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Sask. advocate for children and youth weighs in on province's divisive pronoun and name rules for schools

Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth Lisa Broda says changes are needed to the province’s parental inclusion and consent policy. (Travis Reddaway/CBC - image credit)
Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth Lisa Broda says changes are needed to the province’s parental inclusion and consent policy. (Travis Reddaway/CBC - image credit)

Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth is calling for changes in the province's new parental inclusion and consent policy to better protect and respect student's rights.

In August, the Saskatchewan government announced that schools are now required to get parental consent if a student under 16 wants to change their preferred pronouns or name.

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

Broda's review aimed to assess whether the pronoun policy and its development respected the rights of children and youth.

"We basically recommended the ministry pull back the requirement for consent and rather than have a consent focus, recognize the right of young people to gender identity and expression," Broda said on CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning on Monday.

Broda said she has yet hear from the provincial government whether her recommendations will be accepted.

On Friday, the Saskatchewan government wrote in a statement to CBC News that it " 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."

The policy has proven to be divisive, sparking harsh public scrutiny and 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. The survey question did not specify whether it was referring to legal or informal name changes.

Listen | Sask. Child and Youth Advocate weighs in on province's Parental Inclusion and Consent policy: 

Inclusion is important but children's rights must be upheld: Broda

Broda said she agrees with the government's position that parental inclusion in their child's education is important, but that children's rights must be upheld.

"We agree it's best for parents to be involved in significant decisions of their children. That's a worthy aspect of the policy," Broda said. "However it has to uphold the children's rights and not effectively veto their rights, because these are human rights that we all have."

Broda said the Saskatchewan government has a duty to adhere to charter documents such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Lisa Broda is Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth. She made her annual report on March 29.
Lisa Broda is Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth. She made her annual report on March 29.

Broda said she agrees with the government's position that parental inclusion in their child's education is important but says the children's rights must be upheld.  (CBC)

In its statement, the Ministry of Education acknowledged Broda's comments and said it "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."

One positive Broda highlighted in her review is that 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.

A Regina-based advocacy group filed court action against the government in the Court of King's Bench, arguing the pronoun policy infringes on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for children under 16.

Saskatchewan's Premier Scott Moe recently told reporters that his Saskatchewan Party government is ready to use different 'tools,' potentially including the notwithstanding clause, to ensure the policy remains in place.

The notwithstanding clause is a provision in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that allows federal, provincial and territorial governments to pass laws that override certain Charter rights for up to five years.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is ready to use the notwithstanding clause to protect a new rule requiring parental permission for transgender and nonbinary students under 16 to use different names or pronouns at school.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is ready to use the notwithstanding clause to protect a new rule requiring parental permission for transgender and nonbinary students under 16 to use different names or pronouns at school.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he is ready to use the notwithstanding clause to protect a new rule requiring parental permission for students under 16 to use different names or pronouns at school. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Policy could be harmful to trans and non-binary students, Broda says

Broda recommended that the government exercise caution before considering the notwithstanding clause.

"The notwithstanding clause is a blunt instrument and it ought to only be used in extreme and necessary circumstances," Broda said. "If its use impacts the rights of children, then this ought to be really considered carefully."

Rally attendees hoped to send a message to the provincial government on Saturday.
Rally attendees hoped to send a message to the provincial government on Saturday.

Hundreds of people rallied in front of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Sept. 2 to oppose the province's new policy on parental consent for name and pronoun changes in schools. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

Broda said trans and non-binary youth under 16 could be harmed by the Saskatchewan government's pronoun and name rules if they stay in place.

"The literature says that if you are stifled and and you are unable to express your gender in a safe space, then of course there's going to be negative impacts," Broda said.

"The flip side is there's also literature that speaks to the use of pronouns and preferred names having positive impacts for young people, in that it decreases anxiety and depression, and increases overall well-being."