The Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan enacted on Friday The Education (Parents’ Bill of Rights) Amendment Act, 2023 to codify parental rights in students’ education. The bill, also known as Bill 137, is controversial for its gender identity policy and the invocation of the notwithstanding clause to override a provincial court’s interlocutory injunction against the policy.
The most contested part of the bill is Section 197.4(1), which requires students, of age under 16, to obtain their parent’s consent and permission before teachers and school staff use their “gender-related” preferred name and pronouns. Section 197.4(1) reads:
If a pupil who is under 16 years of age requests that the pupil’s new gender-related preferred name or gender identity be used at school, the pupil’s teachers and other employees of the school shall not use the new gender-related preferred name or gender identity unless consent is first obtained from the pupil’s parent or guardian.
This section is equivalent to the Education Bureau’s previous Parental Inclusion and Consent Policy, announced in August. UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity, a Canadian LGBTQ+ organization, challenged the policy before Saskatchewan’s Court of King’s Bench in late August. The court issued an interlocutory injunction enjoining the policy, accepting that youths under the age of 16 who are unable to have gender identity observed in the school will suffer irreparable harm under this policy. Subsequently, Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill said, when he introduced the act to the Legislative Assembly, that “the legislation provides clarity that the policy will remain in place.”
The act serves as a codification of the policy and generates a second layer of controversy. Sections 197.4(3) and (4) override portions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Section 197.4(5) further limits the ability to sue for losses or damages resulting from the enactment of section 197.4. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association issued a press release stating that the government has shown its unwillingness to respect charter rights and “[the enactment] will be a stain on the history of the province.”
The act also provides parents with several rights, including the right to:
- act as the primary decision-maker with respect to the pupil’s education;
- be informed on a regular basis of the pupil’s attendance, behaviour and academic achievement at school;
- request a review and reconsideration of the expulsion if the pupil has been expelled from school;
- be informed of the code of conduct and administrative policies, including discipline and behaviour management policies of the school.
The Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe claimed that the act would ensure that parents and guardians will be involved in all important decisions about their children’s education.
Protests and counter-protests took place last month across Canada over the sexual orientation and gender identity policies and curricula in schools. New Brunswick also implemented a similar parental consent policy in mid-August.