“It’s extremely dangerous to engage in this kind of thing, which I think is playing politics when you’re talking about children’s lives.”

Smith said her government is introducing policies that will include requiring parental consent for students 15 and under who want to change their names or pronouns at school.

Students 16 and 17 would not need consent, but their parents would have to be notified.

Smith also said there would be restrictions around hormone therapy and surgery for transgender teens and  participation in sports for transgender females.

Federal Justice Minister Arif Virani said it was too soon to comment on court challenges to Alberta’s policies.

“They’ve announced what they’re thinking about doing. They’ve not tabled anything. There’s no legislation,” said Virani, standing alongside Holland.

He agreed with Holland’s concerns that Smith is putting vulnerable children at risk.

“I’m a dad. Mark’s a dad,” said Virani.

“Parents have these conversations all the time with children. They need to be able to have those conversations with children. 

“Sometimes children don’t feel empowered to have those conversations, (but) that’s a small amount of children around the country and even smaller amounts in Alberta. 

“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.”

Smith announced the changes in a video posted to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and said they came after discussions with her United Conservative Party caucus.

She was set to hold a news conference later Thursday to discuss the changes.

LGBTQ advocacy groups harshly criticize the changes.

Egale Canada and Skipping Stone Foundation said in a joint statement they would bring legal action if Alberta moves ahead.

Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich, a law professor specializing in children’s rights, said her main concern is the changes deal with a group of children who are already the subject of mental health issues, depression, violence and bullying.

Her secondary concern is that it’s political dog whistling, she said.

“It’s a new way to be homophobic,” Jaremko Bromwich, with Carleton University, said in an interview.

“People get more nuanced and subtle with their language as the discourse progresses.

“I’m cynical about the extent to which it is, you know, politicking. And it is at the expense of vulnerable children.”

Jaremko Bromwich said the rhetoric around parental rights is similar to what has been said in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

Those two provinces brought in similar rules last year requiring parental consent for students to change their names or pronouns, but with the age set at 16 and under.

The Saskatchewan and New Brunswick governments, which are facing court challenges over their policies, have said they made the changes after hearing from many parents.

Harini Sivalingam with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which is challenging New Brunswick’s pronoun policy, said Alberta’s changes are a “clear and blatant attack on freedom.”

“We are closely monitoring the developments in Alberta and support advocacy efforts to use all legal tools available to protect rights and freedoms of trans and gender diverse people in the province and across Canada,” Sivalingam said in a release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Feb. 1, 2024.

Colette Derworiz and Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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