Dewlin Vriend and his legal team returned home from the Supreme Court of Canada to find a massive crowd waiting for them at the Edmonton International Airport.
Alberta was in a frenzy, and the anticipation built as the province waited for the Supreme Court to issue its ruling on the future of equality for Alberta’s Queer and Trans community.
It was going to be a close call. Delwin’s legal team’s hopes rested with Justice Sopinka — the swing vote.
But a week after the hearing, the tragic news of Justice Sopinka’s death shocked the nation.
Now, it was anyone’s guess as to which way the ruling would go.
In this episode, we learn about the Supreme Court’s ruling on Vriend v. Alberta and how the media factored into the public debate and warring PR campaigns over the use of the notorious Notwithstanding Clause.
Welcome to episode 7 of Vriend Versus Alberta.
*NOTE: The terms “Queer and Trans” and “sexual and gender minorities” are used in this series to refer to the 2SLGBTQI+ community as a whole. We acknowledge the great diversity within this community, and you can find more information about this here.
Archival audio of Delwin Vriend, et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Alberta, et al was used with permission from the Supreme Court of Canada.
Read the Supreme Court’s ruling on Vriend v. Alberta.
Watch Senator Paula Simon’s speech in the Red Chamber about Vriend v. Alberta.
Learn more about Vriend v. Alberta from the Alberta Labour History Institute.
Learn more about Vriend v. Alberta on the University of Alberta’s Bridging Connections podcast.
Learn more about Vriend v. Alberta on the Edmonton Heritage Council’s Edmonton City as Museum Project podcast produced with Alberta Labour History Institute.
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EPISODE IMAGE: Paula Simons recounts her time covering the Vriend v. Alberta case during her time as a reporter for the Edmonton Journal. CREDIT: Edmonton Community Foundation
Transcripts by Karli Drew.
[The Well Endowed Podcast theme music plays]
Andrew Paul [00:00:10] Hello, and welcome to The Well Endowed Podcast. I’m Andrew Paul.
Edmonton Community Foundation plays many roles...
And now, Vriend Versus Alberta.
[transition music plays behind episode preview]
Murray Billett [00:01:03] So, when we got off the airport, there was a couple hundred people with banners and— and the media were there.
Doug Stollery [00:01:09] A biiiig, burly, tough looking guy came up to us and said, (as Tough Guy) “Are you part of this gay case?”
Murray [00:01:16] And people had to come out and face the discrimination. And not just the discrimination, you guys. The gay bashing.
Doug S [00:01:22] The person we viewed as the swing vote on the Court passed away, tragically.
Murray [00:01:28] The decision was coming down at 7:30 our time.
Delwin Vriend [00:01:32] No matter what the decision was, that day was gonna be [laughing] hell.
Doug S [00:01:36] We got a phone call and the guy said, “I have the decision.”
Sheila Greckol [00:01:40] The decision came over the fax machine. Delwin was waiting outside.
Delwin [00:01:45] And I just collapsed. We know the government is never— not going to be reacting well, and we know they’re going to think about invoking the notwithstanding clause. So we know the fight’s not over.
[additional transition music plays]
Darrin Hagen [00:02:00] Welcome to episode seven of Vriend Versus Alberta. This series is produced by the Edmonton Community Foundation and the Edmonton Queer History Project. I’m your host, Darrin Hagen.
The team returned to Alberta. For Delwin, Doug and Murray, the reality was that they were flying back to a province that had spent the past seven years arguing against their equality. But it was also their home. They landed at the Edmonton International Airport and were totally surprised at the scene that awaited them.
[additional transition music plays]
Doug S [00:02:36] Uh… My then partner, now husband, Scott, came to pick me up at the airport and as-as we walked outta the airport, a [emphasized] big, burly, pretty tough looking guy came up to us and said, (as Tough Guy) “Are you part of this gay case?” And we had known all along that there were… there were risks of taking on this case. Uh… and we had known that there could potentially be threats of violence. Uh, and I thought to myself, “Wow, this is it.” So, uh, I said to him, “Y-yeah?” And he said, (as Tough Guy) “I’m with the Teamsters and we’re right behind you on this.” So it just showed to me [chuckling] a good lesson not to be— not to stereotype people.
