Bill 137 seeks to require parental consent on gender identification changes and more for students
The “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” otherwise known as Bill 137, was presented and read for the first time in the Saskatchewan Legislature on Thursday. This contentious legislation has highlighted the ongoing debate over parental rights in education and the rights of students regarding their gender identification in schools.
Bill 137 outlines several rights parents have concerning their children’s education. According to Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill, most provisions of this bill were previously present in the Education Act. He commented, “With the exception of two or three, all those provisions were already in the Education Act.”
One of the bill’s primary focal points is the requirement for parents to provide consent if a student wants to change their gender identification in school. It does this by invoking the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian constitution, overriding sections of the charter and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.
Legislative Support and Opposition
The introduction of Bill 137 saw unanimous support from Saskatchewan Party MLAs and Saskatchewan United Party Leader Nadine Wilson. Conversely, all Saskatchewan NDP MLAs in attendance unanimously opposed it.
NDP MLA Matt Love voiced concerns, stating, “We’ve heard from parents who are concerned … that they’re not being listened to.” He criticized the Saskatchewan Party government for not effectively listening to the broader Saskatchewan community.
Injunction and Swift Action
The move to introduce this legislation follows a Court of King’s Bench judge granting an injunction of the policy to UR Pride in September. Premier Scott Moe had swiftly vowed to invoke the notwithstanding clause, bringing the legislature back into session two weeks earlier than scheduled. The provincial government has emphasized that this legislation and the use of the notwithstanding clause is a direct response to the injunction.
Opponents argue that certain elements of the bill can be problematic. One of the bill’s points states that for students under 16, parents must consent before teachers use a desired gender identity or a gender-related preferred name. If seeking parental permission could pose a threat to the student, the bill recommends that the school principal aid the student in devising a plan to come out to their parents.
Margo Allaire, the board chair of Yorkton Pride, voiced concerns over the bill: “For the kids who don’t have a safe home, this is scary. This is very scary for those children.”
Sexual Health Education Changes
Bill 137 will also modify how sexual health content is presented to students. Schools will be required to notify parents two weeks in advance of the content, its subject matter, and presentation dates, granting parents the option to exclude their child.
Opposition Claims of “Avoiding Accountability”
The opposition NDP suggests that the Sask Party is using Bill 137 as a “smokescreen” to sidestep accountability for other issues in the province. NDP leader Carla Beck stated, “There are very real crises in this province…but instead of dealing with the crises in health care, in mental health and addictions, and the cost of living, we’ve been called back to the legislature for an emergency sitting to debate pronouns in schools.”
The NDP has also highlighted other pressing issues, including the number of counselors in Saskatchewan, psychologist losses, and a drop in teachers’ positions, despite a rise in student enrollment.
Debate on Bill 137 is expected to continue, with the Sask Party hoping to pass the bill after 40 hours of discussion. The legislative assembly will reconvene on Monday.