Saskatchewan Introduces Parental Bill of Rights in Education
Saskatchewan is aiming to be the first province in Canada to enshrine a parental bill of rights into its education legislation.
The story behind this legislation started several months ago, when New Brunswick announced that it would change its school policies to require schools to obtain the consent of parents before allowing a child under the age of 16 to adopt a new gender identity at school. Saskatchewan’s premier, Scott Moe, soon announced that he would implement a similar policy in his province.
After Premier Moe announced that he would implement this policy, a LGBTQ legal advocacy organization challenged the new policy in court. They argued that the policy would lead to discrimination and would misgender children. The provincial child advocate also claimed that the policy would violate “the rights of students to gender identity and expression.” (The Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not mention gender identity or expression, but the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code does.) The judge granted an injunction to stop the policy from coming into effect until the court made a final decision.
Premier Moe was undeterred, stating that “Our government is extremely dismayed by the judicial overreach of the court blocking implementation of the Parental Inclusion and Consent policy – a policy which has the strong support of a majority of Saskatchewan residents, in particular, Saskatchewan parents. The default position should never be to keep a child’s information from their parents… It is in the best interest of children to ensure parents are included in their children’s education, in their classrooms and in all important decisions involving their children.”
Following this strong statement, the very first piece of legislation introduced in Saskatchewan’s fall legislative sitting was a parental rights bill that invokes the notwithstanding clause. The notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows provinces to override certain rights and freedoms for a certain length of time. The purpose of this clause is to ensure that elected parliaments and legislatures, rather than the courts, have the final say on laws and policies. Unlike the United States, where the constitution and the courts reign supreme, Canada was built on a model of government that holds the elected parliament as supreme.
Here is the full list of rights enshrined in this legislation:
A parent or guardian of a pupil has the right to:
(a) act as the primary decision-maker with respect to the pupil’s education;
(b) be informed on a regular basis of the pupil’s attendance, behaviour and academic achievement in school;
(c) consult with the pupil’s teachers and other employees of the school with respect to the pupil’s courses of study and academic achievement;
(d) have access to the pupil’s school file;
(e) receive information respecting the courses of study available to the pupil, including online learning, and to make decisions as to which courses of study the pupil enrols in;
(f) be informed of the code of conduct and administrative policies, including discipline and behaviour management policies, of the school;
(g) be informed of any disciplinary action or investigation taken by the school in relation to the pupil’s conduct;
(h) if the pupil has been expelled from school, request a review and reconsideration of the expulsion after a year;
(i) be informed and consulted in relation to the pupil’s school attendance problems;
(j) be consulted or request a review in relation to the pupil’s capacity to learn;
(k) excuse the pupil from participating in the opening exercises [of religious instruction classes];
(l) be consulted before any medical or dental examination or treatment is provided to the pupil;
(m) if sexual health content is to be presented to pupils in the school:
- at least 2 weeks before the sexual health content is presented to the pupils, be informed by the principal of:
a) the subject-matter of the sexual health content; and
b) the dates on which the sexual health content is to be presented to the pupils; and
- if the parent or guardian so chooses, withdraw the pupil from the presentation of the sexual health content by giving written notice to the principal;
(n) if the pupil is under 16 years of age, provide consent before the pupil’s teachers and other employees of the school use the pupil’s new gender-related preferred name or gender identity at school; and
(o) be a member of the school community council of the school.
We applaud the government of Saskatchewan for not only taking a stand on the issue of gender identity but also for taking the rights and responsibilities of parents seriously in this legislation. This type of legislation is one of ARPA’s recommendations in our newly released Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity report. We hope that other provinces will follow Saskatchewan’s cue and take greater steps to safeguard parental authority in educational matters.