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thumb-2023-010-04-scott-moe-notwithstanding-clause This article is more than 7 months old
Analysis

Large Coalition Getting Ready to Fight Scott Moe’s Pronoun Policy Overriding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

‘Scott Moe has no idea what he started’

A coalition of 2SLGBTQ+, civil rights and labour groups are fighting Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s plan to use the “notwithstanding clause” to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and enforce a “horrifying” education policy on October 10.

In August, Saskatchewan introduced a policy that forced teachers to out trans students to their parents without the students’ consent. The policy also halted the introduction of 2SLGBTQ+ resources for students in schools and allows parents to opt their children out of receiving sexual education.

Last week, a Regina judge suspended the new pronoun policy until its constitutionality could be tested in court, thanks to a legal challenge from 2SLGBTQ+ advocacy group UR Pride. That same day, Moe announced he would use the notwithstanding clause to enforce the policy regardless of the court’s decision.

“Scott Moe went to the extreme in order to satisfy his far right wing base,” Kent Peterson, Secretary-Treasurer of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, told PressProgress.

“It’s disgusting, frankly, that Scott Moe was trying to save his own political bacon by outing and bullying trans kids,” Peterson said.

 

The Sask Party’s Civil War

Moe’s aggression against trans students is a political gambit to appease the more extremist members of his fracturing Saskatchewan Party, Peterson notes. The far-right Saskatchewan United Party has peeled off funders and by-election votes from Moe’s Sask Party over the last year.

“Scott Moe is scared of the Saskatchewan United Party and their leader Nadine Wilson. That is a far-right political party that has been pressuring the Sask Party government and taking their votes on the right flank,” Peterson explained.

“Scott Moe has a dynamic in his caucus where he is scared as hell that some of the more extremist, right wing members of his own caucus will cross the floor and sit with Nadine Wilson if he doesn’t pander to their every demand.”

The Saskatchewan United Party grew out of a far-right grassroots organization called Unified Grassroots, which was initially created to oppose COVID-19 mandates in schools.

Unified Grassroots’ leader Nadine Ness had an hour-long conversation with Moe in 2021, which she credits for deterring Moe from introducing any further COVID-19 restrictions during the first Omicron wave. Ness later participated in the Ottawa convoy occupation and a Christian nationalist ‘revival’ festival.

Ness has also endorsed the far-right Christian nationalist group Action4Canada, which spearheaded the campaign against 2SLGBTQ+ resources in schools across Canada. Action4Canada took credit for influencing Saskatchewan’s new pronoun policy and blocking 2SLGBTQ+ school resources, claiming they had a ‘meet and greet’ with Moe and other Sask Party members.

 

Organizing Resistance

The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour is organizing a rally on October 10 to support 2SLGBTQ+ community leaders in challenging the Moe’s pronoun policy and use of the notwithstanding clause to enforce it. National labour leaders will also fly into Saskatchewan for the rally.

“In Saskatchewan, our labour movement has always been founded on the principles of social unionism, which means yes, we fight for better wages for our members and a better life for our members, but we fight for all workers, and beyond that we fight for all people,” Peterson said.

“Scott Moe has no idea what he started,” Peterson added. “It is not the end of the fight back.”

 

Saskatchewan Teachers Need Resources to Support All Students

Samantha Becotte, President of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, says canceling 2SLGBTQ+ resources in schools will have a negative impact on students across the province.

“Teachers are working to create safe and caring learning environments for their students and for all students,” Becotte told PressProgress. “So having the opportunity to use SOGI 123 resources that really help support the creation of those safe and caring environments for all students would be very beneficial for teachers across the province.”

By cancelling 2SLGBTQ+ resources in schools, Moe effectively shut down the work of education experts across the province, Becotte explained. These resources were developed in collaboration with ministry representatives, school boards, directors, superintendents, teachers, parents and students.

“It’s going to impact that trusting relationship that teachers have worked so hard to build with their students,” Becotte said. “It’s going to cut off potential adults that they could be having a conversation with.”

“Hopefully we can create a change where a policy can be developed that supports that parent involvement, as teachers have always done, but also ensures that all students’ rights are upheld.”

 

Increasing Use of Notwithstanding Clause ‘Alarming’

Harini Sivalingam, Director of the Equality Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says Moe’s planned use of the notwithstanding clause is “alarming.”

“It’s a threat to democracy, it’s a threat to the judicial system,” Sivalingam told PressProgress.

“The government is resorting to using the notwithstanding clause to try to insulate unconstitutional policies from review by the court.”

According to CBC News: “The notwithstanding clause, or Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, gives parliaments in Canada the power to override certain portions of the charter for five-year terms when passing legislation.”

Sivalingam said the notwithstanding clause was intended to only be used in rare circumstances, but conservative premiers across Canada have increasingly invoked it over the last several years.

“It was intended to be a rare exception, a rare use,” Sivalingam said. “This shouldn’t be a weapon to strip anyone of their rights, let alone vulnerable and marginalized students.”

“When you see the government using the notwithstanding clause, it’s basically an admission of guilt, right? Like the government knows that they’re violating the constitutional rights of the residents.”

The CCLA has been granted intervenor status in the court case challenging Moe’s pronoun policy, UR Pride vs Gov of SK.

Sivalingam hopes ongoing legal challenges and community pressure can deter governments from reaching for the notwithstanding clause so quickly.

“I hope it sends a clear message to governments at both the national and the provincial and territorial level to really have a somber second thought about using the notwithstanding clause so recklessly.”

 

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Emily Leedham
Reporter
Emily Leedham is PressProgress’ Prairies Reporter. Her reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, big money and corporate influence, and systemic racism.

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