The Queer Justice Project (QJP), the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic (HCLC), and the Hamilton Trans Health Coalition (HTHC) condemn the recent actions of the Premiers of New Brunswick, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan with regards to promised or implemented discriminatory and unconstitutional changes to school policies relating to name changes and pronoun usage. We also note the recent concerning comments made by Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce, stating that “parents must be fully involved” when youth elect to use a different pronoun at school. We call on each government to reverse these policy decisions and to commit themselves to respecting the human rights of all students, and to creating inclusive, supportive, and healthy school environments for all youth. We caution other provinces against taking similar actions.
Specifically, New Brunswick has implemented changes to Policy 713 that will now require that youth under the age of 16 seek parental consent to change the names and pronouns used while at school, and removes the guarantee that children will be able to participate in sports and extracurricular activities which are consistent with their gender identity. Saskatchewan is also requiring youth under 16 to obtain parental consent to change the names and pronouns used at school, and has also undermined the provision of sexual health education by enabling parents to decline their child’s participation and by prohibiting third-party educators. Manitoba’s current Premier has made election promises relating to expanding “parental rights”, though the exact nature and wording of these changes are unclear. The Premier did indicate that at minimum parental rights to be informed of their child’s request to change the name and pronouns used at school would be part of the consultations on these changes. Ontario’s intentions on this matter are not clear as of yet, though the comments of the Education Minister certainly suggest an intention to make similar discriminatory changes to their policies.
These policies will undoubtedly cause severe and irreparable harm to many Trans and gender diverse students. The unfortunate reality is that many young Queer community members cannot rely on positive reactions or supportive responses to their Queer identities, should they be revealed to their families. The emotional, social, psychological, and potentially physical negative consequences of being forcibly “outed” are well known to experts and Queer communities. Forcibly outing a Queer individual is an act of violence. Homophobia, and particularly transphobia, remain significant issues within our society, as these policies demonstrate.
These governments do not deserve the benefit of the doubt or the presumption of good intentions in the introduction of these policies. There was no problem that these policies are meant to solve, no legitimate purpose they could possibly serve other than to interfere with the very personal decisions of Queer youth of when, or if, to reveal their identities to their families. They have failed to define any specific right of parents that is being violated or harm being suffered by parents due to schools respecting the requested names and pronouns of their students.
These policy decisions cannot be removed from the context of a growing movement of hate and conspiracy towards Queer identities generally, and Trans identities specifically. This includes a significant lack of understanding, and the purposeful spreading of disinformation by some, relating to gender affirming health care, particularly for youth.
These policies, notably all emanating from conservative provincial governments, with tacit support from the current federal Conservative party leader, are a continuation and escalation of the rise Transphobia and general anti-Queer sentiments being witnessed in our society. It also mirrors some of the transphobic legislative and policy decisions being made in parts of the United States. These policies are blatantly discriminatory and unconstitutional. They must be reversed.
Each province has sought to justify these decisions and comments by citing “parental rights”. However, it is clear that these policy changes, whether intentionally or not, will have a significant negative and discriminatory impact on Queer students. Policy changes relating to name and pronoun usage by students at school are inherently related to the gender identities of students, which is a prohibited ground of discrimination under provincial human rights laws, federal human rights law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and internationally recognized human rights and rights of children.
Children under the age of 18 are rights holders in their own right, including rights to be free from discrimination based on their personal characteristics, freedoms of expression and of conscience, and a right to privacy. Equally, Canadian family law, including in each of these provinces, provides that the overriding interest will always be the “best interests of the child”, with the primary considerations being the physical, emotional, and psychological safety and security of the child. Children are also given rights to participate in the decisions made about them and their care, in accordance with their age and capacity, giving them the right to an evolving degree of autonomy. In many jurisdictions, where youth have shown a level of independence and self-sufficiency before attaining the age of 18, they can be deemed to have removed themselves from parental authority.
In contrast, the term “parental rights” is becoming a commonly used right-wing extremist political catchphrase primarily seen in relation to advocating for greater restrictions on a school system’s ability to address topics relating to diversity initiatives and sexual education, specifically in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. The sudden fervour in support of parental rights does not include any apparent interest in any topics or educational goals other than sexual health, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other diversity initiatives. It is a hate movement fuelled by a moral panic.
