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N.B. youth advocate denounces province's decision to review LGBTQ school policy

New Brunswick's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld New Brunswick's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

New Brunswick's child and youth advocate revealed Tuesday that the government's decision to review the province's policy on sexual orientation in schools came after three complaints.

Kelly Lamrock said in his scathing 21-page report that he isn't sure any government policy would survive if three complaints over 30 months were enough to lead to its reconsideration.

"Surely projects such as local government reform or health-care restructuring would not be reversed upon receiving three complaints," he wrote.

Policy 713, introduced in 2020, establishes minimum standards for schools to ensure a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for LGBTQ students.

"If you're going to review a policy, like Policy 713, you'd better be clear about what details you're reviewing," Lamrock said. "Because if you treat it like just another review, a loud minority will use that platform to attack vulnerable kids and make them feel scared and ashamed of who they are."

The provincial government has said it is reviewing the policy because it received "hundreds" of concerns from a variety of groups, including parents and teachers. But Lamrock said that when he asked the government for copies of the complaints, he received three -- none of which were from teachers or students. There was evidence in the emails that online hoaxes and conspiracy theories were fuelling some of the opposition to the policy.

"One repeats the now debunked myth that children are using litter boxes and identifying as cats," he wrote in the report. The same writer suggested policy should be rejected to fight the influence of the World Economic Forum. Another email compared gender identity issues with "Marxist and racist critical race theory."

The third suggested that having material that mentions LGBTQ people creates a hostile environment for Christian students, the report said, adding that policies already exist banning discrimination against Christian students.

On Monday, the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission also expressed concern over the review, reminding government officials about their obligation to safeguard the equality and dignity of all school-going children.

In an interview, Lamrock said LGBTQ children are much more at risk of bullying, violence, suicide, mental-health issues and dropout from school.

"So any time their rights are in question, that's why there's a child advocate," he said. "We're there to make sure that those stories don't get forgotten as people in power make their decisions."

Lamrock said he is hopeful the government will take his office's report into consideration.

He praised Education Minister Bill Hogan and Premier Blaine Higgs, saying they have taken care to highlight that it's not the entire policy that is under review but certain parts of it. He said he is particularly encouraged by Hogan's statement that Policy 713 won't be scrapped.

"The department could support those encouraging words with what we've recommended, which is real terms of reference and a clear process," he said.

"And if that were done, I think, we would still have some thoughts on the policy. But at least some of the words have been encouraging today."

In a statement Monday, Hogan said the government is looking at two specific aspects of the policy that have drawn criticism from some parents.

One is the provision for students under 16 to change their preferred first name and pronoun, without any communication to the parent. The other is "the process for team sport selection and participation." The six-page policy doesn't mention sports but states: "all students will be able to participate in curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular activities that are safe, welcoming, and consistent with their gender identity."

Higgs defended his government's decision late Tuesday about reviewing parts of the policy, saying "it's rather a very unique situation to say parents have no role in raising their kids."

He pointed to students under 16 changing their preferred first name and pronoun without informing their parents.

"It's that sort of belief that parents don't need to know, parents don't play a role," he said.

"I don't think that parents would believe that they have no role in their child's (life), kind of where they are and what they're believing in, what they're doing and where they're going. They want to be part of it."

Parents should know what is happening with their children and schools should keep them informed, he said.

"That's why we have children. That's why we have adults. And that's why we have parents," he said.

"To suggest that it's OK that parents don't need to know -- just stop and think about that question for a moment."

With respect to the government reviewing team sport selection and participation processes, Higgs said it might be unfair if a transgender woman competed on a women's hockey team.

"What about the other women on the hockey team who obviously aren't able to compete in the same manner?" he said.

"What should that look like? Is that fair to all of the other girls on that hockey team who obviously are physically different and can't compete? Is that fair? That's why we need to have these discussions. Is it fair? Is it reasonable? How do we do this? I don't know."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2023.

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