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UCP plans public consultation on transgender policy changes

Provincial minister Devin Dreeshen says government officials want to ensure they ‘get all these policies right.’
Devin Dreeshen, minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors and MLA for the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake riding, said all Albertans, including those in Innisfail and Sylvan Lake, will have opportunities this year to add their voices and comments to the provincial government's plan to change transgender policies. Submitted photo

INNISFAIL – Amidst growing controversy over the provincial government’s plan to change transgender policies, UCP cabinet minister Devin Dreeshen says there will be full public engagement before the issue is officially tabled in the legislature this fall.

“There will be engagement with Albertans on making sure we get all these policies right,” said Dreeshen, who is also the MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, in a recent interview with the Albertan.

Dreeshen noted the proposed changes affecting transgender and non-binary youth and adults that were announced by Premier Danielle Smith on Jan. 31 were “quite comprehensive with 10 aspects to changes”, resulting in a government decision not to proceed with legislative action until the fall.

“That was intentional to make sure we could double land in the right spot on this,” said Dreeshen.

He emphasized that while the government has also been focused on the preparation of its 2024 budget, which will be dropped on Feb. 29, citizens will soon have opportunities to add their voices and input into a consultation process for the planned transgender policy changes.

“It’s coming soon, whether it's through education, health or the minister of sport; those types of forums and engagement. It's coming,” said Dreeshen. “Between now and in the fall there will be that opportunity for local people in Innisfail and Sylvan Lake to have their say.”

The UCP’s sweeping changes include the banning of top and bottom gender reassignment surgeries for minors aged 17 and under.

If the policy becomes law the new rules will forbid access to puberty blockers and hormone therapy for gender reassignment or affirmation for youth 15 years of age and under, except for those already undergoing treatment.

The plan will also restrict the young from changing their birth names or pronouns at school. Any child under the age of 15 will have to adhere to parental notification and consent.

A new legislated policy under Smith will also ban transgender female athletes from participating in competitive women’s sports; forcing them to play in special and separate gender-neutral or coed divisions.

These proposed changes by Smith and the UCP have already raised the eyebrows of legal experts who say they could violate the rights of the young under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

There has also been strong condemnation from the Alberta Medical Association.

“Medical practices are a safe place for children, youth and families to explore options around gender-affirming treatments,” said a one-page statement issued on Feb.1 by the Alberta Medical Association’s Section of Pediatrics. “This is a medical decision, and no one should be involved except the child, their parents if the child is not a mature minor, the physician (pediatrician or family/rural physician) and other health-care team members.

“The doctor-patient relationship is inviolable and sacrosanct. Full stop,” added the statement. “The mental health of these children and youth will be markedly worse when denied care. These new medical restrictions single them out and reinforce stigma.”

But the UCP is holding firm on its planned proposed changes.

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre UCP MLA Jason Nixon said in a statement to the Albertan that the provincial  government is introducing the policies to preserve the choices children and youth have before making potentially life-altering and often irreversible adult decisions.

"Parents have the best interests of their children at heart, and know their kids better than anyone,” said Nixon in his statement. “Alberta’s government is making it clear through these policies that children will be protected, and parents will be involved in their children’s lives."

Dreeshen said these proposed policies “come from a place of compassion and love” and that parental rights are paramount.

“Obviously, parents are the caregivers of their children,” said Dreeshen. “Anything that goes on in the child's life that a parent is not aware of, those parental rights are being protected.

“There are extreme cases where parents are not that loving and caring… but those are obviously the small minority of cases,” added Dreeshen. “The vast majority of parents are loving and caring, and we want to make sure they are informed and aware of what goes on in their child's life, especially during a difficult time of their young kids.”

Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills UCP MLA Nathan Cooper did not immediately respond to an Albertan request for comment.

- With files from Simon Ducatel


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