Saskatchewan Education Policies Stir Controversy, Legal Uncertainty Looms

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Nicholas Stooshinoff, a seasoned lawyer from Saskatoon, has voiced uncertainty surrounding the potential for legal measures to overturn Saskatchewan’s recently revealed education policies. “Nobody wants this confrontation,” he asserted, “and engaging in it causes us to lose focus on our primary goal – protecting the welfare of our children”.

Earlier this week, the province declared changes in policy stipulating that students aged under 16 will need to obtain parental consent to change their preferred names or gender pronouns in school.

Dustin Duncan, the education minister, compared this policy revision to school divisions needing parental approval for minor activities like half-day field trips. He stated, “If parental consent is necessary for a trip to the science center, then it only seems appropriate to address this issue with equivalent gravity.”

The alterations also dictate that parents now have the right to be notified about any sexual health education being imparted to their child, and can opt their kids out of these lessons if preferred.

As parents, advocates, and associations gear up to counter the policies, Stooshinoff expressed the complexity of establishing a legal course of action that could coerce the province, given that the unknown variables of implementation and objectives are still in play.

In Stooshinoff’s view, everyone needs to momentarily pause, and foster a comprehensive discussion about why this matter is vital. He also shared his concern that the policy might clash with human rights legislation, and warned, if this is proven correct, the government may face no alternative but to comply with the legal decision or authority ruling.

Lisa Broda, who advocates for the Rights and Freedom of Children and Youth in Saskatchewan, has committed to scrutinizing the policy for compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code – benchmarks she insists all public entities are mandated to respect.

These modifications in policy were implemented following the Saskatchewan United Party’s successful by-election in Lumsden-Morse. The constituency experienced a contentious situation earlier this year when a Planned Parenthood sexual health resource was distributed among grade 9 students.

Stooshinoff perceives these changes as being motivated by political factors and designed to resonate with parents adopting “a more fundamentalist stance on sex.” He argues that the policy lacks clarity regarding its potential impact on students, especially since its apparent focus on trans and non-binary students could imply discrimination.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), among others, views this as an infringement of children’s rights. Harini Sivalangam, CCLA’s equality overseer, noted a clear discriminatory impact that could negatively affect trans and gender diverse students.

Despite the rising concern, Sivalangam declined to confirm if the CCLA, a non-profit focused on civil liberties and constitutional rights, would instigate any legal action at this stage.

Predicting a lack of legal precedent in Canada, Stooshinoff has estimated that any legal developments would take at least six months, if not longer, to conclude. He noted that due to the changes being articulated as a policy and not a law, constructing a legal argument could prove more challenging. According to him, “This is not a dispute that will be swiftly resolved, given that it’s fueled by emotion rather than the law.”

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