Can we talk about that which cannot be named?
On June 12 forty-nine people were massacred at a nightclub in Orlando.
Alberta’s political leaders expressed their horror at the senseless slaughter.
All but one of the politicians recognized that the victims were members of the LGBTQ community.
Premier Notley tweeted her government’s solidarity with the LGBTQ community and lit the Legislature building with Pride colours. On the night of the slaughter Ms Notley, Ricardo Miranda (a member of the group she affectionately calls her “MLgAys”) and other supporters were at an event at a Calgary gay bar.
Liberal leader David Swann expressed his sympathy for the victims and their loved ones saying “this heinous act against the LGBTQ community reminds us that the battle for unconditional equality and acceptance is not won and that we must all stand strong against discrimination and hostility.”
Alberta Party Greg Clark was heartbroken and said there was “still work to do to ensure #LGBTQ community [is] truly equal.”
Even PC leader Ric McIver stepped up and tweeted “So sad to hear of mass shooting at Orlando LGBTQ club. 50 people murdered. Many more wounded. Hate cannot prevail.”
Only Brian Jean, the leader of the Wildrose, ignored the fact the victims were LGBTQ, tweeting: “Praying for the families of those killed and injured by such a vicious act of hatred and terror in Orlando this morning”. But for the reference to Orlando he could have been tweeting about any number of random shootings that occur with heartbreaking regularity in the United States.
Why the lack of recognition that the victims were LGBTQ?
Because if Mr Jean wants to stay on as leader of the Wildrose party he needs to stay true to the Wildrose base.
The official word on discrimination Wildrose style
Mr Jean’s vague statement of condolence is consistent with the party’s decision to reject (twice) a principle that expressly protects the rights and freedoms of Albertans, regardless of their race, religion, colour, gender, physical or mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital or family status, source of income, or sexual orientation.
The Wildrose says it’s already covered in its utterly meaningless promise to defend the rights and freedoms of “all persons” in section 2.2 of the Wildrose Constitution.
Read it and you’ll find “all persons” really means “citizens” (apparently landed immigrants, temporary foreign workers and refugees don’t count).
Read a little further and you’ll find a promise to protect the right to life, safety, liberty and privacy and the freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, property ownership and advocacy on public policies which reflect “their deeply held values”, but no protection from discrimination if a citizen exercising his right to, say property ownership, violates another citizen’s right to be free from discrimination in access to housing on the basis of sexual orientation (or race or gender for that matter).
Welcome to the bizarro world of the Wildrose Constitution.
No rights without protection
But wait, you say, the Wildrose Constitution says all citizens are equal before the law and entitled to fundamental justice.
That’s true, but as Mr Vriend discovered when he was fired by an Edmonton college for being gay, being told that you have equal and inalienable rights and actually having them are two different things when the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation is missing from the legislation intended to protect you from discrimination in the first place.
The Supreme Court of Canada ultimately resolved the case in Mr Vriend’s favour by reading the words “sexual orientation” into the Alberta Individual Rights Protection Act.
Courts can “read in” protection from discrimination, the public cannot.
All the public can do is scrutinize the actions of the political parties to see whether their promise to protect the public’s rights and freedoms are borne out in reality.
The Base and the Squishes
A rift has developed between the traditional Wildrose base and more moderate party members (the “squishes”) who want the party to become more progressive in the hopes of winning the next election.
The base is convinced that shifting even slightly to the centre is a mistake and if it sticks to the “old values” Albertans will come back to them.
One of these “old values” is a refusal to kowtow to the 1.5% of the population who is LGBTQ (gosh, before you know it your Christian school will be forced to allow transgendered students into the washrooms!)
Mr Jean hopes to stay on as party leader. As such he’s trying to appease the base without driving away the squishes by making it blatantly obvious that the Wildrose is not the party for them.
The Wildrose base and squishes will battle this out over the coming months.
In the meantime Albertans should ask themselves: what does it say about the Official Opposition—the government in waiting—when its leader is prepared to pray for the families of the LGBTQ people who were slaughtered on June 12 but not the LGBTQ victims themselves?