Delwin [00:03:23] I was absolutely stunned. We get outta the airplane and we’re walking through the Edmonton International Airport, coming down the escalators, and there’s this… huge group of people with tons of placards around. Like, “Welcome home, Delwin,” “Congratulations,” whatever. Huge group. It’s like, “How did you even know I was coming home?” [Laughs]
That was pretty amazing to see, all these people. I think it was so often easy to forget that so many people were implicated in this. That so many people had… a vested interest in the outcome of this. You know, I’m always focusing on me, obviously, and suddenly to see this crowd at the airport of all things. It’s like, yeah, okay, you come out for a rally because the rally is organized and… and there’s something going on. But Delwin coming home from Ottawa?
Yeah, that, uh— it shocked me. And it sort of brought home… Oh yeah, you know, there are a lot of people that have a lot of interest in this. And it was good to— it was good for that to be brought back home again. It’s like, yeah, this isn’t just about me. This is— this is huge.
Murray [00:04:24] There was a couple hundred people with banners an-and the media were there and… and we got— we got a-a-a welcome back like nobody expected. Just another beautiful moment of-of this community and the recognition, the understanding, and the honest… congratulations for doing that. Um, that… was more touching than [crying] people would understand.
Darrin [00:04:54] The Supreme Court hearing had been held in Ottawa as the winter of 1997 began to tighten its grip on the nation. Delwin’s legal team anticipated that it would be spring of 1998 before the ruling was handed down. Optimism was high because it seemed like the number of votes was working in their favour. With Justice Sopinka as the swing vote, thereby breaking a tie, there was a feeling that the time had finally arrived for the nation to solidify equality.
But the drama wasn’t over yet. Another potential hurdle appeared soon after the hearing
Doug S [00:05:26] We’re back in Edmonton. We’re feeling some sense of confidence. Certainly the newspaper reports of-of the case, uh, were very positive in our favour. Again, you don’t wanna be cocky about these things. But within 20 days after the case, Justice Sopinka, the what— the person we viewed as the swing vote on the Court, passed away, tragically. Uh, and that clearly, uh, impacted how we had strategized about the case. And we had concerns that if we weren’t able to sway any of the other four judges who had ruled on the other side in the Egan case, then we would lose the appeal.
Darrin [00:06:09] The death of Justice Sopinka was a blow to the confidence of everyone involved. For the entire winter, the team waited for news of the decision. It wasn’t until spring of 1998 that they received word that the decision would be handed down on April 2nd. They decided to gather to hear the news. The morning of April 2nd, the entire team gathered at the office of Chivers, Greckol and Kanee.
Sheila Greckol, Murray Billett, and Delwin all have their own distinct recollections of how that morning went… and how they responded to the news.
Sheila Greckol [00:06:41] So we were at my office when the… the, um, phone call came and the decision came over the fax machine.
Murray [00:06:48] I was at the office of Chivers, Greckol and Kanee on 83rd Avenue. Uh, we were there at seven o’clock in the morning because it was— the decision was coming down at 7:30 our time. Uh, ‘cause again, the decision was coming out of Ottawa. So we were all in the boardroom waiting for the good old fax machine to start to buzz and whir, and, uh, deliver the decision of the— of the day that we were waiting for.
Delwin was missing, and Andy was missing. And we’re going, you know, “Where are they? Where are they? Where are they?”
But what we didn’t know… was Delwin was outside in his car with Andy. And… and Delwin will tell this story better than I did, but he… just couldn’t come up. He was crying.
Delwin [00:07:41] I’m standing outside the office door with my boyfriend. It’s like, “I don’t want to go in. I really don’t want to go in.” And we just stood there. I was like, “I don’t wanna go in.” Um, it still brings tears.
[pauses to gather himself]
‘Cause I knew that after that, no matter what the decision was, there was going to be more media. No matter what the decision was, that day was gonna be hell.
Darrin [00:08:19] In this pre-digital era, the team would have to wait for the fax machine to start printing the many, many pages of the decision. But they had arranged for someone in Ottawa to call them with the abridged version.
Doug Stollery remembers that call.
