Families Minister Jean-Yves Duclos defended Service Canada‘s decision to ask its employees to adopt gender-neutral language when interacting with the public, as members of the opposition mocked the policy mercilessly.
According to a directive issued to managers and team leaders, employees of Service Canada are asked to use gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language to avoid “portraying a perceived bias toward a particular sex or gender.”
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Workers are instructed to use a client’s full name or ask how they would prefer to be addressed instead of using honorifics such as Mr., Mrs. or Ms., which “can be seen as gender specific by a client,” reads the memo, which was first obtained by Radio-Canada.
Workers also being asked to eschew the terms “father” and “mother” in favour of “parent.”
Some members of the opposition were quick to criticize the directive, including Conservative MP Alain Rayes, who described it as “ridiculous.”
Rheal Fortin, the former Bloc Quebecois MP who now sits as an Independent, concurred, saying, “it’s bordering on harebrained.”
“I almost want to say I’m glad they don’t have any bigger problems than that at Service Canada,” he joked.
But Duclos told reporters Wednesday that Service Canada’s policies are a matter of respect.
He specified in a tweet the government department would continue to use Mr. or Ms. when interacting with Canadians.
Duclos’ press secretary, Emilie Gauduchon-Campbell, said the directive was issued in response to requests from members of the public who criticized Service Canada for a lack of inclusivity.
Helen Kennedy, executive director of national LGBTQ human rights organization Egale Canada, praised Ottawa’s directive as “a good first step,” but said it needs to be accompanied with more awareness training and education around non-binary and gender-neutral language.
“Some people may be very well-intentioned but they may not have the understanding or knowledge that they need in order to ask the right question in a manner that’s not going to be offensive,” she said in a phone interview.
The backlash from the opposition is a sign of how far Canadian society still has to come when it comes to inclusion, she said.
“Issues around gender-neutral language are extremely important, and they may not be important to the opposition but, I can tell you, they’re very important to members of our community,” Kennedy said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to respond Wednesday morning to the initial Radio-Canada report, saying he needed more time to look into the matter.