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New Brunswick’s Fight Over Parental Rights, Gender Identity in Schools Recalls Alberta’s Experience



In 2019, Alberta’s United Conservative Party (UCP) under Jason Kenney repealed a policy prohibiting teachers from informing parents when their children joined LGBTQ clubs or transitioned genders. Now, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is making a similar move, with policy changes effective July 1 that say parents should be informed if their children are changing genders at school.

The fight over the issue has been so intense that Higgs has faced revolt from some members of his cabinet and there has been talk of a leadership review or even a snap election.

“The only thing we seem to be having a debate on is whether parents should have a role in a child’s life—and especially in the developing years, the very early developing years, and we’re kind of dismissing that as not necessary,” Higgs said during a debate on the changes to Policy 713 in the legislature on June 15.

“I just can’t accept that. … What we’re saying here is don’t exclude parents.”

Lawmakers and groups on both sides had the same debate in Alberta from 2017, when the NDP’s Bill 24 passed, to 2019, when the UCP repealed it.

Parents Seen as ‘Dangerous’

In Alberta, as in New Brunswick, some argued that informing parents could cause harm if the parents don’t affirm the child’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

“It’s really a false notion of parents being dangerous,” John Carpay, president of the Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, told The Epoch Times. The Justice Centre led a court challenge against Bill 24 in 2018, which became moot when the UCP reversed the policy the following year.

Parents, as a general rule, care more deeply about the well-being of their children than anyone else does, Carpay said.

“It’s this false dichotomy where it’s presented that parents are evil, and teachers, social workers, political activists, and bureaucrats are good,” he said. Only a very small minority of parents are dangerous and abusive, he said, and the same minority exists among teachers and others.

The New Brunswick Association of School Psychologists (NBASP) said in a June 13 statement that violence, psychological distress, and homelessness can result from parents reacting negatively to their child’s gender transitioning.

“Safe and affirming environments for 2SLGBTQIA+ students are critical for their mental health and well-being,” said the statement. “NBASP understands the importance of parental support and involvement in the lives of children,” it said, but “we also recognize the realities and potential for harm.”

The association is against Higgs’s changes to Policy 713.

The changes to the province’s policy on gender identity mandate that students under 16 have parental consent to change their names officially within the school system. If parents do not wish to give consent, the new policy says the student should be referred to a psychologist or school counsellor to discuss how to speak with their parents.

NBASP said requiring students to see a mental health professional “pathologizes gender identity” and “may result in mistrust of mental health professionals.”

Alberta’s Gay-Straight Alliances

Carpay said a mistrust of parents can also be damaging, and he gave an example.

“In Alberta, there was a girl—at that time, in 2017, she was about 12—and the gay-straight alliance at school encouraged her to start using a boy’s name, start wearing boy’s clothing, telling her that she could easily transition to becoming a boy,” he said.

“The parents only found out after the girl tried to commit suicide.”

The girl, who is autistic, had become alienated from her parents and had been told that “her parents did not have her best interests at heart,” Carpay said.

At the time it was against the law under Alberta’s Bill 24 to inform parents of their child’s involvement in a gay-straight alliance (GSA) club.

During the Justice Centre’s court challenge to Bill 24, lawyer Jay Cameron presented several specific cases to Alberta’s Court of Appeal in Calgary on Dec. 3, 2018. The Calgary Herald reported the evidence Cameron gave in court.

In multiple cases, children in the GSAs were taken off school grounds for meetings in other locations without parental permission. In one case, an adult “facilitator” who was not a school staff member or connected with the school in any other way, took children to his home in his personal vehicle as well as to other schools.

In another case, a 13-year-old was taken off school grounds to a GSA conference. The boy said he watched a demonstration of a condom being put on a banana. He was allegedly given many condoms and a “50-page flip book with step-by-step instructions on how to have sex, with what appears to be an older individual,” Cameron said.

The Justice Centre also detailed the explicit sexual nature of resource materials provided on the Alberta GSA Network website. The resources were also documented by blogger and mother Theresa Ng, who published screenshots of many of the resources.

With a couple of clicks, students could access videos of adults performing sexual acts as well as ads for sex toys or group meetups for sexual purposes.

At the Dec. 3, 2018, hearing, lawyer Brendan MacArthur-Stevens was one of the intervenors in favour of Bill 24.

“Many students will have joined GSAs over the past year in reliance on the enhanced privacy protections the legislation provides,” he said on behalf of the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, according to the Herald.

“Pulling the rug out from under these students and temporarily stripping these enhanced privacy protections away … would be grossly unfair to this vulnerable population.”

Challenge

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized Higgs for revising Policy 713 when he spoke at a fundraiser for the LGBTQ charity Rainbow Railroad in Toronto on June 8.

“Far-right political actors are trying to outdo themselves with the types of cruelty and isolation they can inflict on these already vulnerable people,” Trudeau said. “Right now, trans kids in New Brunswick are being told they don’t have the right to be their true selves, that they need to ask permission.”

Higgs responded with a June 10 tweet saying Trudeau doesn’t “believe parents need be involved in such critical discussions as gender identity, even in children as young as 4.”

He continued, “In New Brunswick, we’ll have a safe learning environment & better mental health supports, while still respecting the parent’s role.”

New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative social development minister Dorothy Shephard resigned on June 15 after cabinet debated the proposed changes to the policy. She told reporters it was only partly about Policy 713, as she had long disagreed with Higgs’s leadership style.

The week before, eight Progressive Conservative dissidents—including six ministers—sat out question period in protest of the changes.

On June 15, six members of Higgs’s party voted with the opposition to require the province’s child and youth advocate to review the changes made to Policy 713. The motion passed 26–20.

More than 20 Progressive Conservative constituency presidents and 50 members have signed letters calling for a review of Higgs’s leadership, meeting the threshold requirements for the party’s governing party to consider the matter. Whether a review will occur is yet to be decided.

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.





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