Doug S [00:08:32] We were all gathered at Sheila’s office and, um, the— We got a phone call and the guy said, “I have the decision. Now let me just start flipping through to see what happened.” And, you know, the decision is a hundred and something pages long. So it’s-it’s not [giggling] all that easy, as we sat there anxiously awaiting it. And he announced that all eight of the reigning judges had found that the exclusion of sexual orientation from the Alberta Human Rights legislation was unconstitutional and did contravene the Charter.
Delwin [00:09:07] And then… I heard a cheer [crying] from outside the office… and I just collapsed. I collapsed ‘cause I knew it was done, but it wasn’t done. That there was going to be more media that day. There were gonna be more rallies. But… it was done.
Doug S [00:09:35] So, that unanimous ruling was really remarkable. And seven of the eight judges ruled that the proper remedy was not to strike down the Act, but to read sexual orientation into the Act wherever any of the other grounds were referenced. So, it was a wonderful victory. It was as much as we could ever have hoped for. And maybe even as much as that was the language of… of the key decision, uh, written by justices Cory and Iacobucci. It was poetry.
Darrin [00:10:16] Here’s an example of the language of the ruling:
“The rights enshrined in Section 15(1) of the Charter are fundamental to Canada. They reflect the fondest dreams, the highest hopes, and finest aspirations of Canadian society.”
Doug S [00:10:32] It talked about… the fundamental values that exist in Canada, and how the exclusion of sexual orientation from the Alberta Human Rights legislation did not align with those fundamental values.
Darrin [00:10:47] “It is easy to say that everyone who is just like ‘us’ is entitled to equality. Everyone finds it more difficult to say that those who are ‘different’ from us in some way should have the same equality rights that we enjoy. Yet so soon as we say any enumerated or analogous group is less deserving and unworthy of equal protection and benefit of the law, all minorities and all of Canadian society are demeaned. It is so deceptively simple and so devastatingly injurious to say that those who are handicapped, or of a different race, or religion, or colour, or sexual orientation are less worthy. Yet, if any enumerated or analogous group is denied the equality provided by Section 15 then the equality of every other minority group is threatened. That equality is guaranteed by our constitution.”
Doug S [00:11:38] And it talked about… if only in the past we had recognized the importance of human rights, some of the tragedies of the past could have been avoided.
Darrin [00:11:50] If equality rights for minorities had been recognized, the all-too-frequent tragedies of history might have been avoided. It can never be forgotten that discrimination is the antithesis of equality, and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual.
Doug S [00:12:08] The lovely, remarkable work of art.
Delwin [00:12:11] And even my lawyers didn’t know that that day. It probably took me another 15/20 minutes before I could go into that office. They said, “Oh, you’re here. We got the decision.” Like, “Yeah, I heard.” [Laughs]
Um… and they hadn’t even heard this story until just a few years ago and was like, [whispering] “Oh, we didn’t even know you were outside the door.” I was like, [whispering] “No, I know you didn’t know.” [Laughs]
Um… that was the hardest morning… of the [emphasized] whole time. And it… it… it seems so absurd. I mean, even now, I don’t understand my emotions around that. But yeah, it was— it was— it was the culmination, and yet not quite the culmination. It’s like there’s still events coming. There’s still a rally going to be coming. There’s still media.
Darrin [00:12:59] Delwin’s prediction of what was ahead in regards to media saturation was about to be proven accurate. A press conference was announced in order for the team to deliver the news and commentary at McKay Avenue School in downtown Edmonton. An astonishing array of media set up camp both inside and out. Delwin was already feeling the pressure of the mounting media interest in the case. His seemingly basic desire for some kind of local justice had become a nationwide frenzy, and the relentless glare of the spotlight was taking its toll.
Murray Billet had been involved in press conferences before, but this was a whole new level.
Murray [00:13:35] The… uh… press conference for, uh— for this particular decision was the biggest press conference I’ve ever seen in-in my life. And I’ve— I’ve been to a few. But, uh, it was significant. Um. The magnitude of media that showed up. I believe we had over, uh— somewhere between 25 or 30, um, reporters.
