09/20/2016 12:20 EDT

Alberta Launches Inquiry Into Independent Baptist Christian Education Society

Friends of Medicare Executive Director David Eggen at the 2011 Speech from the Throne. February 22, 2011.

EDMONTON — The Alberta government says a Christian educator has failed to deliver on a demand to allow gay-straight alliances in two of his schools.

Education Minister David Eggen says the province is now launching an inquiry into the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society.

"They did not change their position,'' Eggen told reporters at the legislature Monday.

"They did not give us any indication that they would provide written assurance that they would allow students to form a gay-straight alliance.''

"No child should be bullied in our schools regardless of their sexuality or their religion.'" —David Eggen

Eggen said the inquiry, to be conducted by a third party, will be done in the following weeks and examine what steps the society is taking to make all students have a safe a caring environment.

"Our government will support and stand behind all Albertans' human rights,'' Eggen added.

"No child should be bullied in our schools regardless of their sexuality or their religion."

As a last resort, Eggen has the option to pull the schools' charter or funding, but he said, "I'm looking for resolution."

The society's chairman, Pastor Brian Coldwell, could not be immediately reached for comment.

What are GSAs?

Eggen's comments are the next step in what has become a standoff between himself and Coldwell over gay-straight alliances, better known as GSAs.

GSAs are student-organized peer support groups that are meant to help reduce marginalization and ostracism of LGBTQ youth.

Under Alberta's School Act, students who wish to form GSAs have the right to do so, but late last month Coldwell announced publicly his society will not allow that, saying it runs counter to the teachings of their faith.

Coldwell's society runs two Edmonton-area private schools — the Meadows Baptist Academy and the Harvest Baptist Academy.

Together they have about 200 students.

About 70 per cent of public funding for Coldwell's society comes from the province.

The society received $2.5 million for the 2015-16 school year, most of which was for home-schooling students it supervises.

Schools refuse to allow GSAs

On Sept. 2, Eggen's department sent Coldwell notice that he had two weeks to give to them written assurance he would follow the GSA law.

Coldwell's lawyer sent a letter just hours before the deadline expired last Friday. Eggen declined to share the contents of the reply.

Pastor is not complying with law: advocate

Kris Wells, an advocate for LGBTQ rights, said it's not clear why the inquiry is needed.

"We're not sure what an inquiry would achieve,'' said Wells, an assistant professor with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies at the University of Alberta.

"You're either complying with the law or you're not, and this pastor has clearly indicated numerous times that he has no intention of complying with the minister's directive and human rights legislation in this province.

"The minister should take action and institute one policy for all school boards across the province.''

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