The term “parental rights” is rarely explicitly seen in Canadian law, though there are rights related to the integrity of and non-interference with the family unit that are owed to all its members. Parental participation rights within existing school systems, as outlined in the education legislation of various provinces, also exist. Many provincial laws instead utilize definitions for terms like “decision-making responsibility”, “parenting time”, and “parental responsibilities”, which relate to the concepts of custody and access. These terms demonstrate a recognition that the fundamental nature of the relationship of a parent to their child is one of responsibility, not of rights. These responsibilities relate to the obligation to provide support and guidance to a child, whose right it is to receive these from their parents. Parents do not own their children. As a result, parental rights are not absolute and can be terminated where there is a compelling reason, including where it is determined to be in the best interests of the child.
No one denies that ideally parents would be able to be informed and involved in all important aspects of their child’s life, and that all children should be confident that being fully open with their parents would result in nothing but love and support. But that is not reality. Pretending it is erases the vast majority of Canadian and global history, including the situation in the majority of the world today, where Queer identities are the frequent targets of discrimination, criminalization, ostracization, and violence. This includes the perpetuation of these acts by immediate family members.
Beyond the ahistorical nature of these policies, it is quite clear that these policy decisions are being made without proper consultations with youth who may be affected, Queer communities, or experts on children’s health and well-being. The government of New Brunswick was unable to produce any evidence of the complaints they alleged initiated the review of Policy 713, and once initiated, many stakeholders in New Brunswick expressed concern about their exclusion from any consultation process. The government of Saskatchewan has avoided answering the question of what experts were consulted in making these changes, and instead has reiterated the importance it places on the perspective of parents and has pointed to apparent popular support for the policy in opinion polls.
To be clear, the purpose of human rights legislation and the Charter is to protect vulnerable minorities from the potentially discriminatory attitudes and actions of the majority. Popular support for a discriminatory policy does not save it under Canadian law, and in fact reinforces the need for protection of that group.
In mid-August, the New Brunswick Child and Youth Advocate, Kelly Lamrock, issued a report that included a comprehensive overview of the history of Policy 713, its purpose, the review process, and the legal framework around parents’ rights and the rights of children. After a legal analysis, including the consideration of the perspectives of parents, students, and experts, the report concluded that the changes to Policy 713 violate the Charter rights of Trans and gender-diverse youth to be free from discrimination, to privacy, and to have their needs accommodated. We would highly encourage everyone to read this report in full.
The recent announcement of the policy changes in Saskatchewan have met similar conclusions of human rights violations from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which plans to support a legal challenge that has now been filed by national Queer organization Egale and the University of Regina’s UR Pride. The Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth, who was not consulted prior to the announcement of the policy changes, has also indicated her plans to review the new policy while expressing concern over its contents.
Any changes to the accessibility of washrooms that conform to a student’s gender identity would also be a violation of the human rights of students. While the New Brunswick policy changes do not appear to impede this right, it ought to be recognized that the right to the use of washroom facilities in accordance with a person’s gender identity is settled law in Canada. Similarly, the right for all to play in sports and engage in recreational activities generally in accordance with a person’s gender identity ought to be respected. The change in language in Policy 713 does remove the explicit recognition of this, which is unfortunate and should be restored. Trans and gender-diverse students deserve to have their rights explicitly acknowledged and reinforced.
The undermining of sexual health education in Saskatchewan, while not amounting to discrimination, will certainly undermine the health and safety of students and society at large. Comprehensive and fully resourced sexual education is a public good that helps educate youth in an effort to prevent abuse, unwanted pregnancies, and health issues like STIs. Comprehensive sexual education also includes resources and education that acknowledge the diversity of human sexuality and relationships. Third party resources previously used in Saskatchewan that address topics related to diversity were cited as examples by the government of Saskatchewan of what would no longer be permitted. Health experts in Saskatchewan have expressed their concern about the negative impacts these changes will have. Saskatchewan cited parental interests once again as the reason for these changes. It is unclear what role considerations around the health and safety of students played in this decision, or who was consulted prior to their announcement.
The policies being introduced requiring students under 16 years of age to obtain consent from their parents to change the names or pronouns used while at school are discriminatory violations of Canadian constitutional and human rights laws. Anything less than comprehensive and fully resourced sexual health education puts the health and safety of children and broader society at risk. We call on each of these provinces to reverse their decisions, commit themselves to respecting the human rights of all students, and to creating inclusive, supportive, and healthy school environments for all youth. We caution all other provinces against taking similar actions.
Recipients of Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) may be eligible to obtain a cooling device (such as an air conditioner) as a discretionary benefit.
