Gays urge fairness
Precedent on books for future NWT case

by Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 08/98) - The Northwest Territories could soon be the only jurisdiction in the country that permits discrimination against gay citizens thanks to a precedent-setting Supreme Court of Canada decision last week.

As a result, Out North is calling on Premier Don Morin to revise the NWT Fair Practices Act to catch up with the rest of Canada.

Morin and Justice Minister Goo Arlooktoo have yet to respond.

The Supreme Court ruled the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act must include sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds for discrimination.

Previously Alberta employers and landlords could legally discriminate against someone because they are either gay, bisexual or, in theory, straight.

NWT employers and landlords still can discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, though not on grounds such as race, sex or religious affiliation.

"It even highlights more that we need to address the issue of human rights protection in the territories very, very soon," said Out North board member Andrea Markowski.

Even before the April 2 decision that Alberta's human rights bill included a "cruel historical omission," the premier of Prince Edward Island -- the only other jurisdiction with similar legislation -- had promised to revise the province's human rights laws.

"The NWT is literally the only jurisdiction in Canada that has neither committed to changes of legislation or changed its legislation," New Democrat MP Svend Robinson told xxxYellowknifer this week.

"I would hope the NWT legislature would recognize, in light of this decision, rather than fighting an application in the courts, that they should abide by the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada and amend their legislation in the near future," said Robinson, the first openly gay MP.

Out North is also urging Morin to amend NWT bills that restrict the definition of a spouse to someone of the opposite sex.

Legally, that is a separate issue, but one on which the Supreme Court is expected to rule soon in a case known as M vs. H.

In September, NWT MLAs proposed amendments to the Family Law Act, the Children's Law Act, the Adoption Act and the Child and Family Services Act, but rejected proposals to expand the laws' conventional, narrow definition of spouse to include same-sex couples.

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