Alberta proposes parental consent for name changes in schools, age limits on gender affirmation care

Click to play video: 'Danielle Smith unveils Alberta’s proposed guidelines on parental consent, gender-affirming care rules'
Danielle Smith unveils Alberta’s proposed guidelines on parental consent, gender-affirming care rules
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith shared the province's proposed rules regarding parental consent for student names and pronouns, as well as age restrictions for gender affirmation medical care. The premier also mentioned restrictions on transgender athletes in her video posted to social media. Ina Sidhu reports. – Jan 31, 2024

Alberta will be requiring schools to notify and gain parental consent if their child changes their name and pronouns in school.

In a social media post on Wednesday afternoon, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said the government will require parental notification and consent if a child 15 years or younger changes their name and pronouns at school.

In the video on X, formerly known as Twitter, Smith said parents of children aged 16 and 17 will not need to consent to the changes but will need to be notified.

Parents will also be given the choice to opt their children out of classroom discussions and instruction on gender identity, sexual orientation or human sexuality. All third-party materials regarding these subjects must be pre-approved by the Ministry of Education.

Click to play video: 'Alberta NDP: Smith ‘playing dangerous politics’ in wake of provincial gender pronoun policy'
Alberta NDP: Smith ‘playing dangerous politics’ in wake of provincial gender pronoun policy

This comes after the premier said on Your Province, Your Premier last Saturday that the United Conservative government would announce its parental rights policy this week. Smith’s video was posted on X and reporters were not given an opportunity to ask questions.

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Smith said it is the responsibility of parents, teachers and community leaders to “preserve” children’s rights to grow and develop into mature adults so they are “better prepared to make the most impactful decisions affecting their lives.”

“It is my view that list of adult choices includes deciding whether or not to alter one’s biological sex. Making permanent and irreversible decisions regarding one’s biological sex while still a youth can severely limit that child’s choices in the future. Prematurely encouraging or enabling children to alter their very biology or natural growth, no matter how well-intentioned and sincere, poses a risk to that child’s future that I as premier am not comfortable with permitting in our province.”

Smith also announced the government will be working with sporting organizations in the province to “ensure that women and girls have the choice to compete in a women’s only division in athletic competitions and are not forced to compete against biologically stronger transgender female athletes.” She said that the government will ensure transgender athletes are able to “meaningfully participate” in sports.

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“I strongly believe that those who are born male, but have transitioned to or identify as female, are owed the opportunity to meaningfully participate in sport. However, there are obvious biological realities that give transgender female athletes a massive competitive advantage over women and girls,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Smith using ‘mean-spirited’ gender pronoun policy to ‘distract’ Albertans from provincial issues: Notley'
Smith using ‘mean-spirited’ gender pronoun policy to ‘distract’ Albertans from provincial issues: Notley

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said the party will have more to say about the policy on Thursday.

“I want you to know right now that you are loved, and you are welcome. There are many Albertans standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you against hate, today and every day,” Notley’s post read.

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Some Alberta NDP MLAs have spoken out in opposition of the policy.

“To say I’m absolutely heartbroken is an understatement,” said Janis Irwin, Alberta’s critic for housing, on X.

“Much more to say, but for now, to Alberta’s trans community, and particularly the youth: You are so loved. You are seen. You are not alone. And me, and so many others will be with you for every step of this fight.”

Sarah Hoffman, MLA for Edmonton-Glennora, said the policy is a “dishonest” and “dangerous” attempt to divide Albertans.

“She is striking fear into the hearts of vulnerable kids in hopes of political gain. Every kid deserves to feel safe at school, in their community, and with their doctor. I stand with trans kids,” she said in a social media post on Wednesday evening.

The province will be holding a news conference about the new policies on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

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Some municipal leaders are also speaking out against the policy.

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Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek called the policy an “infringement on human rights.”

