Wanderings – The freedom to be who you are, notwithstanding

We live in a country that espouses freedom of individuals to be who they are. It is written into the fabric of our constitution. It is a fundamental right that is ingrained into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It has been affirmed through legislation and by Supreme Court ruling. Any Canadian can be who they want to be, love who they want to love, marry whomever they wish, say what they want, and practice whatever faith or religion they want.

However, for all those rights and freedoms there are exceptions when they makes politicians uncomfortable.

Recently two provinces – New Brunswick and Saskatchewan – through legislation or regulation restricted youth under 16 years of age from changing their names or the pronouns they want used at school – unless there is parental consent. New Brunswick changed its regulations to limit the rights of trans-youth. Saskatchewan went further by not only passing legislation to do so, it then invoked the Notwithstanding Clause of the constitution. That clause is the “get out of jail free” card that was slipped into the Constitution for Quebec to use to “protect” French rights in that province. Now other provinces have seen how Quebec used this rights-trampling gem, and are using it for whatever they want.

In this case, the Notwithstanding Clause was used to protect the Saskatchewan government from constitutional challenges for five years. After that time, the government can invoke it again.

Let’s put aside the fact there is a legal lever that can be used by any provincial government to trample the rights of any minority group and it should be eliminated. The move by both governments to limit the right of personal freedom for trans-youth is morally wrong in my opinion.

Conservative-minded parent groups argue that youth are too young to decide these issues for themselves, and that parents have the right to know and have a say. This is a tricky subject because as a parent, I want to know what is going on in my kids’ lives. However, not all families have ideal dynamics where youth can feel open about who they are and what they feel. By restricting the change of pronouns or names for younger than 16-year old trans youth and requiring parental consent, there is the potential for great harm.

How many kids are open about things in their lives to their friends, and not to their parents? I certainly wasn’t when I was a kid and I don’t think too many were/are about everything.

Not all families are open and accepting of people who are different from themselves. In some cases, forcing a youth to come out to their parents before they’re ready could have lasting and harmful consequences. It’s a sad commentary to write this.

Most schools are safe and accepting spaces for youth. The great thing about a mostly secular education system is everyone is free to be who they are and want to be. Again, unless that runs afoul of certain small ‘c’ conservative groups and governments who play to those bases.

Legislating youth who are different into getting permission from their parents to be allowed to different is legalized discrimination in the purest form. Sorry kids, no rights for you – come back when you’re 16. That is, if those youth are still alive when they turn 16 and can start being who they want to be.

A 2022 study by the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that transgender youth age 15-17 are five times more likely to think about suicide and are 7.6 times more likely to attempt it. The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that the suicide rate of trans people is double that of those who are gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual. One suicide is too many.

Governments are in place to protect the rights of citizens – all citizens – that includes those who are in the minority. Using a exclusion clause to limit the rights of a group, and also prevent a court challenge, undermines the very constitution that is supposed to protect an individual’s rights. If a government has to stop its laws from being challenged, then the people in charge know that law should not have been passed at all.

Maybe we need to revise this idea of freedom in Canada. Kids, you can be anything you want, so long as the special interest groups who have the government-of-the-day’s ear agree that you can. That’s pretty sad if you ask me.

This column was originally published in the October 25, 2023 print edition of The Morrisburg Leader.