Saskatchewan Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Seniors, and Rural and Remote Health Tim McLeod was in the hot seat at Friday’s medical association conference when delegates began asking questions about the province’s pronoun policy.
The policy, passed by the use of the notwithstanding clause, prevents school authorities from using the preferred names or pronouns of students under the age of 16 without parental consent.
On Friday, delegates and members of Saskatchewan’s medical community turned the minister’s attention to the mental health crisis predicted to escalate as a result of the bill.
Delegate Dr. Anna Redekop, who offers gender-affirming care in Meadow Lake, said that while the topic seems fitting for an education conference, it has a place in health as well.
“This isn’t something that just affects the education system,” Redekop said. “It also affects mental health significantly and even physical health.”
She noted that mental health is generally worse in the queer community.
“There are higher rates of suicide, especially in youth without supports.”
Reddekop asked the province what it is doing to address the effects of the pronoun policy on youth mental health. Her question was answered by cheers from the audience.
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McLeod claimed that transphobia in Saskatchewan is no more acceptable than racism.
“The policy is an inclusive policy. It’s not transphobic. It is intended to provide assistance and support to families to ensure that the individuals that you are talking about who are at risk because of low levels of support with their parents, the parental bill of rights ensures that the school system is providing supports that are necessary for those children who may be at high risk.”
He said that the province will be expanding the rapid access counselling to 13 communities with the goal of reaching 24 communities where adults’ rapid access counselling is already being offered.
The mental health capacity building will be expanded to 15 schools by the end of the current year and the remainder of divisions in the future.
“The intent is to involve parents and make sure that if there is a relationship there, there is peace there that needs to be built up, that it has the appropriate supports for children to remain safe and that the family unit is protected,” McLeod said.
Several questions later, Moose Jaw family physician Dr. Karissa Brabant called McLeod’s answer unacceptable.
“The parental rights bill is transphobic,” she said. “It is requiring (youth) to come out to their parents before any other system and this is not safe.”
Brabant noted there are many trans youths living in unsupportive home environments.
“This is what is forcing transgender youth to live in the closet,” Brabant said.
She claimed the government knew before enacting the bill that the policy jeopardizes human rights.
“This bill was deemed to be non-constitutional and was advised to be stayed by the Court of King’s Bench and the notwithstanding clause was used to put this bill through legislation, meaning the government acknowledges and admits fully that this bill jeopardizes human rights of our youth in our province.”
She told the minister that he does not have support from the gender-affirming care physicians in the province.
McLeod gave no response to her comments other than opening the door for a conversation at a different time.
“Thanks for your comments. Perhaps when we return to Moose Jaw, I’m more than happy to sit down and we can have a more detailed conversation about this, but I thank you for raising it today,” McLeod said.
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