top of page

LONDONDONDERRY TEACHER AND THE FRAGILE LIBERAL DEMCRACY

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Londonderry Junior High Teacher Takes a Stand for Canada’s liberal democracy



Recently, TikTokers viewed a Londonderry Teacher (the teacher) in Edmonton, Alberta telling junior high students who practise Islam they ought to support the school’s Pride events. The school, suggested the teacher, should demand a tit-for-tat exchange of tolerance. But Islam does not condone homosexuality. Even so, the teacher felt students should be respectful toward the other. The teacher went so far as to say Muslim students who don’t support the school’s Pride initiatives (in return for openly gay students’ supporting Islamic special days) don’t belong “here.”


The current Liberal government stands with both TSLGBTQ and all-nations immigration, special concentration on Syrian and Ukrainian refugees, but the government operates with verbal restraint. What on earth was the teacher thinking to say such a thing? You don’t belong here. My goodness. Terrible.


But was the teacher wrong?


Let’s start with the law. For fifty-two years Canada has called itself a multicultural nation within a bilingual (French-English) framework. Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada is a constitutional liberal democracy.


What’s a constitutional liberal democracy à la mode Canadienne? A representative democracy we understand. By tallying winning seats, we elect a party to govern, and the leader of the governing party is our Prime Minister. But the liberal in our democracy is sweet charity.


Liberality (not to be confused with its contentious corporate stepbrother, neoliberality) sees citizens as individuals. And currently, in law, individual human rights are constitutionally enshrined.


Individuals are protected from unfair cultural domination. Culture clubs that set their own policies ––governments, religions, educational institutions, medical institutions–– cannot lawfully put up discriminatory barriers to bar people from their services. Public education cannot deny its service to any culture, or any individual. Quoted from Section 15: Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.


Here is the teacher’s unasked question: Can the Islamic community declare without prejudice that no one among them is a homosexual?


No matter where fluctuating gay-straight percentages lie, it’s impossible.


There are gay Muslims. There must be. Percentages are a rule of nature. Educators teach the rules of nature as we know them. Canadian educators teach students about the value of liberal democracies. The teacher pointed out state repression in Uganda, where homosexuals are killed, and said most Canadians (to date) are proud to live in a liberal democracy where human rights dominate repressive cultural practises.


Teacher, you could ask your Muslim students, “Does your openly gay friend, a Muslim student at this school, have status in Canada? Yes. You say your friend was fired from the Halal shop? Your friend was fired for being gay. Can your gay friend take the case of their unjust dismissal to the Supreme Court of Canada? Ideally, yes. O, Londonderry junior high school students, you who freely and disobediently use your phones to video my rant: Do you understand what it means to live in a liberal democracy, and what it means to belong here?”


Here you go. Under Canadian constitutional law as it stands, the gay Muslim individual would win their case, and the Halal shop would lose. See Vriend v Alberta [1998] 1 S.C.R. 493. Vriend is an important Supreme Court of Canada case, whose outcome determined a provincial legislative omission can be the subject of a Charter violation. The case involved a dismissal of a teacher because of his sexual orientation. Vriend won. (Supreme Court Justice John Major dissented, and we return to his worrisome dissent, or there would be no point to this blog.)


Banking conservative votes


Even after the scandal of Catholic residential schools and the acknowledgment by Pope Francis that many “Christians” perpetuated an evil on children (Francis said they were bad people, by God, and, by God, bad people are not to be confused with the holy institution of Father Church), the Catholic powerhouse remains. In Canada, Catholicism as an institution has yet to be seriously challenged on the issue of human rights. In Québec, Bill 21 is considered very iffy but the case sits idle. Why? The Catholic powerhouse. Critical mass (okay to pun?).


The gutting of human rights in favour of conservative cultural practices looms large on the Canadian horizon. In Canada’s census of 2021, Catholicism pops up as the largest Christian denomination, with 29.4% members (10.8 million). If one banks various anti-human-rights (fundamentalist) orthodoxies, we have trouble, my friends. Trouble right here. Human rights could disappear via the ballot box, although that’s not likely in “secular” Québec. Ah, the irony of life in a federal state. In any case, ROC (Rest of Canada) loudly, vociferously, and gaily tolerates the culture clubs that blatantly discriminate against women and homosexuals, as these institutions clearly outline in their manners (laws, sacraments, policies). The offending extremist religious institutions are easy to enumerate. They form sub culture clubs in the Roman Catholic church, the Greek Orthodox church, and infect some Protestant sects, some Islamic sects, some Jewish sects.


In fact, the number of Canadian voters who might vote conservatively, specifically to raise a united voice against human sexual rights as outlined in Section 15, is growing exponentially –– in Canada, the United States, and worldwide.


