The cruelty and calm of Alberta’s attack on trans rights

ANALYSIS: The province's new set of anti-trans policies are unprecedented in Canada and are as politically motivated as it gets

After years of insisting she wouldn’t play “political football” with trans kids’ rights, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith turned around this week and introduced Canada’s harshest and most restrictive anti-trans policies yet. 

And she did it in possibly the most cowardly way possible: A video with no opportunity for pushback, fact-checking or consultation, shared on, X (formerly Twitter) a social media platform that’s become a haven for far-right nuts and misinformation. This was not presented as a usual policy announcement with the opportunity for reporters to ask questions or challenge Smith on any of the misinformation these policies are grounded in (that presser came Thursday, a day later).

No, this announcement of the country’s most vile legislative attack on trans rights came without challenge, as Smith wielded the lives and bodies of trans people for political gain in a social media video full of condescension and misinformation about topics like trans women in sports. For instance, Smith said trans women have a biological advantage in competition. Multiple studies have shown that’s untrue.

And it’s all politics, all of it. We can’t pretend it’s anything else. As her recent appearance on stage with Tucker Carlson (and recent feverish support of anti-trans policies from her party base at last fall’s convention) show, Smith has committed to the bit, and that bit is playing to her far-right base in an attempt to win them over, even if that comes at the cost of trans lives. 

@xtramagazine

Alberta premier Danielle Smith just introduced a set of new policies restricting gender-affirming care, pronoun use in schools, and trans womens’ participation in sports in what is probably Canada’a harsest anti-trans legislation to date. The policy follows similar moves in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, but takes it to a new extreme. And we should be very worried. 🏳️‍⚧️🇨🇦 #fyp #foryoupage #lgbtqnews #canadanews #daniellesmith #alberta #trans

♬ original sound – Xtra Magazine

 

The video—set to the tune of twee guitar music and full of normcore stock photos—comes after Smith hinted last week on her call-in radio show that a so-called “parental rights” policy was coming. But the Alberta premier delivered a vastly more expansive and specifically cruel outline than many expected, including restrictions on trans medical care for teens, pronoun notification policies in schools, and cracking down on trans women’s participation in sports. 

The announcement marks a particular heel-turn for Smith on trans issues. Back when she was running for party leadership (and essentially the premiership) in 2022 she said did not want to debate these things in public.

“I have a non-binary family member, and I believe these decisions are very personal, and it should not be debated in public,” Smith said at the time. “We shouldn’t be making any child feel like the issues they’re struggling with are something that’s a political football.” 

That stance itself was largely seen as pivot from Smith’s previous political life a decade ago which went down in flames in the wake of her refusal to denounce a candidate who said gays would burn in a “lake of fire.” Ahead of and during the recent United Conservative Party leadership race, which won  Smith the premiership, she cast herself as  much more of a social moderate when it comes to  queer and trans issues, and maybe even inspired hope that she’d crack down less on our community than her conservative premier predecessors. Her party’s recent election platform did not include a single mention of “parental rights” or “gender identity.”

Flash forward to this week, and now Smith is standing in front of an idyllic prairie painting, insisting repeatedly with the level tone of a youth pastor that she and her government care about trans Albertans, all while outlining a set of unprecedented restrictions on our basic fundamental rights. 

“As premier of this province I want every Albertan who identifies as transgender to know that I care deeply about you and accept you for who you are,” Smith said in the video.

Insultingly, Smith layered in the idea that she was actually helping trans people with these policies, with nods in her video to recruiting more specialized surgeons to the province (which currently has woeful access to gender-affirming surgery for any trans person of any age) and encouraging parents, teachers and peers to report bullying of trans kids. She even involved Child Protective Services at one point, as a possible solution should trans kids have unsupportive parents.

All of that feels like a slap in the face considering how it was sandwiched between policies that will affect so many lives.

And here’s the thing. I’m trans, and I grew up in rural central Alberta. I know how hard things are for queer and trans kids already in many of those communities. Watching the news of this roll out across Canada, I’m already seeing the province cast as a backwards place where backwards things happen. There’s a sense of hopelessness and fatalism to it all. 

Yeah, Smith is showing that there are people—even the people leading the province—who wish to restrict the lives and freedoms of trans people. But there are also so many trans people, young and old, in Alberta and from Alberta who just want to live and be accepted for who they are in their home and their community. 

While the so-called “parental rights” policies in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan—which mandate schools disclose to parents if a child changes their name or pronouns—have rightfully garnered a wave of media attention and backlash from LGBTQ2S+ advocates and allies, Alberta takes it to another level by directly attacking health care and sports participation. 

No Canadian province has introduced this sort of restriction on puberty blocker access (and a reminder that plenty of cis children rely on that medication too). Similarly, the restrictions on trans women in sports are new territory for Canada, and could set a dangerous precedent for copycat legislation across other provinces. 

Many comparisons have rightfully already been made to states like Florida or Alabama, which have introduced incredibly restrictive anti-trans policies in recent years. And it’s true that we should be very concerned about American-style anti-trans legislation making its way into Canada. Because again, these policies are not founded on what’s best for the people involved. They are introduced to win votes from an increasingly vocal far-right base, and keep governments in power at whatever cost. And in many cases, they come from a perspective aimed at eliminating trans people altogether 

It’s all political calculus, and we’re watching it play out at the federal level in Canada as well as Pierre Poilievre commits to riding the far-right rail of federal conservatism at any opportunity. 

Ultimately, our bodies, our lives are just political football to people like Smith. This week showed just that.

Senior editor Mel Woods is an English-speaking Vancouver-based writer and audio producer and a former associate editor with HuffPost Canada. A proud prairie queer and ranch dressing expert, their work has also appeared in Vice, Slate, the Tyee, the CBC, the Globe and Mail and the Walrus.

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