'There's nothing stopping a government from passing discriminatory legislation,' says professor
A policy about LGBTQ students at the heart of a political battle in New Brunswick could have a ripple effect across Canada, according to experts who say they're concerned it could open the door for other provincial governments to make similar changes.
New Brunswick's Policy 713, which was introduced in August 2020, outlines minimum requirements for a safe environment for LGBTQ students. Earlier in June, the province's Progressive Conservative government made changes to the policy, scheduled to take effect on July 1.
If those changes go forward, similar "attacks against the transgender and the non-binary community" could happen elsewhere in Canada, said Kristopher Wells, an associate professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton, and the Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth.
"Once one government makes a change, then it becomes often easier or more popular for other governments to consider those changes as well," he told CBC News.
"I think other provinces are obviously watching very closely to see what the potential fallout will be," said Helen Kennedy, the executive director for LGBTQ advocacy group Egale Canada.
New Brunswick's recent changes to the policy mean it's no longer mandatory for teachers to use the preferred pronouns or names of transgender or non-binary students under the age of 16.
A teacher or school would need to obtain parental consent for any child who wants to change their name at school. A student who refuses parental involvement would be referred to a school psychologist or social worker to develop a plan to inform the student's parents.
Premier Blaine Higgs has said that the changes reflect the government's desire to ensure parents play a role in the "formative years" of their children.
Higgs defended the changes again Tuesday during an interview with CBC's Power and Politics, saying he was seeing "a tremendous outpouring of support" for his position.
"Nationally, people are saying, 'Why wouldn't parents play a role?'" he said.
‘Trans kids need to feel safe’: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighs in on Policy 713
Speaking at a Pride event Thursday night in Toronto, the prime minister spoke out against changes made by the Higgs government to Policy 713.
Backlash, political debate
The change has caused turmoil in Higgs' cabinet, including two resignations. On Tuesday, he dropped two ministers who had voted against him on the gender-identity policy. Unionized school psychologists and social workers have filed two grievances with the provincial government.
It has also sparked federal debate, with both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre chiming in. Speaking at a Pride even in Toronto earlier in June, Trudeau spoke out against the changes.
"Trans kids need to feel safe, not targeted by politicians. We need to stand against this," he said.
On Tuesday, Poilievre told reporters that Trudeau should stay out of it, saying "the prime minister has no business in decisions that should rest with provinces and parents."
"So my message to Justin Trudeau is, 'Butt out and let provinces run schools and let parents raise kids.' "
Poilievre: PM has 'no business' in N.B. gender identity policy debate
Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre says the prime minister needs to let 'provinces run schools and parents raise children.'
The changes have drawn national attention, with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) saying it will cause harm to trans and non-binary kids — not just in New Brunswick, but potentially across Canada.
"Make no mistake that this decision sets a dangerous precedent and that could instigate similar attempts to harm the rights of children across the country," Harini Sivalingam, lawyer and director of the Equality Program at the CCLA, said in a June 9 press release.
Meanwhile, a conservative Christian group based in B.C. is calling it a test case for its own efforts to roll back school LGBTQ policies.
Court challenges an option that take time
LGBTQ rights in Canada are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are protected in every provincial and territorial Human Rights Act.
According to Wells, this means any public institution by law must provide a discrimination-free environment.
"But that doesn't mean that the rights won through the courts and through government can't be stripped away or taken away," he said.
Wells points to what happened after Jason Kenney was elected premier in Alberta — his United Conservative Party passed a controversial education bill that rolled back previous protections for children who join Gay-Straight Alliances in schools.
While politicians can pass legislation or policies that can be seen as discriminatory, these can also be challenged in the courts, Wells said, noting that there are checks and balances in the system.
In New Brunswick, he said, the only recourse the community really has is to either file a human rights complaint or go through the court system.
"But the reality is it takes a long time to challenge a government in court to get legislation ruled as being unconstitutional and stricken down," Wells said.
"There's nothing stopping a government from passing discriminatory legislation. That's why people need to to be very careful about how they vote."
Just the beginning?
Egale Canada's Kennedy says she worries the changes to Policy 713 are just the beginning.
"Do I see a political trend here to scapegoat members of the 2SLGBTQI community? Absolutely," Kennedy said. "We forget that there are human beings attached to the other end of all these political opportunist actions."
It's a hostile environment right now for the LGBTQ community, she said, noting the recent targeting of Pride flags as just one example.
Several communities across Canada, including Norwich, Ont., and Hope, B.C., have recently decided not to fly Pride flags. There have also been reports this year of flags in various provinces being stolen, damaged and burned.
Earlier this month, students in Vaughan, Ont., walked out over the York Catholic District School Board's decision not to raise a Pride flag at its education centre.
As far as Policy 713 is concerned, Kennedy says other provinces are likely looking at both the political response — will an election be called? Will Higgs fall? — and the community response, such as parental pushback. And while she says it's been encouraging to see some opposition, she also says the damage has been done.
"It's out there. We all know how [Higgs] feels about members of the 2SLGBTQI communities, and it's disturbing," she said.
"Every child, every student, has a right to a safe and inclusive education."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Senior writer and editor
Natalie Stechyson is a senior writer and editor at CBC News. She's worked in newsrooms across the country in her 12+ years of journalism experience, including the Globe and Mail, Postmedia News, Calgary Herald and Brunswick News. Before joining CBC News, she was the Parents editor at HuffPost Canada, where she won a silver Canadian Online Publishing Award.
With files Marie-Jose Burgos and the Canadian Press
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca