Ralliers call for changes to Saskatchewan Human Rights Code

Steve Silva, Global News, April 5, 2014

Dozens rallied in front of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building Saturday afternoon hoping to convince the provincial government to add terms to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code to ensure undeniable protection for the transgender community.

Specifically, they want “gender identity” and “gender expression” added to the definition of prohibited ground.

“We’re concerned about it. It should be much more specific and explicit, so their protections are there,” said David Forbes, Saskatoon Centre MLA and NDP critic for diversity, equality and human rights.

Saskatchewan Human Rights Commissioner David Arnot said transgender people are protected under the code, despite the code’s wording, because the Supreme Court of Canada has already established that definition should be interpreted “widely, broadly.”

Forbes isn’t fully convinced.

“It is open to interpretation, and there are many people who disagree that it’s protected,” said Forbes.

Arnot said he is talking to the trans community and is “open-minded” to the argument to change the code.

However, changing the code would be a complex issue, he argued.

“As soon as you start to narrowly define individuals or groups in any way, you may run the risk of leaving somebody out,” said Arnot on Friday.

When Miki Mappin came out as a female three years ago, some people had a hard time accepting her.

“The harassment got worse, to the point where I was actually accosted,” said Mappin, director for the Gender Equality Society of Saskatchewan.

Her troubles eventually led to a nervous breakdown, resulting in time away from work.

“It’s so hurtful. You start to feel terrible about yourself, like you try to tell yourself it’s not you, it’s them,” she said at the rally.

Mappin says many in the community support the cause but didn’t attend, fearing the personal and work repercussions of being discovered as trans people.

“One person wrote me…[She] said that she was feeling suicidal, and depressed, and she wishes wasn’t alive. It was so tragic to read that,” said Mappin.

While others are on her mind, the hopeful outcome of the rally was personal.

“It means that I can feel that I’m a valued part of society,” said Mappin.

Saturday is the last day of Trans Awareness Week in Saskatchewan.

Bullying Report Light on Action, Light on Details

The NDP is disappointed that the government’s bullying report has few details and little action described.

“The long wait for this report came with hope that Saskatchewan’s young people would see action to address bullying immediately,” said David Forbes, NDP critic for diversity, equality and human rights. “This government took far too much time to come back with far too little to protect kids and stop bullying.”

The NDP’s expectations for the report included concrete help for establishing gay-straight alliances in schools; an immediate action plan to investigate and stop cyberbullying; and concrete measures to help stop bullying before is starts. The NDP has pointed to other provinces’ models as adaptable for Saskatchewan.

The NDP also hoped that immediate actions would be announced today, since the government coordinated its response with the release of the report. Forbes pointed to the creation of an informational website – an action that could have been done already.

“Nothing in this report appears to give Saskatchewan kids safer schools tomorrow,” said Forbes.

David and the NDP response was featured in a number of News agents. Check out the stories below:

Bullying Report Falls Short, Says Opposition, Joe Couture, The Starphoenix, Nov 15, 2013
Global Evening News, November 14 2013
Sask Education Will See Changes as Report on Bullying is Released: NDP Says Changes Won’t Come Soon Enough, NewsTalk 908 CJME, November 14, 2013

Sask. Party’s outdated views challenged

A hallmark of the spring session of the provincial legislature, which wrapped up Thursday, was the NDP’s challenges to the Sask. Party to lay out its stand on critical social issues.

“Through the course of the spring we were surprised to discover that Sask. Party MLAs resisted  common sense ideas like providing information on gay-straight alliances to students, teachers and parents who want it,” said David Forbes, NDP critic for diversity, equality and human rights issues.

On the national Day of Pink, NDP Leader Cam Broten raised the common sense idea of putting information on gay-straight alliances on the Ministry of Education website. Gay-straight alliances are student-initiated clubs formed to give gay students a safe space, combat gay-bashing and dispel stereotypes. The idea was immediately rejected by Premier Brad Wall, who instead turned to rhetoric about religious freedom.

Danielle Chartier, NDP critic for the status of women, and the NDP MLAs were also disappointed to discover the truth behind the Sask. Party’s report on women appointed to Crown and agency boards. Sask. Party MLA Jennifer Campeau was given a year to look into why the Sask. Party appoints disproportionately far more men to the province’s boards – but the NDP discovered that the result of her work was a simple list of 61 names of women, only a handful of whom have since been appointed.

“The Sask. Party proved they just don’t get it,” said Chartier. “A list of women, collected at an expensive lunch event or two, is not a solution to the fact that women make up less than 30 per cent of those the Sask. Party chooses to give important appointments to. The people of Saskatchewan expected a full report and an honest discussion. A piece of paper with a few names on it is insulting to the many thousands of intelligent and capable women of the province.”

The Sask. Party was also out of step with Saskatchewan people on the issue of standardized testing in schools. While other jurisdictions in Canada and world-wide move away from the old-fashioned notion of standardized testing in every grade, the Sask. Party unveiled a massive, multi-million dollar plan to test every student and release the results.

“The Sask. Party government is decades behind in its thinking on education,” said Forbes, who is also the NDP’s education critic and a teacher. “Shelling out millions for testing and data collection so that third parties can compare schools and classrooms – that’s not helping students.”