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Civil liberties association calls Sask. government school naming and pronoun policy discriminatory

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) says the Saskatchewan government’s new policy on name and gender rules for schools is discriminatory because it singles out students who are trans and gender-diverse.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Dustin Duncan announced a policy that requires parental permission for students under 16 who wish to be addressed by their chosen name or pronoun.

The CCLA is a non-partisan, non-profit organization focused on protecting rights and freedoms of Canadians. It was one of the first groups to condemn the new policy following the announcement.

“We think this is a dangerous and alarming policy that will harm young people and students in the province,” said Harini Sivalingam, director of the Equality Program at the CCLA.

“There are numerous harms that could be resulting from this, including the psychological stress associated with the lack of freedom of how to choose to be addressed and the discriminatory treatment by teachers who can use the nicknames for students but not a trans student’s chosen names.”

Sivalingam said there is also a potential violation of privacy rights if a trans student is outed. She said students could be exposed to bullying and violence, and “the absence in general of the safe learning environment which can cause long term harms to a student’s mental health.”

Sivalingam said the policy is focused solely on one part of the student population.

“Our read of the policy is that it is specifically targeting trans and gender-diverse students. That is the discriminatory aspect, is that it only applies to them,” Sivalingam said.

She said the policy does not affect a name change for a student who wishes to shorten their name, use a nickname, or for a student who may have an ethnic or cultural name and wish to use a different name.

This week, Duncan said the naming policy was tied to gender.

“I think that we’re talking when children are looking to change their name associated with a change in their gender. If a child prefers to go by a shortened version of what their given name is, I think that’s different than what this policy is speaking to.”

Sivalingam said that distinction makes the policy discriminatory.

Duncan has said the policy is designed to increase parental involvement.

“What we want to be able to be assured of as much as possible, knowing that every situation is going to be different, is that parents are involved in what for many kids will be, to that point in their life, the biggest decision that they are trying to make in their lives,” he said.

“The view of the government is that parents need to be more involved, not less involved.”

Sivalingam said that while parents have an unequivocal role to play in their children’s lives, government policy should not violate young people’s rights.

“The research has shown that strategies to reduce stigma and support trans youth are critical to prevent negative health outcomes for this vulnerable population,” Sivalingam said.

People wave LGBTQ Pride flags as a school bus drives by
Critics of the Saskatchewan naming and pronoun policy argue it is discriminatory because it singles out a specific group of students. (John Morris/The Canadian Press)

The CCLA said Tuesday that it would, “support and take the legal measures necessary to protect the rights of students in Saskatchewan.”

Sivalingam said Thursday the organization is speaking with organizations both local and national that have “expressed concerns about the legality and the nature of this policy and how it might impact young people in the province.”

She said the CCLA is still examining the policy and will consult with those organizations and lawyers about the next steps.

Duncan said he was “not worried” about a potential legal challenge.

Listen to Duncan’s interview with Stefani Langenegger on the Morning Edition here:

The Morning Edition – Sask17:02Sask. education minister talks new policy requiring schools to get parental permission for pronoun changes

The province’s education minister is making some changes ahead of the new school year. Dustin Duncan will require schools to get parental consent if a child under 16 wants to be called a different name — or have different pronouns used. Host Stefani Langenegger talks with education minister Dustin Duncan.

‘Parental rights’ a ‘dog whistle’, prof. says

Saskatchewan’s policy decision mirrors a similar policy announced earlier this year by the New Brunswick Progressive Conservative government.

Last week, New Brunswick’s children’s advocate said the change violates the province’s Human Rights Act, the Education Act and children’s charter rights. 

Saskatchewan’s advocate for children and youth Lisa Broda said she is “deeply troubled” by the Saskatchewan policy’s impact on children and will conduct a review.

Kristopher Wells, the Canada research chair for public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth at MacEwan University, said the New Brunswick and Saskatchewan policies are being imported from south of the border.

“There is a playbook and it’s the United States Republican playbook being imported here into Canada and conservative politics.”

Wells said “parental rights” is “a dog whistle for an anti-2SLGBTQ agenda that is about censoring books, censoring educational materials and restricting the human rights of trans and non-gender vulnerable students.”

Wells said organized groups are lobbying governments to make these changes.

“A lot of it is being fed by far-right populist groups and evangelical Christians in many cases, who’ve moved away from the abortion issue and have changed their tactics to focus on to LGBTQ communities,” Wells said.

He said it is also being driven by a backlash against prohibition of conversion therapy in Canada.

“So now the focus is on schools.”

Last year, 85 parental rights bills were introduced across 26 states, according to FutureEd, a Georgetown University think tank that tracks U.S. education legislation. 

As for the potential for a legal battle, Wells said he believes these policies will be found to violate students’ rights.

“What’s going to happen next here in Canada is you’re going to see various communities start to sue their provincial governments on the grounds of discrimination. And by all accounts, they will more than likely win and the government will either have to change its legislation or the courts will strike down the offensive parts of the legislation.”

Wells said those court battles will be long and costly.

“What that does is it puts the burden back on the most vulnerable communities to defend their basic human rights. And in this case, it becomes open season on 2SLGBTQ young people who are incredibly vulnerable in their schools.”

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