The Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth, Lisa Broda, says she will be reviewing the Ministry of Education’s new policy to get parental consent when students under 16 want to change their pronouns or preferred first name.
“I just learned about this policy in the media and have not been privy or advised of these changes. I am deeply troubled by the impact this policy will have on the rights of children in Saskatchewan. Any new policy, legislation, law, or practice that may impact children and their rights compels me, under my legislative authority, to review and advise on such matters,” Broda said.
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“As the Advocate, I must ensure the voices of young people are heard and that their rights are being upheld.”
She said she will be looking to see if children’s rights have been properly considered, and if there is an opportunity for discretion for children under the age of 16.
This new policy will be reviewed against the backdrop of children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, but will also be examined along with concepts like the Supreme Court of Canada’s mature minor doctrine, which says youth under the age of 16 have the right to demonstrate whether they have mature and independent judgement in decision-making.
“If a mature minor can make significant decisions related to their medical care under the age of 16, it would stand to reason that they could make a determination as to whether they wish to be referred to by a different pronoun, without undue interference.”
Broda said she will be looking to make sure children feel safe and supported in their school environment.
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“There is no question that there are significant risks to the mental and physical safety of gender and sexually diverse youth who are not supported to express their authentic selves and their safety and well-being needs to be at the fore of any policy.”
Education Minister Dustin Duncan followed up with the policy announcement Tuesday, saying the government was looking to standardize policies across Saskatchewan’s school divisions.
“We want to ensure there’s a consistent policy to say, if a child does express an interest that they want to formally change their name and gender, that if they’re under the age of 16 that their parents will provide consent, or there will be a plan to support that student so that they can get to a place where they can tell their parents,” Duncan said Tuesday.
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He said if a parent did not consent, teachers would be required to still use the original name or pronouns of the child.
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“What I’m trying to keep in mind is we’re talking about children, we’re not talking about small versions of adults. We’re talking about children who don’t have the life experience that you or I have yet, whose brains are still being formed, who are struggling with all sorts of things like puberty and impulse control.”
The announcement was hit with several groups and organizations showing concern about the move, with the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) decrying the decision, saying it was made without meaningful consultation with experts in the education sector.
“The government has introduced a policy driven by political ideology, which will harm 2SLGBTQIA+ students. Similar policies in other provinces have been analyzed by child advocates and deemed to be unconstitutional. This policy raises questions of human rights and is in opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,” the STF release read.
STF president Samantha Becotte called the policy “a political response to a government losing support in a by-election to a far-right party, following an isolated incident.”
“Once again, as with this government’s recent advertising campaign on teacher salaries, we are seeing education issues being tossed around like political footballs,” Becotte said.
More to come…
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