How dissent is growing within N.B. government over LGBTQ2 school policy review

Click to play video: 'Dissent grows in N.B. government over Policy 713 review, ministers show support'
Dissent grows in N.B. government over Policy 713 review, ministers show support
WATCH: Two more ministers have voiced their concerns regarding the province's recent announcement to review Policy 713. Silas Brown has more on the dissent in the provincial government ranks, as Infrastructure Minister Jeff Carr voiced his support for the policy – May 25, 2023

Two more New Brunswick ministers are speaking out about the review of a policy intended to provide an inclusive environment for LGBTQ2 students.

The government has been under fire over the decision to review portions of Policy 713, which sets out standards to protect queer students, such as making teachers use a student’s preferred pronouns and ensuring schools have gender-neutral washrooms available.

Premier Blaine Higgs has taken issue with two elements of the policy: that students under 16 can have their preferred name and pronouns used in the learning environment without parental consent and that students can participate in sports based on their gender identity.

Higgs said he believes parents should be informed if their child is seeking to use a different name or pronouns at school, even if it puts them at risk. He says the province is also looking to understand if it’s “fair” for transgender athletes to compete alongside their cisgender peers.

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But some in the premier’s caucus have begun to speak out on the necessity of the policy.

Click to play video: 'N.B. reviewing policy on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools'
N.B. reviewing policy on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools

Infrastructure Minister Jeff Carr said the ability for students to confide in teachers or guidance counsellors knowing that their parents won’t be informed is an important part of the policy and shouldn’t be removed. If anything, the policy should be strengthened, he said.

“For me, it’s about the safety of the student,” he said. “It’s about having, not just the student, but all the people that are in those communities, have the comfort that they can go to somebody before they go to their parents because they don’t want to disappoint their parents, they do not want to feel unloved.

“It’s incumbent on us to continue to have those discussions, to continue to understand and educate ourselves, because many of us don’t understand what it’s like to be in a marginalized community.”

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Click to play video: 'LGBTQIA+ community in N.B. concerned about premier’s comments on Policy 713'
LGBTQIA+ community in N.B. concerned about premier’s comments on Policy 713

Carr said he’s been working to understand the perspective of people in the LGBTQ2 community and why the backlash against the review has been so strong.

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“As soon as we start talking about effecting policy for inclusion, the people that have fought so long for inclusivity feel like they’re having something taken away,” he said.

“We have to be able to put ourselves in those shoes and understand how other people feel when we start developing these policies.”

Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard has also spoken up, writing on Facebook Wednesday that the policy is an important and necessary safeguard for queer youth in the school system.

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“Policy 713 is about giving educators a mechanism to promote an inclusive and respectful learning environment for children in our public schools. It’s about providing a safe place,” she said.

“It is a necessary policy that, I believe, needs to be strengthened and supported. Policies like this make the world a better place.”

Shephard also pointed to two sections in the province’s new Child and Youth Well-Being Act that give children in the care system the right to participate in decisions that involve them and have the right to privacy.

Higgs has maintained that parents have a right to know what their children are doing at school, which he says supersedes a child’s right to privacy.

“That’s where the difference between child and adults, that’s why we have children and that’s why we have adults, that’s why we have parents,” Higgs told reporters last week.

“To suggest that it’s OK that parents don’t need to know, just stop and think about that.”

Already two other government MLAs have taken a contrary position to that of the premier.

Backbench government MLA Andrea Anderson Mason said the province’s first priority should be ensuring that queer students are safe. That may mean putting the interests of a child ahead of those of their parents.

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“We need to be looking at what’s in the best interest of the child,” she said.

“My background has been in the courtroom and I’ve seen many a child custody case where we’ve seen vulnerable children involved and we know that the courts have said that not only is the best interest of the child paramount, it is the only thing to consider.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn also spoke about the importance of ensuring the safety of children as the policy is reviewed. She said it’s important to recognize that school can be a safe space for queer kids who don’t have a supportive environment at home.

“There’s certainly justification for the parents wanting to know that but we also have to be cognizant that not all kids come from environments that are supportive and could actually be detrimental in terms of them going back and having that discussion with their parents,” she said.

Click to play video: 'N.B. minister’s commitment to consultation on Policy 713 questioned'
N.B. minister’s commitment to consultation on Policy 713 questioned

Both Higgs and Education Minister Bill Hogan have said the review was launched in April after the government received hundreds of complaints from parents and teachers.

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The province’s child and youth advocate released a report last week that called the review “broken and incoherent,” and found that the review was launched after receiving only three emailed complaints, with none coming from teachers or students.

The review has sparked protests and a petition that, as of Thursday afternoon, has over 14,300 signatures.

That petition was started by former Saint John mayor Don Darling, who said government MLAs should feel the weight of those signatures.

“If I was a member of the PC caucus, I would be saying to the premier, ‘Stop’ and I’d be recruiting colleagues to say, ‘Enough is enough and let’s get back to the work at hand here that is going to benefit the majority of New Brunswickers,'” he said.

Hogan has promised that the review will be done in about a week’s time.

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