wrongdoing, and says it has filed a defamation lawsuit against Sherpa, noting on its website that: “… All QDVC employees are free to retrieve their passports at any time…”

QDVC is the partnership between VINCI and the Qatari government’s sovereign wealth fund. The partnership adopted the name Qatari Diar Vinci Construction. The Qatar sovereign wealth fund is also a shareholder in VINCI.

Meanwhile, various organizations, media reports and foreign governments allege that hundreds of workers are dying on that Qatar project – perhaps at a rate equal to one every two days.

In Saskatchewan, the VINCI-led bid group calls itself SaskLink Global Transportation Partners.

The NDP is a strong supporter of building a bypass around Regina. It has raised concerns about the route the Sask. Party government chose, which is too close to the city and will be in the midst of future city expansion. It has also raised concerns about the use of a P3 financing and maintenance scheme for the project. P3s tend to cost more. For example, in Ontario, the Auditor General found that 75 P3 projects cost $8 billion extra, compared to straightforward builds.

GSAs in Saskatchewan – Media

Monday May 11th

Possible cash hit if Gay-Straight Alliances not allowed in schools (LP, CJWW)**
If schools aren’t allowing gay-straight alliances (GSAs), Education Minister Don Morgan wants to know about it — they may face a financial penalty. Morgan was reacting to a private members bill tabled by the Opposition recently, the Respect for Diversity — Student Bill of Rights Act, which would legislate the right to GSAs.

NDP Seeks to Legislate Gay-Straight Alliances in Schools

Tuesday May 12

NDP pushes government on GSAs (CJWW, CKRM, Global Regina, MJ Times, SP)**
The NDP Opposition says Saskatchewan schools should be mandated by law to accommodate gay-straight alliances (GSAs). “What is the real reason this government is so afraid to pass legalization on GSAs? Is it because the Sask. Party is afraid to offend social conservatives?”

Wednesday May 13th

Saskatchewan students call for government legislation (LP)**
Schools and their respective divisions throughout the province may not be handling requests for gay-straight alliances as well as the government had thought. There are kids in our schools who are contemplating suicide,” Forbes said. “We can’t be avoiding the tough questions and the tough leadership.”

Thursday May 14th

Rick Mercer tweets do the right thing:

Friday May 15th

Letter – Margi Corbett asks Why won’t our provincial government legislate protection of students’ human rights in public schools?

Wall says the government’s policy on gay-straight alliances in schools ensures they can exist and legislation won’t make a difference. The Opposition tabled a private member’s bill in April that focused on anti-bullying, but it didn’t get government support.

Tuesday May 19, 2015

Sask. gov’t weak on gay-straight alliances – Op Ed (LP, SP)
The explanations offered by Education Minister Don Morgan for the provincial government preference for a policy stance instead of legislation to enshrine the right of students to establish gay-straight alliances in schools actually seem to make a better case for enacting a law.

Tuesday May 26, 2015

Letter – Don Cochrane writes in response to NDP pushes government on GSAs


Sask Party refuses to vote on GSAs

The Sask. Party government refused Thursday to agree to a free vote on whether or not Saskatchewan students should have guaranteed access to a safe space in school through a Gender Sexuality Alliance, also called a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA).

The Opposition New Democrats moved an emergency motion to pass Bill 612, The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act, prior to the spring session of the Legislature ending at noon Thursday. The government refused to consent to a debate and vote on the bill.

“This is common sense, and there should be a sense of urgency to get it done – but the government is bending over backwards to prevent a GSA law here in Saskatchewan,” said David Forbes, the NDP’s critic for Diversity, Equality and Human Rights. “We know that over half of all gay teens consider suicide, and we know that GSAs save lives.

“We also know there are a number of students who have been told ‘no’ when they requested a GSA under the current weak policy, and we know there are countless more who are afraid to ask.”

The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act gives every student attending a school that receives public funding the right to form a GSA or a similar club, promoting anti-racism, for example. It also gives students the right to have a disability accommodated, and to have a bullying-free learning environment in which any concerns about bullying can be taken to the school principal or administration, including cyberbullying.

NDP introduces anti-bullying act

The official Opposition introduced a bill Thursday that will ensure students who request a Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA, also known as a Gay-Straight Alliance) at school cannot be denied.

The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act also gives students the right to have any cyber-bullying or other bullying concerns properly addressed by their school administration; and that students have the right to have any disability appropriately accommodated.

The act will apply to all schools that receive public funding.

All three actions were clauses in an Opposition education bill introduced last week, which also called for smaller class sizes, more educational assistant support for students and timely repairs to school buildings. The government refused to debate that bill, challenging it on the grounds that it would cost money to improve schools, and arguing that only ministers are entitled to make budgetary allocations.

“Every student in Saskatchewan, regardless of factors like where they live and what their school community looks like, should be guaranteed fundamental rights,” said David Forbes, NDP critic for Diversity, Equality and Human Rights, who introduced the bill. “We should be entrenching best practices for preventing discrimination and bullying, and promising that those best practices will be followed for every student.”

Pride parade puts the fun in fight for equal rights

Matt Gardner, Prince Albert Daily Herald, June 7, 2014

Intermittent rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of participants in this year’s Pride parade.

For many the highlight of Pride Week celebrations in Prince Albert, the annual parade and community rally continues to grow in strength, attracting almost 50 participants from communities across northern Saskatchewan.

