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Saskatchewan’s Bill 137 is an Attack on Trans Youth

The notwithstanding clause continually targets marginalized groups

The Daily uses the term “trans” in this editorial as an overarching term to include transgender as well as non-binary, genderqueer, and genderfluid people.

On October 20, the Saskatchewan government passed its proposed Bill 137, the Parent’s Bill of Rights. The new law prevents children under the age of 16 from changing their name or pronouns at school without parental consent. It was passed using the controversial notwithstanding clause, which bars the law from court challenges under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and also contains protections from court challenges under the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.

In a news conference held after the bill was passed, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said that Bill 137 was “not in any way targeting anyone” but was instead about “providing parents the right – not the opportunity – to support their children in the formative years of their life.” As reported in the Daily last month, however, numerous human rights groups across Canada have highlighted the dangers that Bill 137 poses for gender-diverse, trans, and non-binary students. Saskatchewan NDP leader Carla Beck, whose party has opposed the bill since it was announced in August, likewise warns that teachers “will have to choose between shoving kids back in the closet or putting them in harm’s way.”

Beyond requiring parental consent to use the “gender-related preferred name or gender identity” of a pupil under 16, Bill 137 also stipulates that if it is “reasonably expected” that obtaining parental consent “is likely to result in physical, mental or emotional harm to the pupil,” the pupil’s principal must direct them to “the appropriate professionals, who are employed or retained by the school” to assist the pupil in obtaining parental consent.

The requirement that students obtain parental consent at any and all cost to themselves, including incurring “physical, mental or emotional harm” not only from their parents or guardians but also from teachers, principals, and other school employees, is a denial of students’ basic human rights. No child should be forced to endure “physical, mental or emotional harm” out of respect for the “right” of their parents or guardians to determine the name or pronouns by which they should be referred. There is no basis for this “right” in any national or international human rights code. Saskatchewan has invented a set of parents’ rights that infringe on universally-recognized children’s rights, including the right to be protected from “all forms of physical or mental violence” (Article 19.1) and to preserve one’s identity “without unlawful interference” (Article 8.1).

The notwithstanding clause played a critical role in the passing of Bill 137. This clause can be used to violate and suspend Charter provisions – such as fundamental freedoms, legal rights, and equality rights – for a period of up to five years. The invoking of the clause allows for federal, provincial, and territorial legislatures to prevent bills from going under judicial review and determining their constitutionality. 

The notwithstanding clause has historically been used by provinces to infringe on the rights of marginalized groups. In 2019, for example, the Legault government passed Bill 21 using this clause to prohibit certain public sector workers from wearing religious symbols in working environments. Although Bill 21 bans all religious symbols, it unfairly targets religious minorities, specifically Muslim Quebecers who wear a hijab, niqab, or burqa. It amounts to a “legalization of discrimination against minorities,” according to the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

The Daily condemns the passing of Bill 137, which deliberately compromises the safety and well-being of trans youth, and the continual unjust use of the notwithstanding clause to infringe on the rights of marginalized groups. Bill 137 comes at a time of heightened homophobia and transphobia not only in Canada but across the world. The number of police-reported hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people in Canada increased from 265 in 2019 to 423 in 2021. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in US legislatures in 2023 alone. In the UK, meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has proposed to end legal protections for trans people under the country’s anti-discrimination law, the Equality Act.

To show support and solidarity with the trans community, you can attend upcoming organized protests such as the Trans Remembrance March on November 11. You can also follow the P!nk Bloc or Celeste Trianon on Instagram to stay updated on calls for organized community action across Montreal. If you are a trans person at McGill, the Trans Patient Union, Queer McGill, the Student Wellness Hub, and the Centre for Gender Advocacy provide resources and support systems on their webpages.