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Trudeau minister says Alberta's trans policy proposal equal to 'NATO moment' for LGBTQ2S+ community

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Multiple federal cabinet ministers are criticizing Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's proposed restrictions on transgender youth as targeting a vulnerable minority for political points, indicating Thursday they are looking at options for how to respond.

"Everything is on the table, anything that we can do," said Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth Marci Ien.

Speaking with reporters on Parliament Hill, Ien said as the Canadian government waits to see what tangible measures Smith brings in, she won't speculate on what exactly could be done. Instead, she'll be heading on the road to consult those impacted before coming back to the federal cabinet with suggested ways to respond.

"We are going to look at every option that we have, and this is our NATO moment as an LGBTQ2S+ community. An attack on one of our communities is an attack on us all, and I need allies and champions to stand up," said Randy Boissonnault, the sole Alberta MP in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet.

"If there's ever been a time in this century, for people to stand up for the kind of Canada, the kind of Alberta we want, it's today." 

On Wednesday night, Smith released a seven-and-a-half-minute scripted social media video pre-positioning her plans to advance a series of changes around pronouns in schools and access to gender-affirming health care that go beyond what Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have put in place.

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

  • Require parental notification and consent for students aged 15 and under who want to change their names or pronouns at school, while for teens 16 and 17, the parents will be informed but do not need to consent;
  • Ban "top and bottom" gender-affirming surgeries for all Albertans ages 17 and under and ban hormone therapy for gender reassignment purposes for those aged 15 and under unless their treatment has already begun;
  • Require parental notification and an opt-in requirement when teachers intend to teach about LGBTQ2S+ issues such as gender and sexual identity; and
  • Implement restrictions around transgender women participating in women's sports, citing "safety" while suggesting an expanded co-ed or gender-neutral league for trans athletes as an alternative.

According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, "processes and age cut-offs for funding gender-affirming surgeries vary by province/territory in Canada," but generally, the kinds of surgical procedures Smith is seeking to restrict are rarely available to Canadians under the age of 18, following extensive medical and psychological consultation. 

Smith's office told CTV News that these proposals will be implemented through a combination of policy and legislation, to be announced by the Fall with the intention of implementation by the end of the year.

Asked on CTV News Channel's Power Play if the federal response will be ready by then, Ien said "she'll have a response." Boissonnault and Ien spent Wednesday night on the phone speaking to queer community members in Alberta who, Ien said after listening to video, despite its "soft tone" and "spa-like music" they feel less safe.

In the video, Smith said that she accepts all transgender Albertans, and wants to eliminate the discrimination they face.

Though, after discussions with her United Conservative Party caucus, she's decided that given the "often changing" emotions of Albertans aged 17 and younger, as premier she's "not comfortable" permitting "prematurely encouraging or enabling children to alter their very biology or natural growth, no matter how well intentioned."

Among the promises Smith has made, is to seek out specialized medical professionals to provide gender-affirming surgeries to adult Albertans, in Alberta. She's also vowed to "strictly" enforce child protection laws in cases where trans youth are rejected or abused by their parent.

Speaking to media in Alberta on Thursday afternoon, Smith doubled down on her position, asserting confidence that nothing her government is pursuing is against the law and rebuffing the rebukes from Ottawa.

"These are sensitive conversations involving children, and I hope we can de-politicize these issues as much as possible as we work through the process of implementing these policies," Smith said. "We're not stopping any covered service."

Health minister heading to Alberta

Asked to comment on Thursday morning during a press conference about new assisted dying legislation, federal Health Minister Mark Holland and Justice Minister Arif Virani also stopped short of committing to federal action, but both expressed their dismay.

"I'm deeply disturbed. The decision that was made by Alberta places kids at risk," Holland said Thursday. "Affirming gender, making sure that kids and families have the health care that they need on extremely sensitive issues, is so very important."

"I thought we were in a place in this country, where we were moving past this. It's extremely dangerous to engage in this kind of thing, which is, I think, playing politics when you're talking about children's lives."

The health minister said his first move is going to be heading to Alberta to speak with his provincial counterpart Health Minister Adriana LaGrange, face-to-face.

"I want to talk through these issues. I want to see if we can find a solution through talking, to really understand what this is going to mean, and the devastation that it's going to bring, so that we can find an offering," Holland said. "So, that's my first priority is to try through communicating."

Court challenge? Too soon: Virani

The federal ministers' comments come after a barrage of reaction overnight from LGBTQ2S+ advocates voicing fear over what they called the most restrictive anti-trans policies in the country.

Though, while groups like Egale Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have indicated intent to pursue legal action "to protect rights and freedoms of trans and gender diverse people in the province," if needed, the federal government isn't crossing that bridge, yet.

"That is a completely speculative question," Virani said. "They've announced what they're thinking about doing, they've not tabled anything, there's no legislation. There's nothing to be taken to court, I'm not going to speculate."

Virani said that as a dad, parents need to be able to have these conversations with their children.

"I think actually targeting that small minority for some political purpose in Alberta, as it seems that the premier is doing, is not becoming of her office, and is in fact actually targeting and perhaps even demonizing those children. We're not talking about their exploration of their sexuality when we're banning kids from a school yard, from a playground, or from a sports team."

An 'assault' on trans rights: advocate

Fae Johnstone, executive director of the Society of Queer Momentum said what Smith has proposed is "an egregious assault on the rights and freedoms of vulnerable young people and their families."

"This is a government interfering ideologically, in the provision of evidence-based health care, and stopping families from helping their kids access life-saving services that those young people need and deserve."

In an interview on CTV News Channel, Johnstone cautioned that if implemented, Smith's suite of measures could send trans and gender-diverse students back into the closet, or force them to come out before they know they'll be supported at home.

"We recognize that health interventions are not an option for every child, but they are necessary for some and it is irresponsible for a government to get between that young person, their family, and their provider."

NDP reacts, Conservatives yet to

Alberta Official Opposition Leader Rachel Notley held a press conference in Ottawa alongside federal NDP MPs on Thursday afternoon to respond to Smith's "policy and guidelines aimed at dismantling the human rights of transgender Albertans."

"Smith's new policy represents government interference in what should be a collaborative and private decision between parents, their child, and their doctor," Notley said, adding that this move is "designed to further divide those who have been subjected to misinformation and conspiracy theories."

Notley said her caucus will push Smith to reverse course, noting the provincial government's obligations under the Canada Health Act and Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

One of the MPs who appeared alongside Notley was Canada's first openly two-spirit member of Parliament Blake Desjarlais. In separate remarks to reporters, he called on Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre to speak up.

"He has remained completely absent from ensuring that his own Conservative counterparts in these provinces are told that they won't accept it. Silence is complicity," Desjarlais said.

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 restrict gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth and oppose the inclusion of trans women in women's spaces, such as on sports teams and in bathrooms.

To date, Poilievre has not said whether these are policies he'd campaign on, or would be pursued by a prospective federal Conservative government.

CTV News reached out to the Official Opposition leader's office for comment and has yet to receive a response. 

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