We shouldn’t be comfortable with our elected officials skirting the Charter for a political hot button issue

Today at noon in Regina some members and staff of GSU attended a rally at the Legislature challenging the provincial governments recent announcement to use the not withstanding clause to push their pronoun law.

First, here’s a quick recap of what lead to today.

It started at the end of the last school year about appropriate sexual education content for students. This led to an announcement that the government was seeking new rules requiring students under 16 years of age to need parental consent before changing their pronouns in school.

This was challenged at Court of King’s bench and the judge issued an injunction pausing the new law from coming into effect until the court can hear the entire case.

Almost immediately following this decision, the Saskatchewan provincial government indicated they would recall the legislature and would use the Charter of Rights and Freedoms notwithstanding clause to force the law into effect.

Here is some information about this issue that we think GSU members need to consider.

What’s a pronoun?

You may be unfamiliar with the word “pronoun,” but you use them all the time. Pronouns are used in place of a proper noun (like someone’s name). We use pronouns most often when referring to someone without using their name.

 Example: Have you heard from Tom? He hasn’t texted me back all day. He is the pronoun.

 Why does it matter?

In English, our most commonly used pronouns (he/she) specifically refer to a person’s gender. For queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and transgender people, these pronouns may not fit, can create discomfort, and can cause stress and anxiety.

 A recent study showed that in transgender youth, using correct pronouns and names reduces depression and suicide risks.

“Researchers interviewed transgender youths ages 15 to 21 and asked whether young people could use their chosen name at school, home, work and with friends. Compared with peers who could not use their chosen name in any context, young people who could use their name in all four areas experienced 71 percent fewer symptoms of severe depression, a 34 percent decrease in reported thoughts of suicide and a 65 percent decrease in suicidal attempts.

Earlier research by Russell found that transgender youths report having suicidal thoughts at nearly twice the rate of their peers, with about 1 out of 3 transgender youths reporting considering suicide. In the new study, having even one context in which a chosen name could be used was associated with a 29 percent decrease in suicidal thoughts. The researchers controlled for personal characteristics and social support.

“I’ve been doing research on LGBT youth for almost 20 years now, and even I was surprised by how clear that link was,” Russell said.”

Having trouble understanding why this would upset someone? Think about your pronoun (it’s probably “he” or “she”). Now imagine someone calling you the one you don’t think of yourself as. Imagine them doing it over and over and over, even after you’ve corrected them.

Notwithstanding Clause

The notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, also known as Section 33, allows provincial or federal governments in Canada to temporarily override certain rights and freedoms protected by the Charter. While it serves as a unique and sometimes controversial feature of Canada’s constitutional framework, it has generated various concerns and criticisms over the years. Here are some of the problems and criticisms associated with the notwithstanding clause.

One of the most significant concerns is that the notwithstanding clause can be used by governments to limit or suspend fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter. Critics argue that this undermines the very purpose of having a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Some worry that governments may use the notwithstanding clause too liberally, potentially infringing on rights without sufficient justification. This could lead to a situation where rights are routinely violated without proper accountability.

There is a concern that governments may invoke the notwithstanding clause for political reasons rather than to address pressing issues or emergencies. This could be seen as a way to pander to specific interest groups or curry favor with certain constituencies.

Diminished Protections: When the notwithstanding clause is used, it essentially renders certain Charter rights temporarily ineffective. This can leave individuals without the full protection of their rights during that period.

There are concerns that the notwithstanding clause could be used to target vulnerable or marginalized groups, particularly if the government has a political agenda that goes against the rights of these groups. The example we have today is exactly what is worrying people.

If or when a government thinks about using the notwithstanding clause they should do so only after lengthy consultation. We shouldn’t be comfortable with our elected officials skirting the Charter for a political hot button issue that a judge has said is very likely to cause harm to young people in this province.

GSU has always stood with marginalized people in society. As working people ourselves, we want to raise the standard or living for everyone. What we want for ourselves we want for everyone.