“For the Government of Alberta to create a false narrative, set to soft music, that focuses mainly on biological sex, surgeries and sports is irresponsible,” she said on X.

“This proposed legislation, plus the vitriolic debate that will follow, have placed the trans community in harm’s way once again. It has taken no time for the misinformation campaigns and threats to ramp up on social media.

“To make this announcement on social media platforms with no journalistic engagement is a calculated move, meant to fuel highly charged ideological and political rhetoric, leading up to a media availability that will be used to blame trans allies for misrepresenting the intent.”

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Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi said while Smith’s delivery was “communicated well and with compassion,” the policy is cruel and inhumane.

“In particular, it means even abusive parents must be told, and Child Protective Services will get involved later,” he posted on X.

“I hope that as details emerge, this issue is amended quickly. I have a number of other concerns but this one jumps out immediately. The point is that if one has supportive parents, they would know already before the school. This matters is cases where the parents are not.”

Federal politicians are also weighing in.

“With tonight’s announcement by Danielle Smith’s government, I am at the defence of every student and family who will be affected.  These policies are the most restrictive in Canada and therefore the most dangerous. Putting kids’ lives at risk,” said Randy Boissonnault, Edmonton Centre MP and federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages.

Federal Minister for Women and Gender Equality Marci Ien said she is “incredibly disappointed” at Smith’s video.

“Young people should not be targeted by their governments, they should be protected,” she said on X.

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Policy will harm transgender youth: advocates

Many advocates vocally criticized the Alberta government’s new policy on Wednesday, saying it will harm transgender youth across the province.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal published a study in 2022 that suggests homosexual and transgender youth showed five times the risk of suicidal ideation compared to their cisgender peers.

A study by the Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre at the University of British Columbia suggests 64 per cent of transgender and gender-non-conforming youth aged 14 to 25 years surveyed reported they had seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months. Transgender and gender-non-conforming youth also have a higher probability of many risk factors for suicidality, such as peer victimization and family dysfunction.

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“Children will die because they will not receive the support, the care that they need, because they will not receive the medical care that they desperately need, because they will not have a safe space (and a) safe adult to go to when they start exploring these things,” Marni Panas, a Canadian certified inclusion professional, told Global News on Wednesday.

“My heart cannot begin to comprehend the consequences that these transgender and non-binary youths and adults (face).”

Panas questioned the intentions behind the policy, saying Smith’s comments in her video are not reflective of the real-lived experiences of trans, non-binary and gender-nonconforming youth.

“They’ve made a difficult journey impossible for most trans youth in this province. It is not a difficult journey, it’s an impossible journey in this province. One journey that will lead to dire consequences for youth,” Panas said.

“Limiting care for youth for 16 and under? We know the evidence is very clear. The earlier they receive affirming care, in collaboration with parents and their health care providers, means that they will have far better outcomes … The opposite is true. We know the outcomes are dire and children will die because of the decisions that are going to be made.”

She added Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have similar policies that are unethical.

“Other provinces have taken steps and in both cases, the human rights commissioner or commission have deemed them to be impacting the rights of children. So much so that in Saskatchewan, they utilized the notwithstanding clause,” Panas said.

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“What about the children’s rights? Parents have responsibility. Children have rights.”

Dr. Kristopher Wells, Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual & Gender Minority Youth at MacEwan University in Edmonton, said in a social media post on Wednesday afternoon that this is the “most draconian (policy) ever introduced in Canada.”

“It is a full on attack against trans and 2SLGBTQ+ communities. It is not only immoral, it is illegal,” the post read.

“There is no evidence or research to support any of these recommendations. This is ideological warfare.”

Egale Canada and Skipping Stone Foundation both said they will bring legal actions to “protect our communities.”

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“Egale Canada and Skipping Stone Foundation come together to jointly condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the policy measures announced by Premier Smith this afternoon. This is a direct and unprecedented attack on 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians, and trans and gender-diverse youth in particular,” both organizations said in a release published on Wednesday.

