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Anglophone East council sues province over gender-identity policy

No date has been set yet to hear the suit filed in Moncton on Tuesday. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)
No date has been set yet to hear the suit filed in Moncton on Tuesday. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)

The Anglophone East district education council is asking a judge to step in after the minister of education allegedly threatened to dissolve the council if it didn't fall in line behind New Brunswick's revised gender-identity policy.

The Anglophone East council filed a lawsuit Tuesday asking a judge to prevent the minister from removing the council's own gender-identity policy from its website, dissolving the council based on that policy, and enforcing the current Policy 713.

In June, Education Minister Bill Hogan changed Policy 713 on gender-identity to make it mandatory to get parental consent before school staff can use a child's chosen name and pronoun — if the child is under 16.

Parental consent was previously only mandatory for official name and pronoun changes on school documents. The new provincial policy now requires consent for any pronoun use in school, including verbally and in extracurricular activities.

“Many stakeholders and rights holders expressed a need for better access to culturally authentic language learning in French and more learning resources,” said Education Minister Bill Hogan.
“Many stakeholders and rights holders expressed a need for better access to culturally authentic language learning in French and more learning resources,” said Education Minister Bill Hogan.

Education Minister Bill Hogan has sent several letters demanding the Anglophone East district education council remove its current policy on gender identity, which he believes is inconsistent with the provincial policy. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

The changes were called potentially dangerous and discriminatory by school psychologists, medical experts and child welfare advocates. Hogan and Premier Blaine Higgs said the changes were meant to protect parents' right to be involved.

In its filing, the Anglophone East council said it intends to argue that mandatory parental consent requirements go against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Constitution, the provincial Human Rights Act and the Education Act.

This marks the second legal challenge to the policy. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is already suing the New Brunswick government for the mandatory consent rule, and making similar arguments about children's rights to liberty, equality and freedom of expression.

The union representing school psychologists and social workers, and the teachers' union are both grieving the policy.

Some districts fell in line

District education councils are made up of elected members of the community who are usually parents. They have the power to make policies that are "consistent with, or more comprehensive than" Policy 713, according to the policy itself and the Education Act.

At the beginning of the current school year, many people still had questions about how such a policy would be enforced, and what would happen if a parent refused to give consent.

Three of the four anglophone district education councils created their own policies in response, providing some leeway for teachers to verbally use a child's chosen name while parental consent is sought.

Francophone councils created a unified policy that follows recommendations from the child and youth advocate and does not require parental consent for kids in Grade 6 and older.

Hogan took issue with those policies, saying they are not consistent with his own. He sent letters asking for "corrective action," to the three anglophone and all three francophone councils. Anglophone North has not passed a gender-identity policy of its own, so operates under Policy 713.

Anglophone South and West changed their policies, but Anglophone East refused. It's not clear what kind of conversations were had with the Francophone districts, but their own policies are still up on their websites.

In February, Hogan sent a letter to Anglophone East and said if the council doesn't change their policy by March 29, he will remove it from the website himself. The council responded that he does not have the power to do that and asked for a meeting.

The council's lawsuit also says that in a meeting between the ministers and council chairs, Hogan said he would be moving forward with the dissolution of councils not respecting his Policy 713.

The council's allegations have not been tested in court.

According to an Education Department spokesperson, officials met with the council on March 27. When asked, neither side provided any detail of what was discussed. Councillor Kristin Cavoukian said the tone was "polite" but she cannot provide any more detail.

Just six days later, the Anglophone East suit was filed.

No date has been set to hear this case.