The Saskatchewan government plans to implement its new school pronoun policy, even though the province’s children and youth advocate recommended several changes be made to better respect and protect students.
The province “remains committed to protecting the right of parents to participate in their children’s education and to implementing the parental consent and inclusion policy,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education told Breaking: in a statement sent by email.
The policy would require schools to obtain parental consent before using a student’s preferred name and pronouns if the student was under 16 years old. Schools would not need permission for students 16 and older.
Children and youth advocate Lisa Broda pledged to review the policy shortly after it was announced last month, claiming she was not consulted in its creation. Her review was published on Friday afternoon.
Politics have proven divisive. It has come under harsh public scrutiny and sparked protests, although Angus Reid Survey suggests that the majority of Saskatchewan residents want parents to be notified, and half want parents to be informed and given permission.
An advocacy group has filed a court case against the government in the King’s Bench Court, arguing that the pronoun policy breaches the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In light of the lawsuit, Premier Scott Moe previously said his government would take an additional step to enshrine the policy in legislation to be introduced during the fall session. This week, Moe said the government is willing to use the tools at its disposal to make that happen, invoking the clause notwithstanding the letterwhich allows the government to override some constitutional rights to pass legislation.
Repeal can last up to five years, but the government can reenact them.
Broda’s review aimed to assess whether the pronoun policy (and its development) respects the rights of children and young people, according to the document.
Broda, who was not available for further comment Friday, made two recommendations.
The review says it supports the government wanting to better involve parents and carers, but its “reliance on a broad commitment to ‘parental rights’ alone does not override children’s rights”.
Broda recommended changing the policy so that it follows the constitutional right to gender identity and expression, and that it defines gender expression, respects a student’s decision based on ability rather than age, and includes a requirement to investigate the complaints of lack of gender.
The policy should also offer ongoing support to students who want to involve their parents, but should not force parental involvement if they are “able” students, the review says.
The implied refusal to use the preferred name and pronouns of a student under 16 years of age, without parental consent and without determining that student’s capacity to give consent on his or her own, discriminates against that person because it violates his or her rights to gender identity and expression, the review says.
The policy could violate provincial and federal human rights laws, as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, it adds. Broda noted that there may be times when limiting certain rights may be justifiable, but he believes the standard was not met in this case.
The review also says that using a student’s preferred name and pronoun, at school or elsewhere, has been shown to be better for their mental and emotional health.
Broda also recommended that the ministry develop and implement a plan to increase the professional support available in schools to help include parents about gender identity “when appropriate and in the best interests of the child,” the review says.
He noted that the policy contained some positive aspects that are “something to build on.”
In its statement, the ministry acknowledged Broda’s comments and “agrees with her that there are several positive impacts arising from the policy, such as the recognition of the importance of parents and guardians in supporting a child’s development.”
The policy applies to all Saskatchewan school divisions, including those that may not have previously had gender-related policies, which could help some students (even if just those aged 16 or older) be appropriately identified and prevent damage, the review says.
The policy requires an investigation if there is a complaint that someone has been intentionally mistreated, and encourages providing support for students to come forward with their gender identity, the report says.
Matt Love, the NDP opposition education critic, supports Broda’s review and suggests the policy should be scrapped, according to a statement released to the media.
Read the full report: