Hundreds of people gather in Fredericton to support New Brunswick's new Policy 713

FREDERICTON — As protesters squared off Wednesday outside the legislature over the province's school gender identity policy, Premier Blaine Higgs met with participants on just one side of the divide — those who support his government's restrictions.

About 300 people, part of a Canada-wide series of marches, gathered in downtown Fredericton waving signs that read: “Leave our kids alone” and “Safe adults don’t ask children to keep secrets from parents."

On the sidewalk across the street, a group of about 100 counter-protesters gathered waving Pride flags and holding signs with messages such as “Keep hate out of schools” and “Schools don’t need closets.”

The protests in New Brunswick were spurred by the province's recent change to the LGBTQ+ policy, requiring students under 16 to get parental consent before their teachers can use their preferred names and pronouns. The change in Policy 713, which took effect when classes resumed this month, triggered resignations from Higgs' cabinet.

"My position has been clear all along," Higgs told reporters Wednesday. "I don't believe that our education system should be teaching kids to be untruthful with their parents."

"We are going to be insistent that there's a process here where parents are informed, parents make decisions, and they decide. It's not the system deciding for them."

The two groups tried to drown out each other with chants such as “leave our kids alone” and “trans rights are human rights.”

Mohammad Bakhash, who supports Higgs' policy, said parents should know what's happening with their children.

"We are not here to encourage any hate feelings against anyone," he said. "Everyone has the right to do what he or she wants. But we also have the right to raise our kids in a safe environment."

Beth Lyons, executive director of the New Brunswick Women's Council, was among the counter-protesters. She said the responsibility for shaping school curriculum and policies should lie with teachers and experts, not parents. "The existence of trans kids is not up for debate, they exist," Lyons said. "And because they exist, they need to be affirmed in the school system."

Liberal Leader Susan Holt posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the premier's policies have created a situation where New Brunswickers are yelling at each other in the streets.

"The only way forward is listening, with love and respectful dialogue," she said.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who has brought in similar changes, has said he is ready to use the notwithstanding clause to shield from court challenges the rule requiring parental permission for transgender and nonbinary students to use different names or pronouns at school.

Higgs said he hasn't ruled out using the notwithstanding clause to keep the changes his government has made to Policy 713. "I believe it's necessary to look at whatever it takes to have parents involved," he told reporters Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press