Trans players on sports teams have been subject of zero complaints, organizations say

Premier Blaine Higgs cited women's hockey as a sport where trans players could cause possible unfairness. Hockey New Brunswick says when it comes to youth hockey, unfairness is not an issue. (Click Images/Shutterstock - image credit)
Premier Blaine Higgs cited women's hockey as a sport where trans players could cause possible unfairness. Hockey New Brunswick says when it comes to youth hockey, unfairness is not an issue. (Click Images/Shutterstock - image credit)
Submitted by Nic Jansen
Submitted by Nic Jansen

The premier of New Brunswick says his government is concerned about trans athletes in girls' sports, but the association regulating school sports says it has not received a single complaint about that issue in at least a decade.

On Friday, when answering questions about his government's review of a school policy that protects trans LGBTQ students, Premier Blaine Higgs said another issue involving children is on his radar.

"There's the real issue of sports and understanding, 'OK what does that look like and how should that go forward?'" Higgs told reporters.

"And working with sports associations to figure that out, because we are concerned about the unfairness on women's teams."

Higgs — whose government has sparked a furore by reviewing a policy intended to make schools safer for queer and trans students — did not respond to questions about which sports associations he was referring to, and what conversations he's had or plans to have with them.

Andy Clark, the president of the New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association, said this is not a concern for his organization.

He may have had complaints come to him. We've not had any come to us. - Andy Clark

In the eight years the association has had a trans-inclusive policy, and in his time as president, the association has not received a single complaint from students, their parents or anyone concerned about fairness for non-trans students when it comes to including trans students.

He also said the province has not reached out to the association with the concerns that Higgs referenced.

Isabelle Arseneau/Radio-Canada
Isabelle Arseneau/Radio-Canada

"He may have had complaints come to him. We've not had any come to us," Clark said.

"So if that's what he's received, then we can discuss that and look at that … We have not received any complaints with the NBIAA and, really, no concerns have been raised around the policy with us."

About 16,000 students involved

The NBIAA runs 16 high-school organized sports, and includes a membership of 16,000 students and 2,000 coaches.

Clark said the organization has in fact had one complaint, but it came from a trans student who was assigned female at birth and was playing with the boys team. The student said he did not feel comfortable with that and asked to join the female team.

The rules originally said students should play with whichever team they identify with.

Following that complaint, Clark said the organization consulted with the Department of Education and changed the policy to say that a student can play with whichever team they feel comfortable.

"I think overall, just allowing student athletes to participate where they feel most comfortable, where they feel safest, has worked for us," he said. "There's nothing that's been negative from our standpoint at this point in time."

Policy 713, which sparked the debate, does not address school sports specifically. It does though say "all students will be able to participate in curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular activities that are safe, welcoming, and consistent with their gender identity."

The policy also outlines guidelines for schools teachers, principals and staff about LGBTQ student safety. It includes guidelines about respecting the pronouns of trans students and making gender-neutral washrooms available.

Review expanded to include sports

More than a month after the review of the policy began, Higgs has clarified that the policy is not being repealed or suspended, but rather one section is being reviewed and some minor changes could be made.

Last week, the sections of the policy being reviewed have expanded to include "the process for team sport selection and participation," according to a statement sent to CBC News on behalf of Higgs and Education Minister Bill Hogan.

"The other point in terms of you know, transgender, let's say, women, on women's hockey team. You basically say 'OK what about the the other women on the hockey team that obviously aren't able to compete in the same manner?'" he said. "Is that fair? I don't know."

Higgs is referencing the discussion about what kind of advantage male puberty and physiology gives an athlete who transitions to a woman.

The conversation about allowing transgender women to compete alongside cisgender women has been ongoing in the elite sports fields.

But for school sports, and junior and minor New Brunswick hockey, it's not been an issue, according to the president of HockeyNB Nic Jansen.

"There's quite frankly just none that have come through our office," he said.

In fact, with 15 players suspended for discrimination last year, the organization is focusing on the importance of including people who have been historically excluded.

"We need to be committed to making hockey and making sports more inclusive," he said. "I think there's still some work to be done in this in this space. We need to provide education coaches, to volunteers to the athletes themselves."

HockeyNB had 14,610 registered players this season. The majority of them, 94 per cent, are minors between the ages of four to 17.

Jansen said he's been the president for nine years, and has not seen a single complaint about fairness from either trans or cisgender athletes or their parents.

HockeyNB has adopted Hockey Canada's policy on gender inclusion, which says people can play with the team they identify with. But HockeyNB also has many co-ed teams, Jansen said, which makes the discussion even less relevant.

"From under-seven all the way up to to under-18, we would have females skating with males on on the same team, which has happened for 50-plus years. It's not a new thing."

Like Clark, Jansen said he has not been directly asked for input on this issue. He said he shared the policy with provincial officials during a diversity and inclusion session two weeks ago.