UCP debating motion on gender pronouns in schools at next month's AGM

The motion calls for written consent from parents or guardians for a child under 16 to use different names or pronouns at school. Smith’s government is not bound to act if it passes.

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EDMONTON — Members of Alberta’s governing United Conservative Party are set to debate a resolution surrounding gender pronouns in schools, but Premier Danielle Smith says her government won’t automatically follow what is decided.

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The resolution comes three weeks from now, at the UCP’s annual general meeting Nov. 3-4 in Calgary.

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It is the first get-together since Smith’s party won re-election in May.

Resolution delegates will debate and vote on schools requiring written consent from parents or guardians for a child under 16 to use a different name or pronoun at school.

The resolution, put forward by representatives for Edmonton’s West-Henday constituency, notes Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are implementing similar rules, and stated if parental consent is needed for field trips, it should be required for name changes.

“Parents, not schools, are the legal guardians of their children,” states West-Henday in the motion as its rationale for introducing it.

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“Schools should not be in the business of going behind parents’ backs.”

If the motion passes, Smith’s government would not be bound to act on it.

Smith was asked about the motion while speaking in Calgary at an unrelated news conference Friday.

“I support the grassroots process,” said Smith.

“The policy process is one of the measures that our cabinet and caucus use in making a decision, but we also confer with stakeholders, and we also talk to Albertans.

“I want to see how the debate goes, and then we’ll make some decisions once we see whether or not (the resolution) passes.”

Kristopher Wells, Canada Research Chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth, said Smith needs to stand her ground.

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“We would hope that the premier would have the good enough sense to ignore these discriminatory resolutions and focus on the issues that matter to most Albertans — the economy, our health-care system, housing, food inflation, the environment — rather than picking on a small vulnerable minority, particularly our young people in schools,” said Wells, who is also an associate professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton.

“What this whole so-called parental rights movement fails to understand is that public schools are there to serve everyone.

“No parent gets to impose their personal views on an entire school community.”

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On Thursday, Premier Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan government tabled legislation to invoke the Charter’s notwithstanding clause to prevent children under 16 from changing their names or pronouns at school without parental consent.

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The clause is a rarely used provision that allows governments to override certain sections of the Charter for up to five years.

That move came after a judge had granted an injunction pausing the Saskatchewan Party government’s pronoun policy until a constitutional challenge could be heard.

Advocates argued the policy could cause teachers to out or misgender children and that it violates Charter rights.

The Saskatchewan government says it, too, believes in a safe learning environment for children, but that environment includes keeping parents involved at every step.

New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government has a similar pronoun policy to Saskatchewan’s, though school guidance counsellors there can use children’s chosen names.

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Friday was the second time Smith was asked by reporters to weigh in on the pronoun debate.

Asked about it on Oct. 5, Smith said her caucus was looking at the issue.

“We don’t have policy established on it yet, but we are having those discussions,” Smith said at the time.

“These are really very complicated family matters (and) very personal decisions.

“It has been my hope from the beginning that we wouldn’t politicize this.”

She added, “We have to always be mindful as we have these conversations that there are young people who are really struggling with gender identity, they’re struggling with puberty, struggling with how they fit in.

“It’s incumbent upon us as adults to make sure that we keep a safe, supportive environment for kids.”

The upcoming annual general meeting is to be held at the BMO Centre at Stampede Park. The party says 3,175 members have signed up so far to attend.

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