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N.B. policy change means it won't cover cost of school district's Policy 713 lawsuit

The New Brunswick government amended an education policy one month after a district education council voted to sue the province over controversial changes to a separate policy on gender identity. (Isabelle Arseneau/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The New Brunswick government amended an education policy one month after a district education council voted to sue the province over controversial changes to a separate policy on gender identity. (Isabelle Arseneau/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The New Brunswick government revised an education policy for the first time in 20 years to remove a section that would see the province covering the legal costs of a school district in cases where their legal interests diverge.

The revision came one month after the Anglophone East district education council voted to sue the province and request the government cover its legal costs over New Brunswick's changes to a policy on gender identity.

The request for the DEC's costs to be covered was rejected in December in a letter that cites the revised version of Policy 126.

The denial and policy change were revealed at the Anglophone East DEC meeting Tuesday evening.

"That's what happens when dealing with governments, I guess," council chair Harry Doyle said at the meeting.

Vote to fund case

Council members then unanimously voted to direct the district superintendent "to prepare and dispense funds in preparation for a Charter challenge and injunction to Policy 713."

It wasn't immediately clear where that funding would come from and whether it would affect classroom spending.

"I highly doubt it would come down to that," DEC member Kristin Cavoukian said in an interview when asked if it would affect money for teaching.

Cavoukian said they will be creative and find funding elsewhere.

"We will find a way because the most vulnerable students in our system deserve to be protected and they deserve to have their Charter rights defended."

The lawsuit has yet to be filed. Cavoukian couldn't comment on when it may be filed, only saying they may find out "very shortly."

Kristin Cavoukian, a member of the Anglophone East district education council, in Moncton on June 21, 2023.
Kristin Cavoukian, a member of the Anglophone East district education council, in Moncton on June 21, 2023.

Kristin Cavoukian, a member of the Anglophone East district education council, says they will be creative in funding the lawsuit. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The New Brunswick government changed Policy 713 last year to, among other things, make it mandatory to get parental consent before teachers can verbally use a child's chosen name and pronoun if the child is under 16.

The original policy said staff should verbally respect students' wishes about pronouns, and it only made parental consent mandatory for changing official records of children under 16.

The policy change prompted rallies and protests in various cities, a legal challenge and a revolt by six Progressive Conservative MLAs.

The Anglophone East council opposed the changes, and on Nov. 21 voted to file a legal challenge of the changes and seek an injunction to pause its implementation.

Council members also voted to ask the province to pay for the legal costs of the case, something that was allowed under education Policy 126.

That policy, which at the time had last been revised in April 2003, contained sections that said the province "will make independent legal counsel services available when, in the opinion of the Office of the Attorney General, the legal interests of the Province and the school district do not coincide."

In that case, the policy says the department "will" pay retainer fees and legal expenses for independent legal counsel.

Cavoukian said the request was sent in a letter to the province Nov. 22.

The revised policy as of Dec. 22 says that if the legal interests of the province and a school district or DEC conflict, "no further legal or financial support will be dispensed by the Province in respect of that matter."

That version was cited in a Dec. 28 letter to the DEC about its request for legal costs to be covered.

"The department and the government will not grant you, grant the district education council, request for funding to support a charter challenge and injunction to Policy 713," Randolph MacLean, the district superintendent, said during the meeting Tuesday.

Cavoukian said DEC members found the change "baffling."

CBC News requested an interview with Education Minister Bill Hogan about the policy change and its timing, but no interview was provided.