CCLA will support rights of students after Saskatchewan announces ‘parental inclusion’ policies

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (August 23, 2023, 11:40 AM EDT) -- The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) will “support and take the legal measures necessary to protect the rights of students in Saskatchewan” after the provincial government announced “new parental inclusion and consent policies,” which include a directive that schools “must seek parent/guardian permission when changing the preferred name and pronouns used by students under the age of 16 in the school.”

Harini Sivalingam, director of the CCLA’s Equality Program, said the government’s “policy changes will make it more dangerous to be an 2SLGBTQIA+ student in Saskatchewan.”

“The new policy violates the rights and dignity of 2SLGBTQIA+ young people and is not in the best interest of students,” she explained in a statement released Aug. 22.

“We have seen all too often what happens when students are outed at home. Some unsupportive families have kicked their kids out of the house or resorted to physical violence,” she added, stressing that “shredding the rights of students is repulsive.”

Sivalingam emphasized the CCLA’s support of students, declaring that “implementing policy that could result in increased harm to vulnerable youth is disgraceful.”

The CCLA’s statement was issued after Saskatchewan’s Education Minister, Dustin Duncan, announced policy changes for the province’s schools.

His announcement noted that as of Aug. 22:

  • “Schools must seek parent/guardian permission when changing the preferred name and pronouns used by students under the age of 16 in the school;
  • Parents/guardians must be informed about the sexual health education curriculum and have the option to decline their children’s participation; and,
  • Boards of education must immediately pause involvement with any third-party organization, such as ARC Foundation and the SOGI 1 2 3 Program, connected to sexual health education as the ministry undertakes review of educational resources to ensure alignment with curriculum outcomes. Only teachers, not outside third-parties, will be able to present sexual education materials in the classroom. This directive does not include professionals employed by government ministries or the Saskatchewan Health Authority.”

“Our government has heard the concerns raised by Saskatchewan parents about needing to be notified and included in their children’s education in these important areas,” Duncan said in a statement released Aug. 22.

“We also determined that while all of Saskatchewan’s school divisions had policies dealing with these matters, those policies varied from one division to another, so it was important to standardize these policies and ensure consistency of parental inclusion, no matter where your child goes to school,” he added, noting that “parent/guardian involvement is critical in every student’s education.”

The education minister believes that “schools will continue to ensure safe learning environments where all students feel included, protected and respected.”

According to a government release, while parent/guardian consent for students under 16 will “now be required to change a student’s name or pronouns in the school,” students 16 and over do not require consent.

The Saskatchewan advocate for children and youth, Dr. Lisa Broda, announced that she will review the government’s new policy.

“I just learned about this policy in the media and have not been privy or advised of these changes,” said Broda in a statement released Aug. 22.

Broda said she was “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,” she explained.

According to a news release, Broda will review the policy “against the backdrop of children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which was ratified by Canada in 1991.”

“Other rights that are compatible with the UNCRC are the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, which guarantee the right to non-discrimination and gender identity, all which require public institutions to uphold,” the release added.

The release also noted that Broda will examine the policy “given common law concepts such as the Supreme Court of Canada’s mature minor doctrine.”

“Recognized legally since 2009, this doctrine holds that youth under 16 have the right to demonstrate whether they are able to exercise mature and independent judgment in making decisions; and if so, that their views ought to be respected,” the release explained.

Broda stated that “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.”

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