As the frequency of extreme heat events occurs, the need for cooling devices increases. Those without access to cool spaces during extreme heat events can be subjected to prolonged exposure. Such exposure can cause loss of internal temperature regulation which can lead to various negative health effects or, in some cases, death.
The impacts of extreme heat events disproportionately effect certain vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, low-income earners, and individuals with existing health vulnerabilities.
Learn more, including eligibility requirements and restrictions, in OW and ODSP Discretionary Benefits and Cooling Devices (PDF). This is a resource developed by the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
On November 24th, 2022, a hate rally was organized in response to a family-friendly Drag Storytime event being held at the Terryberry library. Unfortunately, in response to the organization of this event, a small group of bigots gathered in an attempt to disrupt and protest. The words and actions of this group were in line with the rising tide of violence and hate that Queer communities across Canada are facing. Their allegations against the organizers, talent, and Queer community more broadly, have no basis in reality, and are irresponsible, ignorant, and dangerous. The Queer Justice Project and the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic condemn this hateful demonstration.
Such events are displays of ignorant bigotry that are putting our Queer communities in danger. It must not rest solely on Queer communities to bear witness, defend against, and call out this pattern of hate and violence. For our community at large, who might be just engaging with issues impacting the Queer community, we encourage you to take advantage of numerous educational and informational tools that can accessed online, including through the Hamilton Public Library. Queerness challenges and calls on all of us to reconsider beliefs and realities about more than just gender and sexuality but about how we love and live alongside each other in ways that respect and celebrate differences. All members of our community should rise to that challenge out of a shared spirit of love and acceptance – and not hatred and violence.
View the full statement on anti-2SLGBTQ+ action at Terryberry library
Press ReleaseFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 28, 2022
Earlier this year, Constable Brian Wren was charged with assault. Police service said it received a video from a business and a citizen after police arrested a suspect in a stolen vehicle investigation. Police said the officer’s use of force led to a criminal investigation.
Const. Brian Wren was immediately suspended and now also faces an assault charge. His first court appearance was July 21.
The individual assaulted and harmed is a member of the City of Hamilton Indigenous community. Members of the Indigenous community are very concerned that this appears not to be an isolated incident. This is the second time this has happened to this individual. The Hamilton Regional Indian Friendship Centre has justice related programs and reports that these types of allegations of aggressive police behaviours are frequent. This particular assault needs to be taken seriously, and major changes need to be made to not only protect our Indigenous relatives but also help protect our relatives of colour, members of various other ethnic backgrounds and members of other marginalized groups.
A full press release will take place on Tuesday August 2, 2022 at 1230pm in front of Hamilton Police Services downtown central location at 155 King William Street, Hamilton Ontario with members of Indigenous leadership, Indigenous community members and our friends and allies.
January 21, 2022
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Hamilton Community Legal Clinic’s Response to Councillor Nann’s Motion Re: Encampment Response
Hamilton Community Legal Clinic welcomes Council’s vote to change the way it responds to encampments. Specifically, the City has agreed to consult with community stakeholders, including front line services working with the unhoused population, those with lived experience, and the health sector, to create a “human rights based, health focused approach to housing”. A copy of the motion can be reviewed by clicking here.
We have always encouraged this type of collaboration and person-centred approach.
Tackling the issue of homelessness and some of its root causes can seem like a monumental undertaking. There are, however, immediate alternatives to encampments evictions which do not require significant funding changes: revising and unifying shelter service restriction policies so that fewer people are unnecessarily banned from shelters, temporarily suspending by-law enforcement, and allocating existing emergency funds to affordable housing projects like tiny cabins (which have already been established in various municipalities).
We are pleased to see the City signal a willingness to engage in an open dialogue on an incredibly important matter. We encourage the City of Hamilton to prioritize these discussions and resolution in light of the urgency of the ongoing pandemic, shelter and housing crisis.
We are hopeful that the newly formed committee results in solutions that address and eradicate the harms associated with homelessness and evicting encampment residents.
For a copy of this letter, please click here: Statement
The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, in partnership with Pro Bono Ontario and the Hamilton Law Association, is searching for volunteers lawyers to participate in the Hamilton Pro Bono Wills Project.
For more information, please review the flyer attached: Hamilton Pro Bono Wills – Flyer.
To participate in the program or inquire further about the work of the Hamilton Pro Bono Wills Project please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Kindly allow upwards to two weeks for a response.
