On September 20, thousands of protestors congregated nationwide to oppose education on sexuality and gender identity in schools. The march was met with counter-protestors who accused the marchers of denying students access to critical education concerning inclusion and respect for gender diverse people.
In downtown Montreal, hundreds of protestors and counter-protestors vocalized their opinions in front of Quebec Premier François Legault’s office near McGill’s Roddick Gates. In response to these tensions, Legault stated in a press scrum that, “we’ll put in place a committee with some experts that will look at the different subjects, the rights of the children, all the debate around gender decisions, and we’ll look at what’s done in other countries, and the committee will come back to us.”
The “committee” Legault referred to is known as the “comité de sages.” Suzanne Roy, Quebec Minister of Families, presented the mandate and structure of the committee on December 5, 2023. The committee aims to advise the Quebec government on issues related to gender identity, and will be composed of three members. These are Diana Lavallée, former president of the Council on the Status of Women and former president of the Quebec Interprofessional Health Federation; Dr. Jean-Bernard Trudeau, former deputy director general at the College of Physicians; and Patrick Taillon, professor of constitutional law and human rights and freedoms at Laval University.
The committee, which has a budget of approximately $800,000, will produce a report that is expected to be published in the winter of 2025. The report will analyze the potential impact of the policies, practices, and guidelines surrounding gender identity on Quebec society at large, and will also identify issues that the government should further examine. The Quebec LGBT Council will assist the committee. The council is composed of more than 70 organizations across Quebec and works to raise awareness among legal, social, and institutional actors to defend the rights of LGBTQ+ communities.
However, the committee has been criticized for its lack of transgender and non-binary members. Co- spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, said that it is “unusual” to be discussing such “sensitive” issues “without bringing the voices of the people concerned to the table.” He added that “we would undoubtedly find it special, as Quebecers, for example, a committee on the future of the French language with no French speakers.”
When asked if she could imagine a government committee responsible for studying the status of women without any women on it at a press briefing, Lavallée responded, “probably not.” Moreover, when questioned about the absence of members of the LGBTQ+ community on the committee, Roy stated that the committee is not intended to represent the interests of the LGBTQ+ community, but that it will benefit from its collaboration with the Quebec LGBT Council. The head of the Quebec LGBT Council, James Galantino, said that “Unfortunately we were told the committee would exist with or without us. So if the committee exists, we’d rather have a role in it.”
The Daily spoke with Abe Berglas, Administrative Coordinator at Queer McGill, about the comité de sages. When asked about the committee’s potential to progress the rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community, Berglas said that the committee “won’t progress queer rights or trans rights at all but I also don’t think it was ever meant to. I think it was meant to placate trans foes.” Regarding the role of the Quebec LGBT Council on the committee, Berglas stated that “the Council should take a firmer stance and should refuse to collaborate with the comité de sages. I am worried that lending any sort of legitimacy to the committee will just enforce its power.”
Kimberly Manning, Principal of Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute, also expressed concern regarding the committee, specifically due to the lack of transgender and non-binary representation. She stated that “I think [the committee] is a really disturbing development in the history of the province” and that the composition of the committee demonstrates the lack of the government’s regard for prioritizing those affected by the issues at hand. Manning added, “By putting [the committee] on the table, they’re giving permission to a rise in hostility and transphobia.”
Berglas further explained that the committee will negatively impact the rights of the transgender community by delaying important advancements such as the implementation of X gender markers on provincial identification documents like health cards and driver’s licenses. In 2021, the Quebec Superior Court demanded that the province change several sections of the Civil Code of Quebec to include the ability of non-binary people to be recognized by their gender on provincial identification documents. Now, government agencies like the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) are stating that they need the input of the comité de sages before they can move forward with the implementation of X gender markers.
“Even if the final report were amazing, there has actually already been a negative effect of the committee,” said Berglas. They added that “the very existence of the comité” will delay trans rights. When questioned about the role of Queer McGill in light of the comité de sages, Berglas explained that they helped organize a protest on January 15 to advocate against the negative implications of the committee. They said that “it went quite well” and that they were “effective in getting [their] message across to a lot of people.”
They added that the protestors “walked along René-Levesque, so there was some exposure there, and we were able to cause some disruption, which was the goal.”
Berglas encouraged students to participate in student activism, specifically related to the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights. They have learned from their experience as a student at McGill that student activism can influence the university’s administration: “I’d like to think that the Quebec government has a similar enough power structure to also do that.” Concerning the comité de sages, Berglas said that they would continue to organize counter-efforts to the committee, emphasizing the importance of “making noise and not going down without a fight.”