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New Brunswick Education Department received no complaints about pronouns kept secret

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

A freedom of information request filed by a University of New Brunswick professor has revealed that no parents complained to the province that they had been left in the dark about their children's preferred pronouns.

Melissa Dockrill Garrett, a researcher specializing in inclusive education, asked the Education Department for all complaints from parents concerned they weren't consulted by schools about their child using a different name or pronouns, but the department said no written records exist of such complaints.

The professor said in an interview Tuesday that she requested the documents in May after Education Minister Bill Hogan claimed he had received "hundreds" of complaints from parents and teachers regarding Policy 713, which lays out gender identity protocols for students in New Brunswick's schools and has been in place since 2020.

Hogan cited the complaints to support the need for a review of the policy, which led to changes that took effect July 1. One major change is that students under 16 who identify as transgender or nonbinary won't be able to officially change their names or pronouns in school without parental consent. The previous policy said teachers needed a student's informed consent before discussing the student's preferred name with a parent.

Dockrill Garrett said she was not surprised her request failed to unearth complaints from parents. "The response really does highlight that the review process, with the reasons they provided, was unjustified," she said, adding that she suspected the education minister had "exaggerated" his claim of hundreds of complaints.

She said she would not speculate on the real reasons Blaine Higgs's Progressive Conservative government decided to change the policy, "but it certainly wasn't receiving complaints from parents."

In a statement Tuesday, Hogan said the Policy 713 review was to "ensure the policy is clear and to respond to feedback received during consultations." He said he had received some feedback in writing, but also in private conversations.

The revised policy also removes wording allowing students to participate in extracurricular activities "consistent with their gender identity" and requires that universal washrooms be private not shared.

Kelly Lamrock, the province's youth advocate, has called for the changes to be reversed over concerns of discrimination against LGBTQ students, telling reporters the changes were "so shoddy and inadvertently discriminatory that it really doesn't seem to meet anybody's purposes."

Lamrock's office also sought evidence of the complaints after Hogan announced the review of the policy, but in May he reported that his request yielded three complaints -- none of which were from parents concerned their children were secretly changing their name or pronouns.

The three complaints he was provided didn't address Policy 713 directly. They ranged from complaints about Marxism and critical race theory to the influence of the World Economic Forum, along with debunked claims of students using litter boxes and identifying as cats. One complainant said classroom material that mentions LGBTQ people creates a hostile environment for Christian students, but Lamrock noted policies already exist banning discrimination against Christian students.

In a report, Lamrock said he doubted any government policy would survive if three complaints over 30 months were enough to lead to its reconsideration.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 1, 2023.

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