As a Canadian citizen and grad student researching human rights, I always want to see the country continue to progress forward. However, Canada continues to become a place that I am more pessimistic than optimistic about.
Across the country, government officials are becoming bolder in legislating their discriminatory views and putting them into policy. New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have taken the lead in targeting 2SLGBTQIA+ youth.
On June 8, 2023, Premier of New Brunswick Blaine Higgs announced changes to Policy 713. The policy, enacted in 2020, was created to ensure safe and inclusive school environments for 2SLGBTQIA+ students.
The recent changes have waived the previously mandatory rule that teachers must use students’ pronouns no matter their age. Now, teachers are allowed to misgender trans and non-binary students under the age of 16.
The legislation will also require schools to obtain parental consent for students who wish to change their name at school. If a student does not feel comfortable asking for parental consent but wishes to affirm their identity, they must be referred to a school psychologist to develop a coming-out plan.
As an Atlantic Canadian, I was not surprised by Higgs’s decision. He is known to be a right-wing conservative and has a court challenge against his government for not providing adequate abortion access in the province.
At the same time, my heart hurt. Atlantic Canada is mostly rural and continues to lack safe and supportive communities for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth. Now, these decisions add another fear for students — that they will be forcibly outed by their schools.
In late August, Saskatchewan followed suit. Its legislation would require parental consent for students under the age of 16 to change their pronouns or affirm their gender identity within the school environment.
Along with this provision, the government has paused any involvement of third-party sex education organizations from educating within schools, and has introduced the ability for students to opt out of sex-ed.
A lack of comprehensive sex education mixed with an inability to affirm one’s identity without fear of parental backlash leads to further isolation for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth.
It is concerning to see this type of legislation continue to gain traction across provinces. Recent transphobic activity is causing a stir in Manitoba, with the provincial Progressive Conservative (PC) party pledging to give “more rights to parents over their children’s education.”
In an article from CTV, PC leader and Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson was quoted saying “parents know what is in the best interests of their children.” But is that true? There are multiple examples in the world to suggest the contrary, including religious indoctrination or conversion therapy camps.
Instead, the question should be: “can young people give free informed consent to make their own decisions?” As they are autonomous beings, not just an appendage of their parents, they should have the ability to live their lives as their true selves.
Young people already don’t have much freedom to live their lives, and the legislation in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan further chips away at the autonomy they do hold.
Furthermore, education is under provincial jurisdiction, meaning that each province has the authority over how its education system is run. But the rights of 2SLGBTQIA+ youth have recently become wedge issues at the federal level.
At the Conservative party national convention, a motion prohibiting gender-related “life altering surgical interventions” for children was not only allowed, but approved with nearly 70 per cent of members voting in favour.
Notably, at the same convention, delegates voted that Canadians should have “bodily autonomy” regarding vaccines. So, the hypocrisy is through the roof.
A national Nanos poll released on Sept. 23 revealed that the top priority issues in Canada are inflation at 16.3 per cent, the environment at 14.9 per cent and jobs/economy at 13.1 per cent. So, I’m confused about why the Tories would make a national declaration that they will focus on stripping human rights from Canadian citizens. It seems other issues are top of mind for Canadians, like their most basic needs and human rights.
These policy decisions lead to the big question — what can be done to protect the rights of 2SLGBTQIA+ youth? This responsibility will likely come through the judgements of the courts.
Both Saskatchewan and New Brunswick already have cases launched against them, and it’s only a matter of time until one of them reaches the Supreme Court of Canada. What happens there?
Likely, the groups challenging the government will cite sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As someone who has extensively researched abortion in Canada, I am very familiar with Section 7, as it was the same section used to invalidate the criminality of abortions nationwide. Courts deemed the legislation as unconstitutional due to its violation of “life, liberty and security of the person.”
In the case of disallowing trans youth from using their pronouns or names at school, nearly the same argument could be made. Barring youth from undergoing gender-affirming care or allowing them to affirm their gender identities within a space that they spend the majority of their weekdays would violate their liberties.
Section 15 of the Charter states, “Every individual is equal before and under the law” and protects each individual “without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” This section would likely be violated through these policies as they deny trans youth the ability to affirm their identities in the same safe manner as cisgender heterosexual people do.
Hopefully, the court will rule against the governments and show that basic human rights of equal protections and security stand above these “parental rights,” and that these attacks on trans rights can be deemed unconstitutional before they continue to gain momentum.
Let me be clear on what these policies represent. They are not intended to expand parental rights for the benefit of youth. Rather, they are a right-wing smokescreen to push anti-2SLGBTQIA+ beliefs and expand government control over the lives of queer youth.
Canada must protect and reflect upon the human rights of its most vulnerable citizens, not cut off the few avenues of autonomy that they have.