New Sask. policy critiqued as discriminatory 

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A child in a pink coat with pigtails sits at the edge of a table against a blue spotted background with a word bubble that shows them saying “what’s a ‘consent’?”
It’s always tragically fascinating when a society decides they don’t want children knowing what consent is or how it works.  Lee Lim

The Premier and Minister of Education proclaim parental rights as justification

According to the Government of Saskatchewan’s webpage on Child Abuse and Neglect, child abuse includes neglect – not providing children with things like adequate food, health care, or shelter – and emotional maltreatment which includes “expecting a child to be able to do things he or she cannot do, embarrassing or insulting a child…” 

On August 22, 2023, the Government of Saskatchewan announced a new Parental Inclusion and Consent policy for all 27 school divisions in the province which essentially says that parents have the right to refuse to consent to their child receiving sexual health education in school, and that parents must consent if a child under 16 would like to be referred to by a name or pronouns at school other than what they were assigned at birth. 

Saskatchewan’s Minister of Education, Dustin Duncan, was interviewed by Stefani Langenegger the next day on “The Morning Edition” of CBC News, and spoke mainly on parental rights as justification for the policy. “Well, we’ve heard from parents who want to be more involved in their children’s education, especially around issues that I think everyone can acknowledge that are sensitive or in some cases controversial for some people, and so this is a move to ensure that we have province-wide alignment in terms of how parents are informed, when and how sex ed is being taught, what resources are being used.” 

Langenegger was not shy in inquiring about how/whether the policy will make trans kids safer in the province, stating “You know that some parents kick their kids out when they find out they’re gay or trans?” This practice of forcing children out from homes directly meets the qualifications for child abuse as outlined by the Government of Saskatchewan, as the parents fully neglect to provide for the child’s needs while also expecting the child to do something they cannot do: expressing a gender or existing with a sexual orientation they do not possess.  

Rather than addressing the danger trans and gender-nonconforming kids will be put under due to these new policies, Duncan saw this as an opportunity to pitch the stance opposite his own as “How do we keep this [a child’s gender identity] from parents?” Langenegger quickly reframed the issue by saying “‘What’s best for the child’ I thought was the default position, not ‘How do we hide this from parents?’” 

A similar policy was introduced in New Brunswick early in June of this year with Policy 713, which also requires that schools ‘out’ gender-diverse students to their parents. Kelly Lamrock, Child and Youth Advocate for New Brunswick, was quoted in an article by The Canadian Press on August 15 saying that the policy violates children’s rights as protected under the Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

“The parent has a right to teach their values to a child,” Lamrock is quoted to state, followed by this clarification: “The parent does not have the right to a state apparatus to force the child to live by their values.” Harini Sivalingam, Equality Program Director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, has already condemned New Brunswick’s policy as discriminatory and in an interview with CBC News said the same of Saskatchewan’s. “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.”  

Langenegger asked Duncan about this distinction, using the example that “If Nicholas prefers Nick or Robert prefers Bobby, will the school need to check with parents on that?” Duncan responded by saying “I think that what we’re talking about is when children are looking to change their name associated with a change in their gender. […] obviously, if a child prefers to go by a shortened version of what their given name is, I think that that’s different than what this policy is speaking to.”  

Shortly after the policy announcement, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe on X (Twitter) posted saying “I’ve been asked what experts we consulted in creating the Parental Inclusion and Consent Policy. I believe the leading experts in children’s upbringing are their parents.”  

Lisa Broda, Saskatchewan’s Advocate for Children & Youth – who was not consulted prior to the announcement of this policy – was interviewed by Amanda Short for the Star Phoenix in 2020 on a significant increase in parental abuse toward children and youth in Saskatchewan. ”Year to year, violent acts against children and youth have been behind a large proportion of death and critical injury notifications the advocate’s office receives.” 

At that time, incidents of violence against children and youth reported to police in Saskatchewan amounted to 519 of every 100,000, a stark increase from the national average of 273. Noting the pandemic’s exacerbation of existing service gaps, Broda said three years ago that vulnerable groups were increasingly experiencing violence, and commented “I can imagine we’re going to see the fallout to that once we return to some sort of state of normal.”

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