Premier Scott Moe’s admission that he has not heard from any parents whose children hid their gender identities has raised questions about the influence of right-wing lobby groups on Saskatchewan’s school pronoun policy.
Moe has consistently said the controversial policy was drawn up in response to concerns from parents, but when CBC Saskatchewan asked Moe Tuesday how many parents had told him they were surprised to hear their child had changed their name and pronouns at school, Moe said he did not have an answer. When asked if that number may have been zero, Moe responded “In my constituency as an MLA, I have not talked to that individual.”
Action4Canada, a right-wing group that was instrumental in the Freedom Convoy and has since planned anti-drag protests, harassed school boards over Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) guidelines, sued the federal government over vaccine mandates, equated sex education with child sex-trafficking and boasted about its influence on getting the policy passed.
The group’s founder, B.C.-based Tanya Gaw, claims Action4Canada sent more than 10,000 emails to Moe and Education minister Dustin Duncan via the signing of an online petition, and a group member had a face-to-face conversation with Duncan’s staff in April to serve a ”notice of liability” for “causing harm” to children by exposing them to “sexually explicit” resources.
A letter the group sent to Duncan, posted on Action4Canada’s website, claims SOGI 1 2 3 has had a “devastating outcome” in B.C. and Alberta, “wherein children en masse are identifying as the opposite sex and being fast-tracked onto harmful puberty blockers, being sterilized and also leading to surgeries that permanently mutilate their body.” In a video celebrating the Saskatchewan policy, Gaw says, “There is no such thing as a trans child. I’m going to just keep repeating that and repeating that: there is no such thing as a trans child.”
In August, Duncan announced all youth under age 16 will have to get parental consent to use their chosen name and pronouns at school, and went a step further by banning SOGI 1 2 3 and banning third-party groups like Planned Parenthood from teaching sexual education courses—all policies Action4Canada had pushed for.
Saskatchewan government staff did not respond to Xtra’s requests for comment.
Action4Canada also rallied New Brunswick’s government for similar changes, and the province’s education minister in June made it mandatory for school staff to get parental consent before using the chosen names and pronouns of students under 16. The move triggered a caucus protest.
A judge ruled that the Saskatchewan government cannot implement its policy until the court assesses whether it violates constitutional rights. Justice Michael Megaw wrote, “On the whole of the evidence, I am satisfied that those individuals affected by this Policy, youth under the age of 16 who are unable to have their name, pronouns, gender diversity or gender identity, observed in school will suffer irreparable harm.”
In a statement, Harini Sivalingam, director of the CCLA’s equality program, said the invoking of the notwithstanding clause is “the nuclear option” and “an admission the Saskatchewan government knows its actions are unconstitutional.”
Speaking with Xtra Wednesday, Sivalingam said it is “very alarming” that the province would implement a policy that threatens the safety and well-being of students without widespread consultation of parents, students, teachers and medical and legal experts.
“But it’s also not surprising that this type of policy was implemented in this manner by this government. We saw [something] similar in New Brunswick, that the drive or the push was really coming from anti-trans, anti-rights mobilization efforts,” she says.
“It’s really imperative that you’re consulting with those affected communities when drafting and implementing policies. The people most affected, especially if they’re a vulnerable and marginalized community, should really have a voice in how those policies are implemented.”
Moe has said the policy is about “parental rights,” a rhetorical tool commonly used by right-wing lobby groups like Action4Canada, Stand4Thee and Campaign Life Coalition. LGBTQ2S+ rights advocates say the policy violates children’s rights and warn that it could put trans and non-binary kids at risk.
CCLA launched a legal challenge against the New Brunswick government’s policy and also obtained intervenor status in a suit filed by UR Pride, an organization representing LGBTQ2S+ people in Regina, against the Saskatchewan government.