We had trucks outside with the old satellite trucks parked outside and-and a media list that everybody had to sign in because we had to manage who was going to be interviewed by Delwin. And, um, again, at the table there was our legal team, myself and Delwin, and, uh, representatives of some of the other interveners and some of the other allies as well. So it was… it was a significant press conference in terms of the sheer number of people and the duration of it. I mean, we were here, uh, for a couple of hours by the time everybody got in, got set up, the questions answered, and then the subsequent interviews after that press conference. So it was… it was an enormous, uh, exciting day because of th— because of the success of the case. It was a remarkable day. Remarkable day.
Darrin [00:14:57] Finally, it was Delwin’s turn to speak. A seven year battle had brought him to this pivotal moment. And the nation was watching.
Delwin [00:15:05] An-and then it comes to my turn to, um— to say— to say my words about how… how I feel about the win and… and where we are. And I spent— I think I spent a good 5/10 minutes explaining, you know, how utterly pathetic the… the Alberta government has been this whole time in fighting, uh, against the rights of Albertans. And, uh, how shameful that was. And, you know, I’m going on and on and I think being fairly… fairly eloquent.
They’re getting their sound clips that they want, all the media. And we— yeah, we come to the end of my time and I say, “Yeah, I think… I think… I think I’ve said about all I need to.” I said, “Oh, but you know what—” I didn’t quite say it that way, but, “HAHA, I win.”
And I meant it as “HAHA, I win” because that was the moment that defined exactly what this was all about. It was a— an Alberta government schoolyard spat. They didn’t want to— they didn’t wanna do something that was— was just, and they were going to— they were going to kick and scream unti— and try to take their ball home until they were forced not to. Until they were forced into doing the right thing. Well, what gets in the news the next day? The headlines are all, “HAHA, I win.” That is a phrase that to this day has divided people. And I stand by it. I say “HAHA.”
Darrin [00:16:36] Keep in mind this was a radically different media landscape than the one we know today. One could say that this was the pinnacle of health for traditional media before the internet began its incessant creep into the information industry. Edmonton had two major dailies, the Journal and the Sun like today. But back then, they were still owned by two separate companies. The Journal leaning more progressive than its conservative rival daily. All the television and radio stations were reporting the story in detail. It was a local story with national significance, and so the Globe and Mail was there.
Alberta also had a far right magazine called Alberta Report, which had been particularly toxic in its reporting on the entire case. Regardless of the news outlet, everyone jumped on the “HAHA, I win” statement. It was even the headline in some cases. But every outlet was presenting a different view of the case, and its implications on society.
Murray [00:17:29] Some of the journalists with the Edmonton Sun— Um, I-I remember one headline… and it was a big headline: “Seeing Two Men Kiss Makes Me Sick.” You know, that kind of vitriol that has just no place in any kind of prominent newspaper. Um. We had some other reporters that-that would try to take pot shots at us.
But what was cool… most of the reporters— I would say the majority of the reporters, no matter what the outlet— unless it was an Alberta Reporter, one of those crazy rightwing magazines or media outlets, um, most of the reporters got it. Most of the reporters understood what… what was taking place. And most of the reporters understood the discrimination because they’d covered the case all along, and they’d covered the gay bashings and the discrimination that was happening.
And, you know, let’s not forget there was still no gay marriage. There was still no gay benefits. There was still a lot of work to be done at that point. So, uh, there was a lot of anticipatory questions like, “What are you gonna do next?” “What’s gonna happen?—” You know, “What about marriage?” “What about this?” And to that— I knew all of those dominoes would eventually fall, and they did. But there’s still more.
Darrin [00:18:46] Before becoming an independent senator, Paula Simons was a journalist. Most remember her as a columnist at the Edmonton Journal. But before that, she cut her teeth at the notorious Alberta Report, along with a surprising number of Canadian media luminaries. She remembers the intense discussions at the Edmonton Journal, which were no doubt occurring in newsrooms across the country about the tone of coverage and editorial positioning on this story.
Paula Simons [00:19:11] There would absolutely have been discussions about the tone of the coverage. The editorial board would’ve… would’ve met to discuss those things. I— I filled in on the editorial board for some of that time, but I can’t— You know, I have to be honest and say I don’t remember. As I say, I—I was— I wasn’t nobody. I’ve never been nobody, but I wasn’t— I wasn’t— You know, I wasn’t the marquee columnist of the Edmonton Journal. I wasn’t a senior member of the editorial board. So those decisions would’ve happened over my head.
