Gender rights in Canada

Azza Radwan Sedky
Thursday 28 Sep 2023

A storm of unprecedented proportion is brewing in Canada.



On 20 September, a series of demonstrate took place across the country where thousands of people gathered to protest against sexual education and gender identity at schools. 

The protests were organized under the heading “1 Million March 4 Children.” According to the organizers, the aim of the protests was to “safeguard children from gender ideology teachings, sexual indoctrination, exposure to explicit sexual content, and ensuring that parental consent remains paramount.” The protesters believe that schools are exposing children to inappropriate content about sexuality and gender identity, and they support the policies requiring parental consent if students want to be addressed by pronouns different from their assigned genders. 

Thousands attended the protests across Canada, including in Ottawa, Halifax, Vancouver, Victoria, Manitoba, and Calgary. Banners showcased the frustration of the protesters: “Leave our kids alone,” “Hands off our kids,” “We go to school to learn math and English,” and “Protect parental rights.”

Counter-protests ensued in most cities too. Those against the protests believe that policies that ask for parental consent are a violation of children’s rights and that transgender youth who want to use their “preferred” pronouns in school should not be reported to their parents by teachers. They fear that parents may then be against the child’s choice and prohibit him or her from changing name and pronoun or may even traumatize the child.

Let’s go back and understand where all this is coming from. Bill C-16, passed in June 2017, enshrines the rights of transgender or gender-diverse Canadians and discusses the usage of preferred pronouns. Today, schools in Canada can address content regarding gender identity which may include transgender and LGBTQ issues. 

According to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) 123, the supplementary material that is supplied to school educators, schools should be “inclusive and safe for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities,” and “students can express their gender without discrimination.”

However, it goes further. Schools can allow children to use a preferred first name and pronoun without the parent’s consent, with the assumption that parents may refuse the child this entitlement. In other words, an elementary school boy may opt to change his name to a feminine name and ask his teachers to call him by the feminine pronoun “she and her” and have the school not inform the parents of such a change. This is the fundamental dilemma: taking from parents the right to know what their children are being exposed to at schools.

The issue is contentious, causing disagreement, friction, and animosity. At face value, Canada is gearing towards acceptance and inclusiveness for all, and exposure to sexual orientation early on.  In fact, many changes are occurring to corroborate this perspective; an explicit example is gender neutral washrooms and fitting rooms in stores across Canada, which have become the norm.

According to the manual on gender neutral washrooms, “For trans and gender nonconforming people, using public washrooms can be a source of anxiety and stress,” but in a gender-neutral washroom they won’t be subjected to stares, questions, and maybe harassment.

Some, though, believe that such changes favour gender non-conforming people over the majority and find the changes extremely uncomfortable. Why should high school students, girls and boys, use the same washroom, they say? Wouldn’t that cause more challenges? And don’t all men’s washrooms have urinals? Besides, why should fitting rooms be mixed?

Though Canada is taking that route, its leaders, figureheads, and citizens at large are not all in agreement. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is all for it. He responded to the March by expressing his support for LGBTQ people across Canada. Via a statement on Twitter, Trudeau said, "Transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia have no place in this country. We strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations, and we stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country -- you are valid and you are valued." However, many found the reference to “hatred,” if parents want, what they consider, the good for their children, as excessive.

And most school boards accept the no-parent consent clause. "We do not tell students who they should be, but welcome them as they are," school officials with the Toronto District School Board said.

However, two provinces, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan, have not been in full agreement. Amendments to the SOGI, also known as Policy 713, was adopted in 2020 in New Brunswick. It forbids teachers from using the chosen preferred names and pronouns of a student under the age of 16 without the consent of their parents. New Brunswick Minister of Education, Bill Hogan, in explaining the changes, says, “… if they're under the age of 16 we would require parental consent to use that [preferred pronouns] ... otherwise what we're saying is that we're keeping information from parents and that's not the role of the school." The Saskatchewan government soon followed New Brunswick's policy with similar changes.

Ontario Premiere Doug Ford voiced his concerns, “Most important is the parents' rights, the parents' rights to listen and make sure they are informed when their children make a decision… It's not up to the teachers, it's not up to the school boards to indoctrinate our kids... it's the parents' responsibility to hear what the kids are doing.”

John Rustad, the leader of the Conservative Party of the province of British Columbia, issued a statement Wednesday in support of the protests against "gender ideology" in schools, stating he would end the inclusion of SOGI materials in classrooms if elected.

Others remained on the fence; Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who represents the opposition, told his members of parliament not to talk to the press about "parental rights" protests, steering away from confrontation.

I sense that this issue will not go away; it will remain contentious for many years to come.


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