Former Saskatchewan human rights commissioner Heather Kuttai says she spoke with her son before she decided to resign on Monday over the province’s proposed pronoun legislation.
Her son, who’s transgender, told her not to go quietly.
“That was kind of my light, I think,” Kuttai told The Canadian Press. “We all hear those stories, but this one, when it came to light, it really stung. It felt personal for one thing.”
Kuttai announced her resignation Monday in a letter to Premier Scott Moe.
She said children’s rights must take precedence over parental obligations.
“The assault on human rights of children really drove it home for me and my family,” Kuttai said in the interview. “I realized I couldn’t continue to be a part of a system that fundamentally is anti-trans.”
She said if the province passes the legislation with the notwithstanding clause, “Saskatchewan will no longer be a place that takes care of all its kids.”
“This is the only province in Canada where the rights of 2SLGBTQ+ kids are not the same as other children in this country,” she said. “We’re all born into this country with rights. That’s part of what makes this country great. We don’t own our kids.”
The province announced in the summer a policy requiring consent for pronoun and name changes in schools for students under 16.
Lawyers for UR Pride, a Regina LGBTQ organization, sought an injunction until a challenge could be heard in court later this year. It argued the policy violates Charter rights and could cause teachers to out or misgender children.
A judge granted an injunction at the end of September.
Last week, the Saskatchewan Party government introduced legislation containing the policy, along with the notwithstanding clause, overriding sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Saskatchewan’s Human Rights Code.
Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre said she’s sorry to learn of Kuttai’s resignation and would be reading the letter.
“People have different views on this issue, and lawyers have different views on this issue,” Eyre told reporters.
“Do parents as non-human-rights experts have a right to have views on this issue? I will say parents are citizens, too. And we’ve heard from thousands of them.”
Kuttai said research shows LGBTQ youth face a higher risk of abuse, violence and mental-health harm.
It’s a mistake to put teachers in a position of outing a child before they are ready, and it’s harmful to misgender a child, she said.
“I can’t understand why you and your government would want to be responsible for a system that brings harm to children,” she asked Moe in the letter.
The legislation says that if it’s believed a student would be harmed because of the consent requirement, the school’s principal is to direct the student to a counsellor. The counsellor would then develop a plan with the student to help them make a request to their parent to get consent.
Kuttai said the suggestion children will get all the counselling they need in schools is unrealistic, noting schools lack resources to help all children.
She said her son’s coming out was a difficult process, even though he felt confident his parents would love him.
“One of the reasons he is now out, and thriving, is because of the support he received at school,” Kuttai said in the letter. “I hate to think of what would have happened if he had not had that support.”
Kuttai is one of Saskatchewan’s six human rights commissioners. She said her resignation is effective immediately.
“I cannot tell you the depth of my disappointment in the government I have worked for and supported for the last nine years, but I promise you that my efforts as a community builder and activist will only become stronger because of this enormous letdown.”
She said she texted her son Monday of her resignation.
“I said, ‘I guess you’re really out now,’ ” Kuttai said with a laugh.
“I’m sure he will be pleased that, on some level, his mom stood up for him and his trans brothers and sisters. I had to be able to ensure that my son, both of my sons, know what side of the fence I sat on.”
Opposition NDP Leader Carla Beck commended Kuttai for her courage and remarks.
“I would call upon the government to pause and listen to what is going on here,” Beck said. “It’s time for sober second thought. It’s time for them to pull away from their agenda.”
Moe previously said the policy had strong support from the majority of Saskatchewan residents and parents.
Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill added Monday that the government decided to act when Regina Public Schools changed its policy so parents would not be informed of a child’s pronoun changes.
Cockrill said “multiple individuals” informed the government in 2022 of the division’s new policy.
The government took nine days to draft its pronoun policy in August and released it to the public four days later.