Sask. government to forge on with school pronoun policy despite advocate for children, youth recommendations

Lisa Broda, Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth, made two recommendations following a review of the pronoun policy implemented in schools by the provincial government. (CBC - image credit)
Lisa Broda, Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth, made two recommendations following a review of the pronoun policy implemented in schools by the provincial government. (CBC - image credit)

The Saskatchewan government plans to implement its new school pronoun policy, despite the province's advocate for children and youth having recommended it make several changes to better respect and protect students.

The province "remains committed to protecting the right of parents to be involved in their children's education and to implementation of the Parental Inclusion and Consent policy," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education told CBC News in an emailed statement.

The policy, announced by the provincial education minister on Aug. 22, states that "when a student requests that their preferred name, gender identity, and/or gender expression be used, parental/guardian consent will be required for students under the age of 16."

Schools would not need permission for students 16 or older.

Lisa Broda, the advocate for children and youth, committed to reviewing the policy shortly after it was announced last month, alleging she was not consulted in its creation. Her review was released late Friday afternoon.

The policy has proven divisive. It has come under harsh public scrutiny and sparked protests, although Angus Reid polling suggests most Saskatchewan residents want parents to be notified, and that half want parents to have to be informed and give permission.

A court action was filed by an advocacy group against the government in the Court of King's Bench, arguing the pronoun policy infringes on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In light of the lawsuit, Premier Scott Moe previously said his government would take the extra step to have the policy enshrined in legislation that would be tabled during the fall session. This week, Moe said the government is willing to use tools at its disposal to make that happen, invoking the charter's notwithstanding clause, which allows the government to override some charter rights to pass legislation.

The override can last for up to five years, but the government can re-enact them.

Broda's review was to assess whether the pronoun policy — and its development — respect the rights of children and youth, according to the document.

Broda, who was unavailable for further comment Friday, made two recommendations.

The Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly in Regina, Sask., on July, 2, 2021.
The Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly in Regina, Sask., on July, 2, 2021.

Broda supported the government's position in that it wants to better involve parents in their children's education, but she stated in the review that that is not enough to justify infringing on children's rights. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

The review says she supports the government wanting to better involve parents and guardians, but its "reliance on a broad commitment to 'parental rights' on its own, does not override the rights of the child."

Broda recommended changes the policy so it follows the charter right to gender identity and expression, and that it defines gender expression, respects a student's decision based on their capacity instead of their age and includes a requirement to investigate complaints of misgendering.

The policy should also offer continued support to students who wish to involve their parents, but shouldn't force parental involvement if for students "with capacity," the review says.

The implied refusal to use a name or pronoun for a student under 16 other than one they were born with — without parental consent or determining that student's capacity to consent themselves — is discriminatory because it violates their rights to gender identity and expression, the review says.

The policy could violate provincial and federal human rights laws, as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, it adds. Broda noted there may be times where limiting certain rights may be justifiable, but she believes the standard wasn't reached in the case.

The review also says that using the correct names and pronouns for transgender and non-binary youth — in school or elsewhere — has proven to be to better for their mental and emotional health.

Broda also recommended that the ministry develop and implement a plan to increase professional supports available in schools to help include parents about gender identity "when appropriate and in the best interests of the child," the review says.

She did note the policy contained some positives that are "something to build on."

In its statement, the ministry acknowledged Broda's comments and "agrees with her that there are various positive impacts derived from the policy, such as recognizing the importance of parents and guardians in supporting a child's development."

The policy applies to all of Saskatchewan's school divisions, including those that may not have previously had gender-related policies, which could help some students — even if it's just those 16 or older — to be identified properly and prevent harm, the review says.

The policy requires an investigation if there is a complaint of someone intentionally being misgendered, and it encourages providing supports to students to speak with their gender identity, the report says.

Opposition NDP education critic Matt Love supports Broda's review and suggests the policy should be scrapped, according to a statement issued to news media.

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