By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – A group of Morinville parents are off to Calgary Nov. 29 to receive a civil liberties award from the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre. The award will be presented at the University of Calgary to Donna Hunter and other parents who fought for a non-faith-based education for their children in Morinville.
Hunter’s fight for a secular education began in September of 2010 when it surfaced as an election issue, but swung into full force this past January when a formal request was made to the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD). The parent group, which grew in number as the issue grew momentum, continued to seek a non-faith-based option in Morinville until June when GSACRD partnered with Sturgeon School Division to provide that option in town. They have continued to lobby to strengthen the program.
Hunter, who has since moved to Edmonton with her family, learned about the award Nov. 14 and was taken by surprise. “I was surprised and delighted,” she said. “I am so proud of everyone. The encouragement shown by this recognition makes all the difference to Morinville parents, grandparents, community members, and supporters. It is their dedication, caring and bravery whether through quiet support or public voice that has brought us this far. I am very grateful. It strengthens our commitment to keep moving forward, to keep advocating for our children and for public education.”
Another Morinville parent who will be making the trip to Calgary to accept the award is Marjorie Kirsop. For Kirsop, the award is a nice recognition, but a non-faith-based education for her children is a better outcome for the efforts she and others expended over the past year.
“Having my kids receive a public education where they are no longer exposed to one religion on a daily basis is a huge step forward,” she said. “The award reaffirms that the parent group did the right thing. However, we should have never had to fight so hard for public education, free of religious permeation in the first place.”
Kirsop said the outcome was worth the efforts; however, she points out her family did not endure some of the same obstacles others in the parent group underwent. “Even the Catholic members of our family supported us so we had it relatively easy,” she said. “Sure, there were members of the community who didn’t support us but that is to be expected.”
Linda McKay-Panos, Executive Director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre said the annual award seeks someone who has advanced civil liberties or human rights because they have a personal cause or interest in the issues. McKay-Panos said the award can be in the area of advocacy, education or research.
With respect to Hunter and the Morinville parents, there was a bit of all three in their being nominated:advocacy of their cause and research and education in learning about the history of the issue. McKay-Panos said there were two things that made the nomination stand out. “One was their tenacity and the second thing was the level of educating themselves about issues that are very, very complex,” she said. “Their level of knowledge is outstanding. This is the kind of knowledge that a lot of lawyers do not even have with respect to our constitutional history in Alberta. That was most impressive.”
The Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre will give the parent group the 2011 Civil Liberties Award during a special ceremony during the International Human Rights Day Commemoration at the University of Calgary Nov. 29.
The nomination reads: “Donna Hunter and the Mothers of Morinville” have been nominated for their contribution to the advancement of human rights and civil liberties in the province through their advocacy of public education, freedom of religion and citizen engagement with the political process around education issues.
Newly-minted education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk is scheduled to meet with school boards this week in search of a compromise solution on a local level. His predecessor Dave Hancock ordered a $125,000 religious census that resulted in a roughly 20 per cent return rate.
Modular units are set to arrive in Morinville as scheduled this December. The units will be housed at Vanier School. The Morinville Public Elementary School is currently housed in the Sturgeon School Division offices and at the RC Parish Hall. Grades 1 to 4 students had originally been housed at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre but moved last month to the board office.