The 20th anniversary of the Vriend decision was celebrated at the University of Alberta on March 19. The historic Supreme Court of Canada ruling established LGBTQ2 rights in Alberta and throughout Canada.
“The Vriend decision was our Stonewall,” said Kris Wells, an assistant professor and faculty director with the U of A’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, referring to the Stonewall riots that sparked the gay liberation movement in the U.S.
Wells was part of a panel of lawyers who worked on the case and LGBTQ2 community members who recalled the struggles of the case and its aftermath in Alberta. Hosted by Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal, the panel also included University of Alberta chancellor Doug Stollery, Justice Sheila Greckol, Justice Julie Lloyd and U of A board chair Michael Phair.
Wells noted that the Alberta Teachers’ Association showed great leadership following the 2008 Vriend decision, as it was the first organization to act on the ruling in Alberta. At the next Annual Representative Assembly, delegates voted overwhelmingly to add sexual orientation to teachers’ Professional Code of Conduct. Wells added that the Association continues this important work today.
The panel noted that the struggle for equal human rights continues for the LGBTQ2 community as well as for other minorities in Canada. Lloyd, who represented the Canadian Bar Association as an intervener in the case, stated that “Vriend taught us that we have to be allies for each other.”
The historic case focused on a young lab instructor, Delwin Vriend, who was fired from his position at King’s College when an important college donor discovered he was gay. Vriend went to the Alberta
Janis Irwin @JanisIrwin
@KristopherWells notes that following the landmark Vriend decision, @albertateachers added sexual orientation to the code of conduct. Alberta teachers voted overwhelmingly in support. The early leadership by the ATA re: LGBTQ2 rights must not be forgotten.
Human Rights Commission to appeal his dismissal, but the commission turned him away because sexual orientation was not a protected ground.
Appealing the decision to the Court of Queen’s Bench, Vriend initially won, but the Alberta government appealed the decision. Several of the panelists recalled how, while hearing the case for the Alberta Court of Appeal, Justice John McClung showed his bias by turning his back on Vriend’s lawyers as they spoke. When speaking about the case, current dean of law Paul Paton stated that although McClung was a graduate of the school of law “we do not teach our students to turn their chairs around.”
Vriend’s legal team appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada and the court ruled in Vriend’s favour. Noting that Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that all individuals are equal before the law, the Court found that protection from discrimination against sexual orientation should be read into that section.
It was a historic ruling, but the euphoria of the LGBTQ2 community was quickly quelled by an angry backlash that swelled in Alberta. Phair, who was a well-known gay Edmonton city counsellor at that time, said he had so many death threats following the decision that extra staff were brought in to deal with all the phone calls. Eventually, the anger calmed down and the Alberta government accepted the ruling. ❚