But certainly the mood in the newsroom… was inspired. I think everybody in the newsroom knew that this was a major civil rights issue. A major moral test for Alberta. Uh, you know, a big national story that put Alberta in the national spotlight. And I think most people in the newsroom were cognizant of the fact that we were in the vanguard of something really important. What I remember most are the pictures of Delwin Vriend on the steps of the legislature, and Delwin Vriend kissing his partner, and all of the people in the crowd. And I’m not even sure I was there. I’ve just seen that picture so often, it’s replaced my actual memory of what happened, which is a bit spooky.
Darrin [00:20:22] In the wake of the decision, all of Canada was waiting to see what the Alberta government would do in response. By no means was it a foregone conclusion that they would accept the Supreme Court’s decision.
Doug S [00:20:33] Here we thought the case was over. Uh, and I thought, “Well, this has been a remarkable— What, four years? And—” Um, you know, “It’s been a tremendous experience and now it’s time to get on with the rest of my life.” And certainly time to get… get back to the rest of the work that I had sitting on my desk. Um. Usually when you get a decision out of the Supreme Court of Canada, that’s the last word. Turns out in this case, it wasn’t necessarily the case.
Paula [00:21:03] There was this moment of huge tension between when the decision came out and when Ralph Klein decided whether or not he would invoke the notwithstanding clause. And this to me is— What I remember more than the day the decision came out was this… limbo in between where we waited to find out what the Alberta government’s response would be.
Delwin [00:21:23] And… we know the government is not going to be reacting well, and we know they’re going to think about… invoking the notwithstanding clause. So we know the fight’s not over.
Darrin [00:21:39] When the federal government was negotiating with all the provinces to move the Charter of Rights and Freedoms forward, there was an important compromise that was included. In effect, the Charter says that a government may declare that a law is valid, notwithstanding the fact that it is contrary to the Charter. This is the notorious notwithstanding clause, and was only ever intended to be utilized in extremely rare circumstances. And at that point, had never been invoked by Alberta in the history of the Charter.
But the Government of Alberta, after initially stating that it had no intention of invoking the notwithstanding clause, had begun to indicate that it was reconsidering that stance, perhaps in reaction to the deluge of intense pressure it was receiving from special interest groups determined to see the government continue to block equality for queer and trans Albertans. Alberta’s record of excluding queer and trans people from full participation in Alberta’s life was well-documented and ongoing. Ralph Klein and Stockwell Day had both used queer rights as an issue to consolidate support among the more conservative of Alberta’s rightwing.
The many actions it had indulged in during the years that the Vriend case wound its way to the Supreme Court demonstrated that the fear of the notwithstanding clause being invoked was valid.
Doug S [00:22:56] The morning that the decision came out, uh, there was a media interview, uh, with a woman who was leading a group, the Alberta Federation of Women United for Families. Uh. And she was talking about the decision and how this was a slippery slope towards things like same-sex marriage, which turned out to be quite prescient, actually. But, um, behind her was a large poster encouraging the Alberta government to invoke the notwithstanding clause under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
So the notwithstanding clause allows a government to declare that a law is valid, notwithstanding the fact that a court has determined that it’s unconstitutional. That it’s in breach of the Charter. It had never been used in Alberta. And to this date, the Canadian government has never used th-the notwithstanding clause. But this was a big poster behind her encouraging the government to… to use this clause to override the decision. And I thought to myself, among other things, “Where did that poster come from? Because the judgment’s only like a few hours old. So how on earth is… is that already produced?”
Well, it became pretty clear that, um, those who were opposing us in this case… not the government, I don’t think… but others who were opposed were concerned that we were going to win the case. And well in advance of the decision coming out launched a media campaign that was ready to go when the judgment came out, uh, to try and encourage the government to use the notwithstanding clause.
And so… within hours of seeing that poster, I started hearing the radio ads and the TV ads and the newspaper ads. Uh. This flurry of media advertising, encouraging the government to override the decision. And… the religious community certainly took different views on the case. Some churches, uh, synagogues were strongly in favour of the decision that had come out. Others were strongly opposed.
