Pressure Higgs government is feeling over its Policy 713 review is well deserved

7 months ago

One of the things I can’t figure out in this Policy 713 on sexual orientation review, is whether Premier Higgs is really as unaware or tone deaf to the very real concerns it is creating among this marginalized group of young people, or whether he just doesn’t see it as a priority. I doubt it is the latter, and I certainly hope it isn’t because that’s quite a condemnation.  But the time has come for him to clarify that, and this time his comments have to be better than what he offered in that scrum with reporters the other day.

Child and Youth Advocate Kelly Lamrock. Photo Credit: CBC

So far, all we have is that it is being reviewed because there have been hundreds of complaints. But if so, where are they? All that was forwarded to Child and Youth Advocate Lamrorck for his review were 4 emails, and one of those was a request that the policy be better enforced. So what was forwarded were three complaints. Let’s look at those. 

One referenced Policy 713 as Marxist-racist Critical Race Theory. Another suggested the policy is offensive to Christians and inferred that Christians are the ones hard done by here. But my favourite is the one that repeats the long discredited right wing talking point that schools are providing litter boxes for students that identify as animals. The writer includes all manner of hot button right wing terms, from “woke” to the imagined evil of the World Economic Forum. And then, pretty much to confirm who’s influencing him, as if by this point there is any doubt, he calls on Premier Higgs to Make New Brunswick Great Again. There’s no mention of whether he has hats for sale.  

The point is, all the emails are ridiculous. So if there are hundreds, as the Premier and Education Minister Bill Hogan claim, why in the name of anything logical, would they chose these ones to forward to Lamrock? Wouldn’t common sense suggest you send ones that make a valid argument? Note to Minister – there’s still time.  

Photo Credit: CBC

Lamrock’s report of his investigation into the government’s decision to place Policy 713 under review, is well worth a read. It is a masterfully crafted report that gets to the nub of the issue in a way that will make it hard for the government to ignore.  

It is quite odd that a government policy, developed over several years with widespread input from experts in the field and people on the front lines of education including teachers, psychologists and others, would be put under review because of three complaints. I think we can all agree that’s a mighty low bar. As Lamrock summarized it, “I’m not sure any government decision could survive, if receiving three complaints led to reconsideration.”  

Lamrock even throws in a pre-emptive strike, to shut down before it surfaces, any argument that he’s suggesting a minister doesn’t have the right to review and revise policy. The advocate is crystal clear in saying that his argument is about how that prerogative should be exercised.  

Education Minister Bill Hogan. Photo Credit: Twelegraph Journal

So far, the government has failed terribly in this regard. They say the policy is not suspended, however they pulled the plug on activities related to it, pretending in one case that the Teacher’s Association had gone rogue in participating in professional development sessions related to Policy 713, on which the Department of Education collaborated, until it didn’t. It’s one more case of the government misleading the public. There are other examples, but rather than dwell on that, I want to close with on a more recent development in this story, Minister Hogan’s comment that he and his family have been attacked over this policy. 

As far as I know, he hasn’t elaborated on what he means by “attacked” and I would hope it’s nothing more than critical emails, and not threats or anything of that nature. And not to be flippant if it is more, but threats and intimidation are what hangs in the balance here if the government doesn’t move quickly to undo the damage its ham-fisted policy review position has caused.  

Photo Credit: CTV News

The saliant point here is that the purpose of Policy 713 is to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ students within our schools. School is their safe place to be who they are. The government perhaps needs to be reminded that these kids have it rough enough already, evidenced by the fact they are three times as likely to commit suicide than other kids their age. That speaks to the desperation they feel. For many, much of that pressure comes from home, where they are afraid of coming out as gay or trans. That desperation may result in a student going to a teacher or guidance counsellor they feel they can confide in. That takes a certain amount of courage. And now, if the Premier gets what he apparently wants and the policy is changed to force that teacher to rat that kid out to his parents, then obviously that child is not going to dare risk that by talking to a teacher in the first place. It’s easy to envision that instead the child may do something drastic. And tragic.  

The point is that the stakes are high here, and the government seems to be ignoring that and is instead catering to a minority that doesn’t seem to care much about whether the rights or safety of these vulnerable children are considered.

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Cover Photo: Part of a demonstration by Saint John high school students who walked out to protest the Higgs government’s review of Policy 713. Photo Credit: CTV News

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