September 19, 2023 – Today, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) was granted leave to intervene in a Charter challenge to Saskatchewan’s discriminatory policy requiring parental consent to recognize the gender identity and proper pronouns of trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse students.
Weeks before the start of the school year, without notice or consultation, the Saskatchewan government adopted a policy called “Use of Preferred First Name and Pronouns by Students.” The Policy imposes specific requirements for students under the age of 16 who “wish to change their pronouns and/or preferred first name to align with their gender identity”. The Policy only permits school personnel to refer to a trans, non-binary, or gender-diverse student under the age of 16 by their proper name and pronouns if their parent consents. It also requires school personnel to seek parental consent when a student asks that their “preferred name, gender identity, and/or gender expression be used.”
The UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity commenced a Charter challenge to the Policy before the Saskatchewan Court of King’s Bench. It argues that the Policy limits the ss. 7 (security of the person) and 15 (equality) Charter rights of trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse students under the age of 16. Over the objection of the province, the Court granted LEAF permission to make submissions in the case on the s. 15 Charter rights of trans, non-binary, and gender diverse youth.
“We are increasingly seeing provincial governments take action to infringe the rights of trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse youth, placing them in danger of serious harm,” said Pam Hrick, Executive Director and General Counsel of LEAF. “These actions must be fought at every step, as must the rising tide of anti-trans, anti-queer hatred that we are seeing both among some of our political leaders and segments of the broader public.”
The effect of Saskatchewan’s Policy is to require schools to misgender trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse youth unless and until parental consent is obtained, and to out students to their families, even when they’re not ready or when it may cause them harm. For many trans and non-binary students in the province, home is not a safe place. In 2014, more than one third of gender-diverse youth in Saskatchewan and Manitoba only sometimes or rarely felt safe at home. Particularly in this context, supportive learning environments can be a significant protective factor for students. Fifty-four percent of trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse students with neither supportive family nor a supportive school environment will experience extreme despair, even with low levels of harassment or discrimination. This rises to 68% in the face of high levels of violence. Being supported at school—even with low levels of support at home—decreases the likelihood of extreme despair to 31%.
“Make no mistake: attacks on trans people and trans rights are intertwined with attacks on women’s rights. There is a common history of gender-based subjugation and control,” says Hrick. “As a gender equality organization, we will be looking for the courts to uphold the equality rights of trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse students.”
Today, the Saskatchewan court will hear an application for an injunction to prevent this policy from being implemented until the Charter challenge is decided. A date for the hearing of the challenge is expected to be set for October or November 2023.
LEAF is grateful to be represented pro bono on this intervention by Morgan Camley, Raphael Eghan, Barbara Grossman, and Chloe Snider of Dentons Canada LLP.
For media inquiries, please contact:
Executive Director & General Counsel, LEAF
416-595-7170 ext. 2002
About the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) is a national not-for-profit that works to advance the equality rights of women, girls, trans, and non-binary people in Canada through litigation, law reform, and public legal education. Since 1985, LEAF has intervened in more than 130 cases that have helped shape the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To find out more, visit www.leaf.ca.