And in some churches, uh, there was a movement to get their parishioners to sign cards that they would then mail in to, or send in to, the Premier saying, “We want you to override this decision because we think it’s fundamentally wrong.” And there were [emphasized] a lot of those letters that came in from that source and from many other sources. The government was, I think, pretty much buried by… by mail encouraging them to override the decision.
Darrin [00:25:42] It was becoming clear that this opposition to the ruling had been organized and coordinated in advance. But the activists and advocates in support of equality were ready for a battle as well.
Sheila Greckol remembers the pro-Delwin efforts as citizens and politicians alike stepped forward to add their voices of support to the conversation, imploring the Government of Alberta to do the right thing and refrain from invoking the notwithstanding clause.
Sheila [00:26:07] We held press conferences and then… in a very short period of time, the forces against us were organizing and galvanizing and putting pressure on the government to invoke the notwithstanding clause. So we, um, obtained the volunteer services of Calder Bateman, our friend Margaret Bateman, who assisted us with trying to generate a response and tried to organize, um, people to express that the government should not invoke the notwithstanding clause.
And I remember we held a couple of press conferences. People stepped forward. People like Senator Ghitter in Calgary. We had the dean of the law school. We had other prominent Edmontonians, um… speak their mind about this and how the Alberta government should not invoke the notwithstanding clause, how retrograde it should be, how the rights should triumph and so on. And we had a person called Ken Chapman who was quite a prominent conservative. I had done, uh, the radio panel— political panel on CBC with him for 10 years, I think. He was [emphasized] totally with us. He was, again, in the old style, the Peter Lougheed era progressive conservative. And he was, you know— We formed kind of a group that was pushing back against the government’s efforts— or the public, you know— the portion of the public that wanted the notwithstanding clause in the Charter to be invoked, um… so that the decision would be for naught.
And so, we involved— got involved in this public relations campaign, um, organizing. The unions came forward to support us. We had, um, politicians at all levels come forward to support us. And then on the other side were the usual suspects. You know, um, the Catholic Church or their surrogates. Again, these women’s groups that really don’t call themselves the Catholic Church, but in truth are the Catholic Church.
Um, and then we had the extremely conservative politicians coming forward speaking against us and really, it did a bit sort the wheat from the chaff for me. I saw who was prepared to step out and speak up and who wasn’t. And… um, I never— you know, I will never see those people that I’m thinking of right now in the very same way. Uh, refused to step out and speak up.
But we had lots of quiet support, even from people in important positions who really couldn’t speak out for various reasons. So, it was a fraught time. It was a time of great anxiety. It was a time of great disappointment that there would even— that we would even have to go forward and deal with this other battle. Um, you know. But that was the flavour then. And I’m kind of sad to say there’s still some of those people around in Alberta in the Alberta political ethos who thinks that, you know, this decision should never have been made. But we made so many strides— not me, but the community has made so many strides since then. I’m reasonably confident that— uh, that we’re never turning back from the boat that we’re on in Canada.
Darrin [00:29:17] In addition, the emergence of allies to the cause was encouraging, even inspiring. People from many walks of life seemed cognizant of how dangerous the precedent would be if the Government of Alberta invoked the notwithstanding clause.
Even in Doug Stollery’s own family, support appeared in surprising ways.
Paula [00:29:37] One cannot underestimate the work of Sheila Greckol and Doug Stollery on this file, uh, or community leaders like Michael Phair and Murray Billett. But I also wanna single out one of the best straight allies on this file.
Who was Bob Stollery? Doug’s dad. I mean, when you talk about the Stollery Children’s Hospital, that’s the Stollery we’re talking about. I mean, Bob Stollery, uh, with PCL Poole Construction, was a very powerful businessman in this community. And he made it his mission to fight back against any idea of invoking the notwithstanding clause. He sat by his fax machine faxing every well-connected political conservative he knew to demand that they not invoke the notwithstanding clause.
Doug S [00:30:25] Although my family, um, ever since I came out in my mid-thirties, has been very supportive. And when we were kind of in the— in the dark days after the decision came out and when all the advertising was happening and there was this… blitz of mail going into the government encouraging them to invoke the notwithstanding clause, we went over to visit my dad.