“The draconian measures announced run directly counter to expert guidance and evidence, violate the constitutional rights of 2SLGBTQI+ people, and will lead to irreparable harm and suffering. Egale and Skipping Stone will bring legal action to protect our communities.

“The government of Alberta is playing politics with some of the most vulnerable members of our society: trans and gender-diverse youth, attacking them for cheap political points. We will not stand for it.”

Rallies in support of trans, non-binary and gender-nonc-onforming youth have been scheduled in Calgary and Edmonton on Saturday and Sunday in anticipation of the new policy.

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Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA), said the policy will send a “chilling effect” to all schools.

Schilling previously told Global News the ATA was not consulted on the parental rights policy, and the premier’s office did not answer questions about who was consulted.

“I’m very concerned about, the safety and the wellness of all of our students, but particularly about the safety of our trans students and our 2SLGBTQ+ students. They’re some of the most vulnerable students that we have within our schools and we need to ensure that they are protected and safe,” Schilling said.

He says he’s worried the policy will have unintended consequences for children and teachers across the province if passed in legislature. A lot of teachers will not be able to help students who might be struggling with their gender identity, he said.

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“I know my colleagues often say to me that they don’t want to out kids. They want to make sure that they’re protected. They want to work with, counseling support. They want to work with families to make sure that, our students are safe and feel secure and, you know, at school so that they’re successful.”

UCP takes stance in response to AGM vote: political scientists

Lorian Hardcastle, associate professor in the Faculty of Law and Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, said Smith’s announcement is a direct response to a motion passed at the United Conservative Party’s annual general meeting in November 2023.

Smith made a speech last November to party members promising to protect parents’ rights. The delegates overwhelmingly passed a motion requiring parental consent if a child under the age of 16 wishes to use a different name or pronoun at school, mirroring legislation recently passed in Saskatchewan that has drawn harsh criticism from LGBTQ2 advocates.

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“One of the things that was talked about at that meeting in the fall was a bill of rights that would deal with parental consent around their children, and education and healthcare decision making,” Hardcastle told Global News.

“So it isn’t clear if this is going to be part of a broader set of legal changes or whether we’re simply going to see more narrow changes, for example to health insurance legislation.”

Hardcastle said the policy could be a part of a larger suite of changes being discussed among the party.

“In some ways, this is a political move more than it is a change to the health care that lots of people receive. For example, it isn’t clear if children under 18 are currently receiving surgery anyway. And so I would question whether the change is meant to address something that’s actually occurring or if it’s meant more to pander to the premier’s political base,” she said.

But she said it’s also important to remember that this is a policy, not a piece of legislation.

“If this is just going to be a policy change and isn’t going to be legislation, then unfortunately, we won’t have the benefit of legislative debates on this issue. If these kinds of changes are emerging from some of the resolutions that were voted on at the UCP’s annual general meeting — that’s a narrow subset of the public,” she said.

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“The government should really be consulting with these changes and what they look like with healthcare professionals who treat children in this area, we should be hearing from adults who are parents to children who are seeking gender-affirming care, we should hear from adolescents themselves seeking gender-affirming treatment. those voices seem to be largely missing from this discussion.”

Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said the policy is a “nod” to the social conservatives in the UCP base.

The video is “desperately trying to depoliticize something that is highly political and highly controversial,” Williams said.

“This does have some consistency with Danielle Smith’s past, her support of LGBTQ2S rights and freedoms, but also trying to recognize the concerns that parents, particularly social conservative parents, have,” she told Global News.

Williams added the policy is similar to Saskatchewan’s and New Brunswick’s policies, but may be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“I guess we’ll see what the courts do. I don’t know if she’s planning to use the notwithstanding clause … Some are concerned that could endanger some children who are already very fragile, who are trying to understand their identity and feeling less than safe in doing so. This doesn’t help those students, particularly,” the political scientist said.

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