Hundreds of people demonstrated at the Saskatchewan legislature in Regina as the provincial government prepared to introduce a bill that would invoke the notwithstanding clause and protect the Saskatchewan government’s controversial school pronoun policy from court challenges.
The policy would require school officials to inform parents if a student under 16 wanted to change their name or pronouns at school.
On Tuesday, mourning rallies were held on the legislature grounds after a fence was placed around the area directly in front of the legislative building.
The two sides attempted to drown each other out, but the demonstration against the policy, organized by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labor and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, was significantly larger and louder.
Eventually, members of the Regina Police Service formed a line separating the two groups.
Politics puts children at risk: protester
Jasper LaClaire attended the protest and spoke as a former trans child who was bullied in Saskatchewan schools.
“We know that trans children exist. We know that it is not a phase. We know how to protect trans children. We know what neglect affects child development,” he said. “AND [Premier] “Scott Moe by introducing this policy and using the notwithstanding clause is putting these children at risk.”
LaClaire said trans children deserve support in schools and that those who frame the issue as parental rights are “choosing not to educate themselves” and “choosing not to understand.”
“Children know more than anyone what they want for themselves,” he said.
The Rev. Carla Blakley of Lakeview United Church said they came to protect the rights of trans children.
“There are many situations where parents are not safe, churches are not safe, and children cannot tell their parents who they are, and for those children, we advocate for their rights to be protected.”
Tonie Wells helped organize the rally in support of the pronoun policy.
The mother said one of her sons attends Lumsden High School and saw sex education material that left her concerned. That’s why she welcomes the introduction of a policy that she says will keep her informed.
“We’re not saying we hate this community or we hate this side or anything like that. We’re just saying ‘we’re parents,’ we have a right to know what’s going on with our kids,” Wells said.
Wells said Moe is making the right decision by invoking the policy nonetheless.
“He hasn’t had a choice,” he said.
Barbs exchanged in the legislature
Inside the legislature, Premier Scott Moe and official opposition leader Carla Beck discussed the legislation.
Moe asked why the NDP didn’t support parental rights, while Beck responded that the premier was “spewing nonsense and had clearly lost his way.”
Speaking to the media after Tuesday’s session, Beck questioned the government’s priorities.
He said his party has heard from parents concerned about the size of their children’s classrooms and the cost of living.
“Today we are expected to believe that this is the most urgent and precious issue and that it is something that required this government, this prime minister, to reconvene the legislature, something that has not happened in a quarter of a century.” -Beck asked.
In another media appearance Tuesday, Moe said his government plans to move forward with the legislation and is not deterred by the opposition shown during the rally.
Moe said his government believes it is important for parents to be informed.
“We fundamentally believe that parents support their children and that there are conversations and things that a child and a family might be going through that, frankly, teachers and our education staff might not be aware of outside of school,” he said. Moe. .
The way to follow
Moe’s government is likely to get its way and pass the legislation, said Gordon Barnhart, former lieutenant governor and clerk of the Saskatchewan legislature.
Barnhart warned that nothing is likely to change overnight. He said it could take at least a week to clear all the legislative hurdles and that the changes won’t necessarily have an immediate effect on schools.
“The current government has a majority in the legislature, so that’s a given right there, but in terms of any legislation, whether it’s this or any other, there’s a process,” Barnhart said.
Last month, a Regina judge imposed an injunction on the policy.
The judge said there was no evidence of meaningful research or consultation with parents, students or teachers. The judge said a full court hearing needs to be held before the policy can be implemented.
That hearing was scheduled for November, but Moe early called on the legislature to use the notwithstanding clause to overturn the court ruling, leading to Tuesday’s protests.
The Morning Edition – Sask17:40Premier Scott Moe talks about why he’s calling the legislature early to protect his pronouns in schools policy.
The notwithstanding clause is a provision that allows governments to override certain Charter rights for up to five years by passing legislation.
The clause can only override certain sections of the charter dealing with fundamental freedoms, legal rights and equal rights. It cannot be used to nullify democratic rights. Once invoked, the notwithstanding clause prevents any judicial review of the legislation in question.
On Tuesday, the provincial government issued a notice introducing the legislation.
The first reading of the bill did not take place this afternoon, as the motion did not gain unanimous support.
The NDP has vowed to oppose the legislation at every step, even if its only option is to delay its passage.
As a result of NDP opposition, the bill will be introduced and have a first reading on Thursday. At that time, the legislature and the public will be able to see the actual text of the legislation.
If the first reading is approved, at least one full day must elapse between the second and third readings, as well as the committee hearings, according to Barnhardt.
That would take at least a week, even if the government limits debate time at each stage.
“All of that is not instantaneous. There are certain periods under the rules. And I emphasize again that it’s not just for this bill. Those are the rules that apply to all bills,” Barnhart said.
Government House Leader Jeremy Harrison told media that the legislature could meet on Friday and Saturday, as well as Monday to Sunday, next week to facilitate passage of the legislation.
If the third reading is passed, the bill becomes law or “law”.
The government could declare that the changes take effect immediately. It could also set a future date or declare that the cabinet will have the right to declare a date in the future.
Other experts have noted that opponents could then seek another injunction against the use of the notwithstanding clause, but said Canadian courts have been extremely reluctant to intervene in such matters.