Alberta Opposition leader, federal ministers react to premier’s policy affecting transgender youth

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
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley held a news conference on Thursday where she condemned Premier Danielle Smith’s “cruel” and recently-proposed policy that would require schools to notify and receive parental consent if a student aged 15 and under changes their name and pronouns. – Feb 1, 2024

The leader of the Alberta NDP says she believes a new policy proposed by the province’s premier that primarily affects transgender youth is “cynical and cruel.”

One day after Premier Danielle Smith announced a new wide-ranging policy via social media that would affect transgender youth in Alberta, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley offered her response in Ottawa on Thursday morning.

“Many Albertans were shocked to watch a message from the premier targeting Alberta’s school children,” she said, adding that she wanted to tell all children and youth in Alberta that they are loved, welcomed, respected “and there are many Albertans who stand shoulder to shoulder with you today.”

In a nearly eight-minute-long video post to X, formerly known as Twitter, on Wednesday, Smith said her government plans to introduce policies requiring parents to be notified or to provide consent for their children who want to change their names or pronouns at school.

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The premier also said Alberta plans to bring in restrictions related to hormone therapy and surgery for transgender youth as well as new rules governing who transgender athletes can compete with in sporting events.

Speaking to media in Ottawa on Thursday, Canada’s federal health minister said he is “deeply disturbed” by Smith’s policy announcement.

“I thought we were at a place in this country where we’re moving past this,” Mark Holland told reporters.

“It’s extremely dangerous to engage in this kind of thing, which I think is playing politics when you’re talking about children’s lives.”

Holland was among multiple federal cabinet ministers who have already spoken out against Smith’s policy announcement.

Women and Gender Equality and Youth of Canada Minister Marci Ien told reporters she “was struck by the soft tone” of Smith’s video on X, as well as “the almost spa-like music that accompanied it and then the vitriol that it was.”

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“We are talking about kids that are being othered in a way that we have not seen,” she said, noting that this comes after she recently shared a stage with conservative media personality Tucker Carlson, whose comments over the years have drawn criticism from LGBTQ2 advocates.

“To focus in on the most vulnerable segment of our society is reprehensible.”

Justice Minister Arif Virani said he believes Smith is “targeting that small minority for some political purpose in Alberta.”

Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages Minister Randy Boissonnault said for Canada’s LGBTQ2 community, Smith’s proposed policy amounts to “our NATO moment.”

“An attack on one of our communities is an attack on us all. I need allies and champions to stand up. If there’s ever been a time in this century for people to stand up for the kind of Canada and Alberta we want, it’s today.”

Jyoti Gondek, the mayor of Calgary, said “we cannot turn our backs on the trans community” and that “it is our responsibility to ensure that decades of hard-fought battles for human rights are not wiped out.”

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Amarjeet Sohi, the mayor of Edmonton, posted a statement on X on Thursday afternoon.

He said he wanted to address “all those who are scared or hurt by the recent provincial announcement.”

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“I stand in solidarity with you,” he said. “I will continue to stand up for the charter protected rights of all Edmontonians, including yours.

“It should not be the role of any government to marginalize and discriminate against those they are entrusted to serve. Decisions about access to health care should be made by doctors on an individual basis and not by politicians.”

In her social media post on Wednesday, Smith said she wants transgender youth in Alberta to know “how much we love you and support you in becoming the person you want to be,” but added that she does not feel comfortable allowing youth to make life-altering changes until they are ready to make those choices.

“One of the greatest responsibilities we as parents, teachers and community leaders have is to preserve for our children the right to grow and develop into mature adults, so that they are better prepared to make the most impactful decisions affecting their lives,” she said.

At a news conference in Calgary on Thursday, Smith answered questions from reporters about the policy for the first time.

When asked how much her conversations with non-binary people played a role in the policy, Smith said she has “been consulting with members of the transgender community since the last time I was in politics.”

She also noted feedback she has received from members of the transgender community prompted a part of the policy announced a day earlier: to ensure there are more doctors in Alberta with expertise in gender-affirming procedures and the care needed for people who have those procedures.

