Quebec teacher challenges gender transition policy in case about compelled speech and freedom of conscience

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Quebec teacher challenges gender transition policy in case about compelled speech and freedom of conscience

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MONTREAL, QC: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms announces the launch of a constitutional challenge in Quebec’s Superior Court against the Ministry of Education. This action is brought on behalf of a teacher who refused to lie to the parents of a 14-year-old student seeking a female-to-male gender transition, as her school administration had ordered her to do.

Following directives in the Education Minister’s Guide and Procedures on trans and non-binary persons’ gender identity, the student’s Montreal high school created a set of procedures to make it illegal to inform parents (or guardians) when their child seeks a gender transition.

At the beginning of October 2023, school administrators advised teachers that they should designate the 14-year-old student with the masculine pronouns “he/him” in class. But when dealing with the student’s parents, teachers were ordered to use the student’s given name and feminine pronouns. They gave this order even though there was no evidence or suspicion of parental abuse.

The teacher informed the administration that while she agreed to observe the student’s pronoun preferences, the teacher objected to the requirement that she lie to parents about their child’s gender change, especially during an upcoming parent/teacher interview.

That interview did not occur. Instead, the school allowed the teacher to submit a written report to the student, copied to the parents, which avoided the use of pronouns. While granting this exception, the school made it clear that the teacher would be obligated to meet with the parents during a parent/teacher interview scheduled for the spring if the parents requested such interview. The administrators notified the teacher that if she disclosed any information about the child’s in-school gender transition during that spring interview, the teacher would be fired immediately.

At that point, the teacher, assisted by the Justice Centre, filed the constitutional challenge to nullify the Minister of Education’s Guide and Procedures because, notably, they “contravene parental rights protected by section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms…in defiance of the principles of fundamental justice and without sufficient justification in a free and democratic society.” The teacher also believes that the Guide and Procedures violate the teacher’s section 2 Charter right to freedom of conscience.

Having to lie to her pupil’s parents was the last straw for the plaintiff teacher. “I couldn’t live with myself if I did that,” the teacher stated. “I won’t look them in the eye and intentionally lie about the fact that we are enabling their child to undergo a significant psychosocial intervention without their knowledge.”

According to the teacher’s lawyer, Olivier Séguin, this would be the first time that a court action raised freedom of conscience without also raising freedom of religion. Section 2(a) of the Charter guarantees both freedom of conscience and religion.

“It’s true that the prohibition on lying is common to all religions, but my client’s conscientious objection is not religious in nature,” Mr. Séguin explains.

The teacher went on to say, “Transparent collaboration with parents is essential to my role as a teacher and critical for the long-term wellbeing of children. Lying to parents about how we are treating their children, or about what is going on with children at school, violates the principles of my vocation.”

While it is true that the law does not expressly mention how schools should handle cases like this one, Mr. Séguin says, the Guide’s authors appear to have issued a ministerial directive on the sly, through a “guidance” intended for schools, in which they make the law say things it simply does not say.

For example, in its section entitled “Legal framework” (page 8), the Guide cites section 60 of the Civil Code of Quebec, which states that a request for a name change may be made on the initiative of a minor aged 14 or over, but the Guide ignores section 62, located right next to it, which states that parents must be notified of the request for a change of name and that they are permitted to object.

The Guide’s authors also cite article 71 of the same Civil Code, which also says, like Section 60, a request for a change of gender may be made on the initiative of a minor aged 14 or over. But again, the authors of the Guide fail to note Article 73, which states that parents must be able to object to any such change.

Mr. Séguin does not consider Minister of Education Bernard Drainville responsible for the omissions. The Quebec newspaper Le Devoir had already pointed out that by opposing mixed-sex toilets in schools, he had placed himself in contradiction with “the recommendations of his own ministry,” i.e. the recommendations set out in the Guide.

In the same article, Le Devoir reported that the Guide was the result of collaboration between (1) the Ministry of Justice and (2) the Ministry of Family, (3) the Office Against Homophobia and Transphobia, (4) the Research Chair in Sexual Diversity and Gender Plurality, Université du Québec à Montréal, and (5) the National Table Against Homophobia & Transphobia in Education Networks.

Mr. Séguin says he doesn’t believe the omissions are unintended incompetence, stating, “The irregularities with which the Guide is riddled are both too obvious and too numerous to see anything other than a desire to mislead readers by falsely claiming to translate the letter of the law. I see it as a form of usurpation of power, a denial of democracy.”

As for his client’s position, he says, “Secrecy towards parents, which in practice amounts to lying to them, is a serious violation of the legal contract that binds the state and its citizens.” For media inquiries, please contact Olivier Séguin at oseguin@jccf.ca or at 438-389-2503.

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