The provincial government’s “Parents’ Bill of Rights” was introduced and read a first time in the Saskatchewan Legislature on Thursday.
Also known as Bill 137, the legislation outlines a number of rights that parents have to be involved in in their children’s education.
“With the exception of two or three, all those provisions were already in the Education Act,” said Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill.
The bill invokes the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian constitution to override certain sections of the charter and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code to ensure parents must provide consent if a child wants to change their gender identification in school.
The introduction of the bill was given unanimous support by Saskatchewan Party MLAs and Saskatchewan United Party Leader Nadine Wilson. It was also unanimously opposed by all Saskatchewan NDP MLAs who were present for the vote.
“We’ve heard from parents who are concerned … that they’re not being listened to,” said NDP MLA Matt Love.
“I have seen no change from the Sask. Party government. They only appear to be listening to those inside their caucus, not the people of Saskatchewan.”
Premier Scott Moe vowed to invoke the notwithstanding clause that would allow the legislation to become law shortly after a Court of King’s Bench judge granted an injunction of the policy to UR Pride in September.
The injunction put a hold on the policy, which then prompted Moe to call the legislature back two weeks ahead of the start of the scheduled fall session in order to introduce the legislation sooner.
In a news release, the province said the legislation and invocation of the notwithstanding clause is in direct response to the injunction being granted.
The province said the bill outlines a number of different rights that parents have regarding their children’s education and included 15 different points in the release.
The points included that parents will provide consent before the student’s teachers and other employees of the school use a desired gender identity or gender-related preferred name if the student is under the age of 16.
If obtaining parental permission could cause harm to the child, the bill states the school principal will connect the student with supports to develop a plan to come out to their parents.
“For the kids who don’t have a safe home, this is scary. This is very scary for those children,” said Margo Allaire, the board chair of Yorkton Pride, one of several Trans advocates who attended the legislative assembly in opposition of the bill.
Cockrill said he is unaware of any “irreparable harm” that students have faced as a result of similar pronoun policies already in place in some school divisions. However, he could not say for certain that no harm has been caused.
The bill will also see that the principal of a school informs parents two weeks before sexual health content is presented to students.
Parents and guardians will be informed of the subject matter of the sexual health content, the dates on which the content will be provided and given the opportunity to not allow their child to participate in the presentation of the sexual health content.
“Parents should always be involved in important decisions involving their children,” Cockrill said.
“The Parental Inclusion and Consent policy introduced in August and now this new legislation we are introducing today will ensure that continues to be the case.”
The government will continue its pause on third-party sexual education presentations in the classroom, until it can work with school divisions to clarify the regulations and process, Cockrill said.
If the bill passes, school divisions will need to finalize implementation plans for the new policy. However, Cockrill said the expectation is that school staff will follow the legislation.
NDP SAY SASK PARTY IS AVOIDING ACCOUNTABILITY
The opposition NDP said the introduction of the bill is a “smokescreen” to avoid taking accountability for its past failures.
“There are very real crises in this province – facing very real people – but instead of dealing with the crises in health care, in mental health and addictions, and the cost of living, we’ve been called back to the legislature for an emergency sitting to debate pronouns in schools,” NDP leader Carla Beck said in a release.
Before the introduction of Bill 137, the NDP introduced Sarah Mackenzie, who lost her 14-year-old daughter to suicide. Beck, NDP MLA and Health Critic Vicki Mowat and Mackenzie called on the province to “work on issues that matter most.”
Some of those issues the NDP pointed out were the number of counsellors in Saskatchewan, the loss of psychologists and a reduction of teachers by more than 66 positions, which corresponds with an enrollment increase of more than 3,800 students.
NDP house leader Nicole Sarauer successfully stalled debate on the Parents’ Bill of Rights as she debated for about two hours on a separate motion that would extend the legislative assembly’s sitting hours next week to accommodate 40 hours of debate on Bill 137.
“What we’re doing is we’re saying very clearly that we will not allow them to shred the rules so that they can trample on the charter rights of children,” Love told reporters following the debate.
The Sask Party expects to pass the bill after 40 hours of debate, but the NDP did not say whether it plans to stall any further.
The legislative assembly will reconvene on Monday as normal.