“I was really impressed … especially to hear about some people coming from different communities like Duck Lake, James Smith, St. Louis, Meadow Lake, and some attending their very first Pride parade and choosing to do it here,” Prince Albert Q-Network president Jennifer Brockman said.

“It’s always a stressful time organizing it and I wonder, sometimes … are we making a difference?” she added. “That’s when I know we’re making a difference, is (when) I see those couples holding hands, and those people just coming from other communities and attending and celebrating — it just makes it all worthwhile.”

Revelers assembled in front of the Court of Queen’s Bench in the early afternoon before setting out down Central Avenue, attracting supportive honks from many passing vehicles.

Vehicles decked out in rainbow flags paved the way for pedestrians walking behind. One of the vehicles, dubbed the Trans Pride Van, blared trans-friendly music such as Dude (Looks Like A Lady) by Aerosmith and Lola by The Kinks.

The parade route took participants down Central Avenue, west along 28th Street and back down First Avenue West before settling at Kinsmen Park. Participants there enjoyed a range of guest speakers and live entertainment along with a barbecue.

Kicking off the presentations, emcee Stephanie Bourne read out a list of prominent individuals who came out over the last year, such as Canadian actress Ellen Page.

Noting the theme of this year’s Pride Week festivities, “Out and About,” she added, “It’s about honouring ourselves and others and being out — not only to our personal circles, but also in the community and making a difference for those people who don’t have that support group around them.”

In her own remarks, Brockman thanked the work of pioneering activists over the years who helped make Prince Albert more friendly to the LGBTQ community by establishing social support groups and gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

“Anybody who did anything to help support the community, I thank them because they’re the reason that we’re able to be here,” she said.

Other speakers included representatives of communities from across Saskatchewan.

Hailing from Regina was TransSask Support Services co-ordinator Mikayla Schultz, who also helped found the provincial trans support organization.

“It’s great to be here again representing the trans community of Saskatchewan and TransSask Support Services,” Schultz said. “Prince Albert’s always welcoming to us in the trans community and it’s just great to be a part of the festivities.

“As of last year there’s been huge growth for the trans community in Saskatchewan, especially in regards to human rights. We’ve undertaken a human rights awareness campaign called the Time 4 Rights … We encourage all the allies of the transgender community to show their support for gender-diverse people, all gender-diverse people.”

The Time 4 Rights campaign calls for the inclusion of “gender identity” and “gender expression” in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Additional information is available at

Schultz noted that TransSask Support Services is currently in the process of creating a branch in Prince Albert.

“We are actually in the process of establishing one. We’ve made contact with a few trans people in the city here, so (we’re) just trying to get coordinated and appoint a facilitator and hopefully we’ll have a chapter here. We’ve got chapters in Moose Jaw, Regina and Saskatoon already.”

Two-Spirit elder and Duck Lake resident Marjorie Beaucage reiterated the significance of so many LGBTQ individuals from different areas of Saskatchewan attending.

“This is the first time we have so many from away, away,” she said. “It’s really important … Our communities need to support the youth and the people that are not ‘out and about’ yet because it’s not safe.”

Another speaker on Saturday was Saskatoon Centre MLA David Forbes.

As the Saskatchewan NDP critic for human rights, diversity and equity, Forbes annually attends pride parades in other communities across the province, including P.A., Moose Jaw, Regina and Saskatoon.

“There was this demonstration in Weyburn that I was at earlier in April that was talking about protecting human rights for the rainbow community, and so I think it’s just important to get out and stand in support and solidarity as an ally with the community,” Forbes said.

The MLA noted that many challenges still remain when it comes to acceptance and support for the LGBTQ community, pointing to a recent conference in Weyburn that featured a speaker in which “his main thesis was really around hate and not tolerance for the queer community.”

Forbes noted that the NDP is fully supportive of efforts to include gender identity and gender expression in the provincial Human Rights Code.

“It’s important both those pieces are in place,” he said. “Across Canada, we know human rights codes are being amended to be more proactive. We’re behind here in Saskatchewan.”

He also pointed to other ongoing issues, such as the need to have a discussion about gender markers on provincial identification cards and the presence of GSAs at schools in Prince Albert.

“That’s hugely important that kids in our schools have safe spaces,” he said. “So we’ve been advocating in the provincial legislature that they get moving on the bullying legislation and the initiatives that should be there.”

Another speaker represented the progressive role that can be played by faith when it comes to support of the LGBTQ community.

Calvary United Church congregational designated minister Lorelei Clifford noted that the United Church of Canada had “proudly embraced” members of that community since 1988, when the United Church’s 32nd General Council declared that anyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ — regardless of sexual orientation –was welcome to membership in the church.

Clifford recently hosted a local Bible study entitled “Queer and Christian Without Contradiction.”

“We specifically looked at Bible readings that have been used to condemn homosexuality and we looked at what they really said and how the Bible as a whole really is talking about God loving everyone,” she said. “It was a really good study.”

Following the speakers, local musician and Search for the Stars winner Daniel LeBlanc offered live entertainment for the crowd.

His set included an original song, Yellow Lines, written specifically for the occasion, with lyrics expressing support for ongoing LGBTQ struggles.

One promising sign of growing acceptance from the younger generation came from nine-year-old Arianna Hovdebo, who attended the parade to support her aunt, Prince Albert Q-Network co-chair Nicole Milas.

Hovdebo offered a cogent summary of one of the day’s key messages.

“It’s OK to love a girl if you’re a girl,” she said. “And it’s OK to love a boy if you’re a boy.”