The Saskatchewan government’s passed Bill 137, the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” last week. The bill mandates teachers to notify parents if students request a change in name or pronouns in the classroom. By invoking the notwithstanding clause, the Bill overrides sections of the Charter and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.
The initial introduction of the new education policy that required forced disclosure of gender identification changes for youth under the age of 16 was halted under a temporary injunction. The inclusion of the notwithstanding clause in the new legislation ensures that court challenges are squashed for five years.
The Human Rights Commissioner and a contingent of law professors have criticized the unusual and pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause. The legal violation of rights must have a sufficiently compelling purpose to invoke the clause use. The use in Bill 137 is instead to ensure the violation of human rights for 2SLGTBQIA+ youth.
The legislation in Saskatchewan and its parallel in New Brunswick follows on the heels of rise of “parental rights” concerns for U.S. Republicans. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has echoed support for similar legislation, citing fears school board indoctrination of youth. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has led the charge against the inclusion of sexuality and gender education, with the expansion of the “don’t say gay” legislation.
“Parental Rights” has been a conservative rallying cry against 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion but has also been weaponized to exclude discussions of racism and Black and Indigenous history, and to challenge mask mandates during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
The pandemic galvanized the “parental rights” movement and its connection to Convoy-based far-right organizing in Canada.
The discussion of the rights of parents are seemingly only at play when those parents have far-right conservative values. This has been the basis for unifying typically disparate groups of conservative Muslims and Christians, buttressed by the underlying fascist current of the Convoy supporters. While this is unlikely to be longstanding bedfellowship, given the xenophobia and racism of the later group, it is an alarming example of big tent organizing around transphobia.
Historically, a fringe of conservative Christians in the U.S. utilized rhetoric of “parental rights” in the fight to legalize homeschooling. Leader Michael Ferris coalesced arguments for homeschooling as the ultimate freedom from government interference and the positive privatization of public education with the expertise of parents at the centre. The Moral Majority saw public education as the battle grounds for abortion rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ tolerance, and fundamentalist Christian values. The so-called secular ethics that were foundational to public education in the U.S. were the enemy, especially in the fight against Communism in the Reaganomics of the 1980s.
However, the fight for parents to opt out of public education has evolved into control over public education itself.
By banning books and curriculum that are cited as part of the ideological “woke” agenda of indoctrinating children into progressive values, far-right forces ensure that education maintains an underlying conservatism. Targeting “critical race theory” and “gender ideology” entrenches an opposition to dismantling system oppression.
The use of the notwithstanding clause to ensure that conservative “parental rights” can go legally unchallenged, despite their Charter and Human Rights Code violations, is an disturbing next step in the use of state power to entrench the far-right agenda of anti-2SLGTBQIA+ rights.
The history of state violence and colonial white supremacy must be taught. Gender diversity must be accepted if not outright encouraged. The socialist call to protect access to public education is more important now than ever.