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Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Transgender women should not be allowed in women’s change rooms and public washrooms, federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says.

But the Official Opposition Leader said Wednesday that, as prime minister, he would not have the reach to introduce legislation implementing a ban.

The issue was raised by a Rebel News reporter at a news conference in a Kitchener, Ont., health food store.

Mr. Poilievre also said women’s sports should be off limits to transgender athletes. “Female spaces should be exclusively for females, not for biological males,” he said. “Female sports, female change rooms, female bathrooms should be for females.”

But he noted many of those spaces are provincially and municipally controlled. “So it is unclear what reach federal legislation would have to change them,” Mr. Poilievre said.

The Conservative Leader’s comments align with a policy endorsed at the party’s convention in Quebec City last fall.

The resolution on “protecting female sports, intimate spaces and women’s rights” included the text: “The Conservative Party of Canada believes that women are entitled to the safety, dignity and privacy of single-sex spaces (e.g. prisons, shelters, locker rooms, washrooms) and the benefits of women-only categories (e.g. sports, awards, grants, scholarships).”

Pollster Nik Nanos said the Conservative Leader faces political peril wandering into such subjects.

“Pierre Poilievre is working to try to keep together the coalition of change that includes a diversity of interests including Canadians worried about the cost of living, those who think Canada is broken and also social Conservatives,” the chief data scientist of Nanos Research said in a statement.

“The challenge is that when he weighs in on social issues it puts the rest of his coalition at risk.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced Mr. Poilievre’s remarks during a news conference in Edmonton.

Mr. Trudeau said Mr. Poilievre and politicians like him are very good at creating division, anger and wedges between people, but terrible at putting forward any concrete solutions to challenges that Canadians are facing.

He said the Conservative Leader would “rather pick a fight with trans kids,” but that he, as prime minister, would rather do whatever is possible to protect vulnerable people in Canada.

“That’s what Canadians expect,” he said. “I am not going to get dragged into culture wars about this when the fact is Canadians expect their governments to roll up their sleeves and deliver for them, and that’s what we’re doing.”

While in Edmonton, Mr. Trudeau met with members of Alberta’s LGBTQ community. The gathering was prompted in response to Premier Danielle Smith’s proposal to roll back access to medical treatments for transgender youth, prevent transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports and require educators to inform parents if their child wants to change their pronouns or name at school.

Mr. Poilievre offered support this month for Alberta’s controversial policy, endorsing the province’s move to stop treating young people with puberty blockers.

In people assigned male at birth, puberty blockers limit the growth of male genitalia and prevent the voice from deepening. In people assigned female at birth, the blockers limit breast development and stop menstruation.

Finn St Dennis, the research and evaluation manager at the Queer and Trans Health Collective, said the Edmonton-based organization requested emergency funding from the federal government for groups providing support to LGBTQ people in the wake of Alberta’s proposal.

“We’re absolutely seeing a demand for support,” said Mx. St Dennis, who declined to discuss what the Prime Minister said at the meeting.

Kristopher Wells, the Canada Research Chair in the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth, said about 10 members of the LGBTQ community attended the gathering.

Alberta MP Randy Boissonnault, who has spoken of his experiences as a gay person as he levelled criticism of the Alberta policies, played host to the meeting, which lasted more than an hour.

“This is about human rights, and the need for all of us Canadians to defend human rights,” Mr. Wells said of the meeting. He declined to detail what Mr. Trudeau told the group, but said community members made requests for support and shared personal stories.

Mr. Wells accused Mr. Poilievre of transphobia and said the Opposition Leader’s comments reflect how misunderstood transgender people are in Canada.

The language around the debate, Mr. Wells said, reminds him of how people discussed gay and lesbian issues decades ago when he said they were seen largely as criminals, deviants and outcasts.

“And here we are, we’re hearing a lot of the same rhetoric that we heard 40 years ago, but now just changed to apply to trans people,” Mr. Wells said.

“Why is Poilievre so concerned about what’s in people’s pants rather than what’s in their hearts?” Mr. Wells asked.

Saskatchewan and New Brunswick last year introduced policies requiring parental consent before schools use the preferred name or pronouns of students younger than 16.

In Toronto, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, asked about Mr. Poilievre’s comments, said the Conservative Leader is sidestepping the main threat to women, which is violent men.

As a result he noted that women have asked for funding for shelters so they can escape the dangers of domestic violence.

The NDP Leader said Mr. Poilievre voted against such funding in December as the Conservatives protested against Liberal policies on carbon pricing by forcing MPs into non-stop voting. “He’s not serious about actually protecting women,” he said.

With a report from Laura Stone in Toronto

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