Sasketchwan Education Minister Dustin Duncan announced on Tuesday, August 22nd, that schools will need to inform parents of the content of sexual health education programs and allow them the opportunity to have their children opt out of the program. It is the other parts of the new policy, however, that have been condemned by advocates who work directly with trans and gender-diverse youth. The policy calls for schools to receive parental consent before letting a student under the age of 16, change their preferred name or gender pronoun. Announcing it as new parental inclusion and consent policies, Duncan compared it to requiring schools to get parental consent to go on a field trip. Further, the Ministry mandated an immediate pause on involvement with any third-party organizations such as ARC Foundation and SOGI 1 2 3 Program while the ministry reviews the resources and how they align with provincial curriculum outcomes.
Controversy erupted over a sexual health resource Lumsden Grade 9 students had access to after a presentation by Planned Parenthood. Minister Duncan immediately suspended Planned Parenthood from work in schools “as it relates to their involvement in health and wellness courses.” This new mandate specifically identifies the ARC Foundation implying that is linked to sexual health education. ARC Foundation is a charitable organization that through collaboration with educational organizations, works to reduce discrimination in schools toward 2SLGBTQ+ individuals by supporting inclusivity in the provincial curriculum. SOGI 1 2 3, ARC states, is not sexual health education, rather it is a set of tools and resources designed to help create safer and more inclusive schools for all students throughout all parts of the provincial curriculum.
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation reacted promptly calling the policy “a massive overreach”.
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation; Saskatchewan School Boards Association; League of Educational Administrators, Directors and Superintendents; Saskatchewan Association of School Business Officials; and even representatives from the Ministry of Education, have been working together with an organization called the ARC Foundation to plan a pilot program for some Saskatchewan schools utilizing their resources in a program called SOGI 123 (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). This program supports inclusion for all people and focuses on resources for supporting sexual orientation and gender identity.
Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation policy, written and approved by teachers, is explicit about gender expression and sexual orientation being inherent human rights within both policy and legislation. STF policy also promotes safe schools free of discrimination, hate speech, physical abuse, and other types of bullying based on actual or perceived assumptions around sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The Federation is calling on the government to reverse this policy decision and engage in meaningful consultation with its sector partners and expert teachers.
In a similar move, New Brunswick’s government made policy revisions in June which required children under 16 to have parental consent before they can officially change their preferred first names or pronouns at school. Kelly Lamrock, New Brunswick’s child and youth advocate, released his findings on Tuesday, August 15th, in a 100-page report. Lamrock stated that forcing any non-binary and transgender students to use a name they don’t identify with “is a violation of their protected rights under the Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Lamrock went on to clarify that while parents have a right to teach their values to a child, they do not have the right to force them to live by their values and the revisions made by Premier Higgs and his Progressive Conservative cabinet left the Department of Education, teachers and administrators legally vulnerable. Lamrock said that it is not “bigoted” for a parent to want to know about such a major decision made by their children, but it is also not unfounded for children “to have privacy and autonomy when they are old and mature enough to exercise it.”
The changes made by the Higgs government allow students 16 years and older to change their preferred names or pronouns on official school records and Lamrock affirms that younger students should be able to choose how they are informally addressed by their teacher and school staff. Parents, he asserted, do not have an absolute right to control a child.
The Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth, Lisa Broda, said in a news release after the announcement made by Duncan, that she is compelled under her legislative authority to review any policies that may affect children. Broda, like Lamrock, will take into account the rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Human Rights Code. The news release also revealed that Broda will view the new policy through the “mature minor” doctrine held by the Supreme Court of Canada,
Shawn Harmon in a document explaining a decision reached by the Supreme Court of Canada relating to ‘mature minors’ delves into the Charter looking at among other areas, Section 7 which outlines the right to life, liberty, and the security of person. Harmon states that the right to security of person has both physical and psychological components and that this right is compromised when psychological trauma is caused by treating individuals “as a means to an end rather than as a valued end in themselves” and/or “stigmatizing the individual, delivering stress and anxiety through the imposition of uncertainty, disruption, publicity, expense, and so on”. (www.canlii.org; Shawn H.E. Harmon: BODY BLOW: MATURE MINORS AND THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA’S DECISION IN A.C. V. MANITOBA, p 87) He goes on to say that Section 7 extends to an individual’s security over their physical and mental integrity and their right to maintain and control that. To be able to determine for oneself who one is and will be a space of safety would therefore seem to fall within the Section 7 rights.
Saskatoon Sexual Health director, Caitlin Cottrel, said in an interview with CTV News, that many trans youth lack acceptance in their family home due to their identity, suffering verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. “We know in this field that the protections that are provided to trans youth in school are often lifesaving, and it is often the only safe place that queer and trans youth have.”
NDP education critic, Matt Love, shared on social media, a letter from the Saskatchewan School Boards Association to Minister Duncan. SSBA president, Jamie Smith-Windsor called on the government for a “reasonable pause” in rolling out the new policy regarding gender pronouns, which would allow for a complete review and report from Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth, Lisa Broda. “Boards of education would not be doing their due diligence from both a legal and human rights perspective, serving the students of this province, unless we have assurance that these sudden policy changes and directives are not putting young people in harm’s way and are not contrary to human rights.”
By Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Aug 31, 2023