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“One of the constant things that I hear is how difficult it is to get connected with somebody who understands transgender medicine,” Smith said, adding she wants her government to develop a registry of doctors able to provide “this type of treatment long-term.”

Smith said the Alberta government approves about 100 gender-affirming procedures a year but did not say how many, if any, of those are for people under the age of 18.

Notley said that while watching Smith’s video on X, there was one point where she was so angry about what she heard that she “almost leaped through the computer.”

She noted transgender youth disproportionately experience homelessness.

Notley said it was how Smith suggested that if transgender youth have parents who are not supportive of their identity, child protective services are in place to help. Notley pointed out that the child protective system is “broken” in Alberta, pointing out that the province’s Office of the Child and Youth Advocate has just recently raised concerns regarding its budget.

Notley added that it was “cruel and mean-spirited” for Smith to suggest such services could help transgender youth dealing with unsupportive or even abusive parents.

Immediately following her policy being posted on social media, advocates for the LGBTQ2 community and specifically transgender youth spoke out to raise serious concerns about the policy, warning they believe it could seriously impact the mental health and physical safety of many youth in Alberta.

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Smith said students 15 or younger who want to change their names or pronouns at school will need parental consent, while 16- and 17-year-old students will need to have their parents notified before doing so, though parental consent will not be mandatory.

Smith said she plans to ban gender-affirming surgery for Albertans 17 and under, while people in the province 15 and under will be banned from access to puberty blockers and hormone therapies meant to be used for gender affirmation. She said an exception will be made for youth who have already begun the process.

On Thursday, Smith noted that when it comes to gender-affirming procedures, Alberta already prohibits “bottom surgery” for people in the province who are under 18.

Notley said she believes the policy with regard to health services amounts to “government interference” in decisions that should be made by parents, children and doctors.

She said Smith’s policy has “taken away their freedom of choice” and said she would be looking into whether the policy in that regard contravenes the Canada Health Act.

At her news conference on Thursday, Smith said the proposed policy has been created with the aim of attempting to “preserve the rights of kids to be able to make decisions as adults.”

“I think that we’ve seen in other jurisdictions,” she said, referencing recent pronoun policies in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, as well as policy debates in a number of European countries regarding gender-affirming procedures.

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Albertans who are 16 or 17 will be allowed to access hormone therapy if they obtain approval from a parent, physician and psychologist, Smith said.

Smith’s policy would also impact sex education for all Alberta youth. She said the new policy will see a requirement take effect so that all parents have to be notified and consent to their child learning about gender identity, human sexuality and sexual orientation.

Notley said she believes this policy would make Alberta the only province in Canada where parents would now need to actively opt-in to have their child receive sex education, noting it is “a program that teaches safe sex, birth control, consent.”

Notley added that she believes the policy is mired in misinformation and expressed concern that Smith also announced plans to require any third-party instruction materials for sex education to be approved by the education minister.

Notley said she believes Smith’s “horrifying policy will be tested and rejected by the courts” and that it is Smith’s attempt to distract Albertans from what she sees as broader policy failures in the realms of education and health.

When asked on Thursday if she was prepared to use the notwithstanding clause if necessary, Smith said she hopes “it doesn’t come to that.”

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

Smith’s policy could also impact transgender youths’ participation in sports. The premier said Wednesday that she wants to come up with a plan so that women and girls do not have to compete against transgender female athletes, and to allow transgender youth to compete in sports in co-ed leagues.

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Notley said that she believes “a trans woman is a woman and a trans man is a man” and that she believes Smith is purusuing the policy on transgender athletes because she is “pandering to the most extremist element” of her party’s base.

When asked Thursday if she believes her policies will receive widespread support from Albertans, Smith suggested she did.

“I am confident that Albertans do not want children to make irreversible decisions that impact their reproductive health,” she said, adding she thinks most Albertans will consider those “adult decisions.”

“I am also confident that parents love their kids and they want to know what’s going on with their kids.”

–With files from The Canadian Press’ Dean Bennett and Colette Derworiz

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

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