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As Poilievre sides with Smith on trans restrictions, former Conservative candidate says he's 'playing with fire'

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Siding with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith on her proposed restrictions on transgender youth, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre confirmed Wednesday that he is against trans and non-binary minors using puberty blockers.

His position on the issue was swiftly met with pushback from his political opponents who accused him of trying to take away Canadians' rights, members of the trans community and their families who expressed the importance of access to affirming care, and a former federal Conservative candidate, who accused the party of selling out the transgender community. 

Facing a series of questions from reporters on Parliament Hill about his stance on gender-affirming medical care for children, Poilievre said, in his view, no one under the age of 18 should be allowed to use hormone therapies that help delay puberty-related development for gender reassignment purposes.

"I think we should protect the rights of parents to make their own decisions with regards to their children. And I believe that adults should have the freedom to make any decision they want about their bodies," he said.

Last week, Smith released a social media video pre-positioning her plans to advance a series of changes around pronouns in schools and access to gender-affirming health care.

Framing the package in terms of "parental involvement" and "preserving choice," Smith's government is pursuing:

  • A ban on "top and bottom" gender-affirming surgeries for all Albertans ages 17 and under;
  • A ban on hormone therapy such as puberty blockers for those aged 15 and under who have not already started treatment;
  • A requirement that parents are notified and consent before students aged 15 and under can change their names or pronouns at school; and
  • A requirement that parents opt-in before teachers teach about LGBTQ2S+ issues such as gender and sexual identity, among other measures.

In the video, the premier said she was "not comfortable" permitting "prematurely encouraging or enabling children to alter their very biology or natural growth, no matter how well intentioned," while vowing to "strictly" enforce child protection laws in cases where trans youth are rejected or abused by their parent.

In his remarks to reporters, Poilievre said he agrees that "we should protect children and their ability to make adult decisions when they are adults."

Will Poilievre campaign on this?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as several cabinet ministers were quick to condemn Smith's plans last week as targeting a vulnerable minority for political points with "the most anti-LGBT policies of anywhere in the country."

But, until Wednesday—after his caucus was reportedly instructed not to comment—Poilievre had not offered his position on Alberta's proposals.

During a pair of Toronto and Montreal news conferences on Monday and Tuesday, the Conservative leader responded to questions about his stance by accusing reporters who asked him to comment of "spreading disinformation" alongside the prime minister, while extolling parental rights.

"Justin Trudeau is again puffing out his chest, trying to divide Canadians and attack parents who are trying to protect their kids. He will in the end, back down on this," Poilievre said Wednesday.

"Because he is not interested in protecting kids, he's interested in using this as a divisive wedge to distract from doubling housing costs and quadrupling carbon taxes."

Last September, at the federal Conservative convention in Quebec City, delegates voted to include a pair of policies in the party's playbook that would prohibit "life altering medicinal or surgical interventions" for transgender youth and oppose the inclusion of trans women in women's spaces, such as on sports teams and in bathrooms.

Poilievre has yet to say whether he will campaign on these resolutions, but the Conservative Party's first openly transgender candidate, hopes not.

"I think he had a choice to make, and it was either to side with one side in caucus or the other. And I know that there's a divide in caucus on this one, I know for sure… I think the prospect of winning is keeping people under wraps," said Hannah Hodson, who was also a policy adviser for former leader Erin O'Toole but left the party after Poilievre took over.

"It's unfortunate that at a time when presumably the Conservative Party is quite ascendant, not because of issues like this, but because of issues like… housing and affordability, that they're willing to sell a vulnerable community out in order to keep a heavily donating community in their pocket," Hodson said.

"I think that they're playing with fire."

Taking away rights, Trudeau says 

Reacting to Poilievre's comments, out gay Alberta Liberal MP and Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault said conversations around puberty blockers "should take place between a young person and their doctor."

"I don't see 'MD' after Pierre Poilievre's name, or Danielle Smith's. So not their business," he said. "It's irresponsible. It's dangerous. Trans rights are human rights, and everybody who values their human rights should be questioning Pierre Poilievre, and why he's siding with Danielle Smith."

Said to be currently consulting the LGBTQ2S+ community on next steps, the Liberals have left the door open to a more direct federal funding or court response. Boissonault said for now the message is: "kill the bill" before it makes it to the floor of the provincial legislature.

Accusing Poilievre of "attacking vulnerable communities," NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his position is that these types of health procedures "should be a decision between a person and their health-care provider."

"Based on evidence, based on science, based on best practices, and not based on the opinion of Pierre Poilievre," Singh said. 

Echoing this, on his way in to the House of Commons on Wednesday, Trudeau said what Poilievre and Smith are proposing is "anchored in ideology" and will "take away the rights of parents and their kids to make the right choices for them."

Earlier this week, Smith admitted in an interview on CTV's Power Play with Vassy Kapelos that the proposed gender-affirming surgery restraints are not based on current evidence of a problem, but rather a "concern of what will happen," citing organizations advocating for "treatments to be done younger."

Currently, Albertans under the age of 18 are already ineligible for bottom surgery funding through the Gender Surgery Program, and the required age for masculinization of the torso or "top" surgery (mastectomy) is 16. According to Alberta Health, there were a total of eight paediatric breast surgeries "performed for gender affirming reasons" in 2022.

Shouldn't be political: parents

With Smith standing by her proposed policies, Alberta students planned a walkout at schools throughout the province on Wednesday, building on numerous demonstrations held across Canada last weekend.

"I just want to show that this is not okay," said Calgary grade 10 student Mackenzie Ward. "School is supposed to be a safe space."

There were also counter-protesters at some schools, expressing support for Smith's stance.

"She's very logical in the sense that a 13-year-old should not, does not, have the ability to make those decisions," said grandmother Karen Friesen.

According to the Alberta Medical Association, puberty-blocking agents allow patients to determine their options without permanent effects, and the effects of them "are not irreversible," despite suggestions from some proponents of Smith's plans.

"Once treatment stops, puberty goes forward," reads the association's recent statement. "Later in life, the most invasive gender-affirming surgery may not be necessary." 

Having access to gender-affirming medical interventions can help ease mental and emotional distress, as Alberta mother Tammy Plunkett, and her son Mitchell Plunkett, who first came out as trans at age 11 told CTV News on Wednesday.

"Having access to puberty blockers quite literally saved my life. If I had continued having female puberty I would not be here standing today, because it made me suicidal," he said. At age 18 now, Plunkett said he has no regrets about his course of care, and feels he's more confident and his "authentic" self.

"I think that taking away these very important life-saving medications from youth is going to inevitably kill these youths. It's hard to say, but it's true," he said, imploring Canadian politicians to stick to the science.

His mother said the recent focus among Conservative politicians feels "targeted."

"I've never had any politician tell me if my children can and cannot have access to any other medical care," she said.

With files from CTV National News' Kevin Gallagher and Rachel Hanes, as well as CTV News Calgary's Tyler Barrow and CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski 

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If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.

Suicide Crisis Helpline (988)

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (1 800 463-2338)

Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)

Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)

If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. 

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