And, um, he was in his office and he didn’t have a computer, but he had a fax machine that he was very proud of, and we could see him and we could see that he had a piece of paper that he was feeding into the machine. And as soon as it came out, he’d feed it back in again and he’d feed it back in again. And we asked him, “Well, what are you doing?” He said, “Oh, this is my letter to the Premier encouraging him not to invoke the notwithstanding clause supporting your case.” And I said, “Yeah, well dad, you can’t just keep feeding the sheet into the machine.” And he gave me that look that, you know, parents sometimes do and said, “Doug, you’re way behind. You need all the help you can get.”
Darrin [00:31:31] The voices calling for the government to accept the ruling of the Supreme Court were rising and gathering. Words spread among the activists and allies that a rally was being planned at the Alberta Legislature in an attempt to compel the Ralph Klein government to reject the calls from the extreme right to invoke the notwithstanding clause.
Murray [00:31:49] I know there was some serious discussion about invoking the notwithstanding clause. Ralph Klein’s caucus of the day consisted of a number of people that were determined to quash that ruling. They didn’t want “the gays” to have any of those rights whatsoever. So, I took it very seriously, and as did our community, as did our team. And that’s why we went to the legislature. That’s why we had— I think there was over a thousand people at more than one rally letting them know: this is about us, this is about our families.
There was a part of me that was just going, “Yes, we nailed it.” But I just knew the haters were going to be there. They’re organized. They’re powerful. They have money. I’ve always been cautious of what they’re doing, what they’re— what they’re not doing, what they’re organizing for. And even to this day, uh, with the work that I’ve done… I always kind of keep one eye over my shoulder looking around because of-of… where we live and who we are. Shouldn’t have to do that. But I think most people tha-that are really out, like many of us are, there’s still that sense of, you know, “Let’s just keep an eye on ourselves here.” Uh. And sadly that’s still important today.
Darrin [00:33:13] Delwin’s team was about to learn how low the forces against equality were willing to go to achieve their ends. The storm that had been ignited was about to burn out of control.
Coming up on the next episode of Vriend Versus Alberta.
[additional transition music plays behind next episode preview]
Doug S [00:33:26] There is no doubt there were some within caucus who were very strongly in favour of overriding the decision by using the notwithstanding clause.
Sheila [00:33:36] So I don’t think it had ever been invoked prior to that.
Delwin [00:33:40] This was— this was blowing up.
Paula [00:33:42] There was this moment of intense, [emphasized] intense outrage.
Delwin [00:33:47] I had gotten some death threats early on.
Michael Phair [00:33:49] And saying that people like me belonged in— should be dead, or we belong in hell.
Paula [00:33:54] “Dear Paul Simons, you will burn in hell for all eternity. You and your sodomite-loving friends at the Edmonton Journal.”
Michael [00:34:01] We want you to change how you travel to City Council. Take a different route every day.
Julie Lloyd [00:34:07] It’s heartbreaking to be reminded that people can be so cruel.
Paula [00:33:12] You cannot fight that hate by hiding.
[outro music plays in background]
Andrew [00:34:18] This episode of Vriend Versus Alberta is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation and the Edmonton Queer History Project. It was written, directed, and hosted by Darrin Hagen. It was edited and chase produced by Andrew Paul.
On this episode, you heard the voices of Doug Stollery, Delwin Vriend, Murray Billett, Sheila Greckol, and Paula Simons. Many thanks to our sound operators Ariana Brophy, David Gallinger, and Andrew Paul. We’d also like to thank our production assistants JoAnne Pierce, Cara Paul, and Graeme Lummer.
Special thanks to Doug Stollery, Cindy Davis, Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum, Cambridge LLP, Goldblatt Partners LLP, Chivers Carpenter Lawyers, and Torys LLP.
The music in Vriend Versus Alberta is written, composed, and recorded by Darrin Hagen.
You can learn more about the Edmonton Community Foundation at ecfoundation.org, and check out more queer history by visiting the Edmonton Queer History Project at EdmontonQueerHistoryProject.ca.