Advocate says N.B.'s gender-identity policy violates children's rights
Child and youth advocate Kelly Lamrock says changes to a gender-identity policy for the New Brunswick school system violate the provincial Human Rights Act, the Education Act and children's charter rights.
In June, Education Minister Bill Hogan said he changed Policy 713 on sexual orientation and gender identity to make it mandatory to deny a request from a child under 16 to use a specific name or pronoun unless parents consent.
After a review of the policy, Lamrock said Tuesday that parents do have a right to guide their children.
But the revised policy grants parents an effective "veto" on their child's identity until they're 16, and that violates children's rights to privacy, equality and accommodation, said Lamrock, who is a lawyer and former education minister.
He said children's rights can't be ignored and have to be measured against parental rights.
"The parents do not have the right to a state apparatus to force their child to live by their values," he said in a news conference.
Premier Blaine Higgs said later that he plans to read the report over the coming days.
"I'm sure at the end of it all there's a role for parents in raising their kids in every aspect," he said. "Maybe there's something in [the report] that will help us move along, but my belief in the role of parents is certainly as it has always been."
Lamrock recommended that staff verbally respect all students' pronouns without need for parental consent if they're in Grade 6 or higher.
He suggested that if children under Grade 6 request an informal name or pronoun change, it should be up to the principal to decide if the child has enough capacity to make that decision. The principal could make a plan to help the child connect to their parents, and could consult mental health professionals if in doubt, Lamrock recommends.
Changes to official records, such as report cards, for kids under 16 have always required parental consent, and Lamrock did not recommend changes to that rule.
Lamrock's recommendations are not binding, so there's no guarantee the province will change the policy as he suggested. However, he said his recommendations can provide more certainty for district education councils making their own comprehensive policies.
Hogan previously said provincial policies take precedence, but Lamrock disagrees in this case, saying Hogan's policy is vague and unclear.
"Provincial policies takes precedence where provincial policy is clear," he said. "Where a policy is vague, the districts can fill in the details.
Lamrock wrote that parents do have a right to be able to guide their children in a manner appropriate to the child's age, maturity and development. The current policy, however, in attempting to maintain parental rights, places too many limits on children's rights, he said.