Pro-family groups have criticized Alberta Premier Ralph Klein’s failure to keep his promise of erecting “fences” to protect marriage and the family.
Following the 1998 Vriend decision in which the Supreme Court of Canada forced the province to include sexual orientation as a protected class under its human rights legislation, Klein promised to put up “fences” around other legislation in order to protect the traditional definition of marriage.
But pro-family groups have accused Klein of capitulating to an unnecessary review of 60 provincial family, welfare and property statutes following the April 2, Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench ruling by Justice Del Perras that declared Alberta’s Intestate Succession Actunconstitutional, because it denies the same-sex partners of deceased persons the same spousal inheritance rights as opposite-sex beneficiaries. Justice Perras gave the province nine months to amend the Act so it would no longer contravene the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Edmonton Journal described Perras’ ruling as a “far-reaching decision that could sharply expand gay rights in Alberta.” Klein said Albertans have nothing “to fear” from a sweeping review of the statutes, although he admits it could result in more rights for homosexuals. He drew the line, however, at same-sex marriage. CBC Newsworld quoted him saying, “Albertans will not go so far as to abide by a same-sex marriage.”
Hermina Dykxhoorn, president of the Alberta Federation of Women United for Families, has urged Klein to invoke the constitution’s “notwithstanding clause” to override the court ruling, a move Klein has effectively ruled out except to prevent same-sex marriage. Dykxhoorn said, “The Premier at that time [after the Vriend decision] said that he was putting fences around the definition of marriage and family. That has not been done.”
Klein said the review will only look at “an economic relationship, as opposed to a marriage or significant partnership,” and Justice Minister Dave Hancock said the court “challenged us to … find a way to put into statute those property-law equations in a context that does not involve sex and does not involve marriage.”
Brian Rushfeldt, executive director of the Canadian Family Action Coalition, told The Interimthis is one area around which a fence should be placed. “Except for the Marriage Amendment Act which recognizes marriage exclusively as between a man and woman and Klein’s commitment to protect that definition with the notwithstanding clause, he hasn’t put up one fence.”
He said the distinction between an economic relationship and marriage for the purpose of review is a bogus one, a matter of semantics. “The end result will be the same: undermining marriage and the family.”
While Klein said the government had no choice but to go along with the ruling, Rushfeldt said there is no need to review all 60 statutes because only one is affected by this particular ruling, and he worries about Klein’s eagerness to address the issue so comprehensively. He also said the government had options, including appealing the decision.
Klein’s willingness to expand same-sex rights has Rushfeldt concerned that the public will not have their say, and that Klein has already made up his mind. Furthermore, according to Rushfeldt the review is based on a flawed decision, “so the whole reason for the review is flawed.”
Perras said the application of the law goes against the legislation’s intended purpose of providing support for the survivor of an intimate relationship. Under the Intestate Succession Act, if someone dies without a will, their spouse receives the first $40,000 of their estate and if there are children, the spouse receives one-third of the remaining money. But Rushfeldt challenged Justice Perras’ assumption, saying inheritance laws were designed to provide for widows and orphans, people who needed to be provided for considering their unique vulnerability.