Clare has worked in the non-profit sector for approximately 19 years as an Executive Director. She has extensive experience in leadership, strategy, public relations, advocacy, and management. She has served on many local, provincial, and national boards and committees, and is deeply committed to giving back to her community through her engagement with numerous social justice initiatives.
Since 2015, Clare has served as the CEO of Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice and bereavement services. Additionally, her past roles include Executive Director, Interval House of Hamilton; Counselling Coordinator, Sexual Assault Centre of Brant; and Continuing Education Professor of the Child and Youth Program, Mohawk College. She obtained her Bachelor of Sociology from the University of Western, as well as her Master of Social Work from York University.
Clare is a passionate and rights-based social justice advocate, and embodies the principles and values that the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic stands for. She will brings a wealth of experience from the organizations she has worked for in the past that will be of benefit to the Hamilton community.
We would like to congratulate Clare on her new role and look forward to continuing to fight for access to justice under her leadership.
We also extend our deepest gratitude to Hugh Tye for his exceptional leadership as our Executive Director over the past 26 years.
The Board of Directors
Hamilton Community Legal Clinic
The Queer Justice Project and the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic are proud to join the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIAPGNC (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual, and Gender Non-Conforming) communities in celebrating 2021’s Pride month!
Once again, the circumstances certainly are not ideal. We are in the unfortunate position of having to celebrate for the second year in a row while the COVID-19 pandemic and necessary public health measures continue to restrict our ability to gather in person, as a community and as a family. The impact of this on Queer community members cannot be minimized, as we often look to each other’s company for acceptance, understanding, and safety when we are unable to find them in other parts of our lives.
These are difficult times, but Queer communities have shown their resilience time and time again. Doing our best to persevere and care for ourselves and those close to us through this pandemic is itself an act of resistance and accomplishment. Pride, as must always be acknowledged, started as a courageous act of protest during the Stonewall Rebellion on June 28, 1969, when Queer community members rose up against the discriminatory and violent actions of police. In that same vein, many battles for rights, freedoms, and acceptance have been won in the decades since, yet there is still much more to do.
Still today, including here in Hamilton, Queer communities face forces that seek to commit violence against us, that would have us repress our identities, and which propagate hatred. We watch in horror and solidarity with the U.S. Transgender community as their rights to exist in a multitude of spaces come under direct attack by transphobic groups and politicians, just as we do for all Queer communities and individuals around the world who continue to face persecution and hatred. Queer communities must stand united to protect each other and ensure that none are left behind in our ongoing battle for equity for all Queer identities and intersections. Despite these recurring attacks, we are still here, and we remain proud.
While the present is full of challenges, there is also significant reason for hope. Through the tireless efforts of healthcare and frontline workers, a collective adherence to public safety measures, and the truly remarkable development and now delivery of vaccines, we have reason to believe that we may soon be through the worst of the pandemic. Over this past year, we have all watched as collective, brave, societal action has forced the acknowledgement and the challenging of systemic racism and police violence against marginalized communities. The pandemic has also exposed many other systems that drive inequality and the exploitation of essential and vulnerable workers, with many now calling for changes that would create a more just recovery towards a new status quo. Queer activists and perspectives will undoubtedly help shape our collective path forward on these and other important issues.
The Queer justice Project has also undergone some changes this past year. We welcomed a new project lead in Michael Blashko, and have also had to change the way we work in light of the pandemic, moving to providing primarily virtual services. While we have not been able to interact directly with the community as much as we would have liked, each interaction reminds us of the strength, persistence, and pride found within all of our Queer communities. At the same time, we are reminded that no individual or community must always show strength. There is value and truth in vulnerability and in needing to take time for ourselves. We have also been privileged enough to have seen examples of this from our Queer family members during this difficult period.
We look forward to celebrating the past, present, and future of Queer rights and communities this Pride month, because there is so very much to celebrate. While we may not be able to do so in the way we would want, with us all together in person, we will connect in the ways we can, in ways that aim to keep all of us safe.
To everyone, you are beautiful and strong, and have a safe and happy Pride!!!
We have joined the Federal Government’s 50 – 30 Challenge to demonstrate our commitment to diversity and inclusion.
The goal of the Challenge is to encourage organizations to reach 50% gender parity and 30% representation from under-represented groups, including racialized persons, those who identify as LGBTQ2, people living with disabilities, as well as First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, at the board and senior management levels.
Our Board of Directors has achieved this goal and our management team is very close. This undertaking is part of our Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression Plan.
For more information on the challenge, visit: www.canada.ca/50-30-Challenge. We strongly encourage your organization to consider signing up.