The phrase “parental rights” – while by no means a new term – has resurfaced during recent conflicts over sexual orientation and gender identity policies in Canadian schools.
When some parents and socially conservative groups protested LGBTQ-inclusive education school policies across Canada on Wednesday, many did so under the banner of parental rights, scrawling the words on signs and invoking them in speeches.
It has especially arisen in relation to policies that allow LGBTQ children to change their name or pronouns without requiring schools to inform their parents. Saskatchewan and New Brunswick recently introduced policies that would require parental consent for children under 16 to do so, and other provinces are considering doing the same.
“I believe in parental rights, and parental rights come before the rights of the government,” Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre said during a recent interview with a Mississauga, Ont., news station.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson also used the term in their social media posts, while New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs kept his message focused on rights from parents while greeting protesters, but not counterprotesters, at Wednesday’s march.
So what does parental rights mean, where does the phrase come from, and who is included (and excluded) under its umbrella?
Critics call the phrase a misnomer.
Critics of the term say it is a misnomer that excludes LGBTQ parents or parents of LGBTQ children and implies that parents’ rights take priority over children’s rights.
“I think we can think of the parents’ rights movement as a conservative movement to limit the influence of government on people’s lives in general,” said Jen Gilbert, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University from Toronto.
“In the case of the marches taking place this week, and more generally around schooling, the parents’ rights movement has emerged as a movement to limit discussions about sexuality and gender in schools under “the auspices of both protecting children and protecting the rights of parents. raise children as they see fit.”
As protests and counter-protests for LGBTQ rights erupted in schools across the country this week, Breaking: spoke to people who had different interpretations of parental rights.
“I think it’s important that we respect parents’ rights. [and] “Respect parents’ decisions,” said Nathan McMillan, a protester in Toronto. “If parents feel that sex education in a particular way is not appropriate for their children, they should absolutely have the right to have those conversations privately offline.”
Shawn Rouse, a father of a transgender child in Quispamsis, NB, interpreted the phrase differently.
“I think a lot of people try to frame this as parental rights. That’s a phrase that’s been around for decades. Every time a parent has something they don’t like in a public school, they say, ‘Well, I have parental rights.’ rights,'” he said.
“This is nothing new. Every time a public school curriculum decides that they are going to talk about something that a parent might not be comfortable with, there is pushback.”
The phrase has a long history in Canada dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and often comes up in relation to issues of language and religion in schools, according to Jason Ellis, an associate professor of education at the University of British Columbia. .
“Parents expect school, even if it is mandatory, to educate their children more or less the way they want them to be educated,” Ellis said.
When this unwritten contract is seen to be broken, he said, “that’s when things tend to get very contentious.”
‘None of these discussions are new’
The parental rights movement is very active in the United States, where hundreds of anti-transgender laws limiting discussion of sexual identity and gender orientation in schools have been passed or introduced this year alone, and where the term has a long story.
The Canadian fathers’ rights movement shares some DNA with that of the United States, according to Kristopher Wells, Canada research chair at MacEwan University in Edmonton.
He noted that conservative Christian activist Anita Bryant toured Canadian cities with her Save Our Children campaign of the 1970s, which sought to repeal Miami County legislation that would end housing and employment discrimination against homosexuals in the name of parental rights.
“None of these discussions are new,” Wells said, noting that Alberta has often been at the forefront of the fathers’ rights movement in Canada.
The province passed a bill in 2009 that, while enshrining the rights of sexual minorities, also included a provision that would give parents the option of removing their children from classes when topics related to sex, religion or sexual orientation. (Breaking: called it a parental rights clause At the time.)
In 2014, when the Alberta clause was debated during a party leadership forum, the phrase rose again.
The controversy over sex education in Ontario that began in 2015 was also framed as a matter of parental rights. So it was a conflict 2018 on the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Curriculum in British Columbia Schools. And during the 2022 Ontario school board elections, many candidates ran on parental rights platforms.
Phrase adopted by a wide spectrum of groups
“We live in a very connected and networked world, so ideas about the parental rights framework travel across national borders to Canada, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and vice versa,” Gilbert said.
Today, the phrase has been used by groups with a spectrum of political, social, and religious affiliations.
But it has also been adopted by Canadian organizations like Action4Canada, a COVID-19 conspiracy group, and groups in the United States like Moms For Liberty, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group.
front burner23:50The origins of “parental rights”
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a non-profit organization that monitors extremism in Canada, has also expressed concern about a rise in parental rights policies and how they impact trans and LGBTQ youth.
“There’s something about this language of parental rights that has really caught on at this particular time,” Gilbert said. “This speaks to the feeling of disenfranchisement that many people have.”
Children’s advocates in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have said parental rights policies like those passed in their provinces could put children at risk of being outed to their parents before they are ready.
Trans youth in particular find themselves in a significantly higher risk of suicide than their peers.
Advocates have also warned that the policies may violate international human rights agreements related to children’s own rights, as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Sask. Premier Moe recently said he is prepared to protect his province’s rules around names and pronouns by using the notwithstanding clause, which allows a province to override parts of the Charter for up to five years.