With the immigration of Islamic orthodoxies converging with homegrown conservatism, this country might get frightfully close to an inflection point. Which is a shame. Multiculturalism is the glory of Canada. Even the teacher might say so.


The currently horrific but once respected Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) sets no good example for conservatives in Canada. SCOTUS’ latest decision in a church vs gay-rights case is a doozy. A web designer of Christian evangelical persuasion is not obliged to set up a wedding site for a gay couple. Justice Gorsuch’s convoluted reasoning rests on “free speech.” Individual Canadians have the right of free expression, with justification; however, as Canadian conservatives hopefully note, a conservative-dominated parliament could pass acts to put fetters on individual human rights in favour of culture-club (group) rights. Just as, without explicitly saying so, Justice Gorsuch has done in the US. Yes, multiculturalism is our glory. Multiculturalism must not become our liberal downfall. Even as we speak, the growing bonds among conservative religious orthodoxies are getting very noticeable.


From scapegoats to heroes. As reported by Wajahat Ali in the New York Times, conservative voters in America seem to be changing their minds about Islam:


"Kareem Monib, a Muslim parent and a founder of the opt-out group Coalition of Virtue, recently appeared on Fox News and bonded with the host Laura Ingraham over what they saw as their fight for religious freedoms, apparently forgiving Ingraham for her past anti-Muslim bigotry: 'Five years ago, Laura was saying we shouldn’t have Muslims in this country,' Mr. Monib told Semafor, 'Now she’s saying: Thank God, the Muslims are here!' He seems to be referring to comments Ms. Ingraham made eight years ago, but either way, the irony is lost on him."


Human rights are adrift in a sea of cultural irony, and not just in the US.

That little bugger-it-up, Notwithstanding, is a constitutional disruptor

Section 33(1) of the Charter allows a federal parliament or a provincial legislature to pass an act that overrides any provision included in Section 2 or Sections 7 to 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Muslim ultra-conservatives warm the hearts of Canadian homophobes, people who view the homosexual through dark glasses, people like former Supreme Court Justice John Major. Justice Major dissented in the Vriend case. Major suggested that then Premier Ralph Klein might wish to invoke Section 33 to exclude homosexuals from the Individual Rights Protection Act (IRPA):


"In Vriend vs Alberta, the sole dissenting opinion was written by Justice John C. Major. Major argued that ‘reading in’ a sexual orientation provision in the Individual Rights Protection Act was not necessarily more ‘desirable’ than simply dismissing the entire IRPA as unconstitutional, since the Alberta legislature had repeatedly indicated they specifically did not wish to include such rights in the document. Major wrote that the IRPA should in fact be overturned. He then suggested that the legislature may in turn wish to use the notwithstanding clause to pass a new IRPA act that would be capable of excluding protection for homosexuals."

(Wikipedia)


Klein, ever the politician, took the pulse of the province, and declined to take up Major’s suggestion (although the issue of same-sex marriage threw poor old Klein into a proper tizzy.)


Notwithstanding has been invoked twenty-six times but, until recently, its casual use was rather frowned upon. Doug Ford frowned not at all. Ford was all for invoking Section 33, “pre-emptively.” Instead, childishly, he backed off with a nah-nah, I can use it if I want to. In Canada, conservative premiers with a sizeable majority would have an easy time turning the tables on Section 15.


In a culture versus individual case, premiers or parliament could use Section 33 to exert the dominance of cultural rights, as outlined in Section 27. Yes, Ford was right. Premiers do have Section 33 at their fingertips. Given the appropriate nativist mood in the country and a majority of conservative voters, Section 33 would be just the ticket to undermine Canada’s liberal democracy. Justice John Major was the first to put the suggestion in writing. The only reason Ralph Klein backed off from trying to use Section 33 to undermine the Supreme Court decision on Vriend was simple. He didn’t have voter support. But if he had . . .


Pay attention, Londonderry students. To understand the incredible and rare existence of a country that values human rights, you need a Canadian public education.


Pay attention to the frog-in-hot-water metaphor, Canadians. Incremental changes in education, such as teachers' being forced to allow religious students to ignore or trample upon human rights, lead to the death of the liberal in democracy. The angry and frustrated Londonderry teacher was harsh with the kids. But the teacher was on point. If, on their own time, Muslim students protest against homosexuality, they have Canadian society's permission. Protesting is legal. There is a caveat. If Muslim students don't attend a school activity because they do not tolerate gay people, they flout the Charter's provisions on human rights. That's illegal.


Repeat: you don’t want to live in a liberal democracy and you refuse to tolerate homosexuals, who have an entrenched human right, you don’t belong in a publicly funded school because what you are doing ––discriminating against the other on the basis of sex–– is currently against the law.


Long may that be.





123 views1 comment
bottom of page