Members of the Anglophone East district education council have waded into a debate over New Brunswick’s policy on LGBTQ students in schools, with one member calling Premier Blaine Higgs’s comments on the issue “deplorable.”
“I know it’s recent news, it just came out, but the premier’s comments regarding Policy 713 tonight are absolutely deplorable,” Dominic Vautour said during the council’s meeting Tuesday evening in Moncton.
It was one of a series of comments by Anglophone East council members, who oversee a district in the southeast region of the province with more than 18,000 students, that criticized the government and its approach to education.
Vautour’s comments came as the council voted to send a letter to Education Minister Bill Hogan urging the preservation of the policy in place since 2020.
Earlier in the day, New Brunswick’s child and youth advocate released a report critical of the province’s review of the policy.
Kelly Lamrock said the review appeared to be the result of three emails over 30 months, a significantly smaller number than the “hundreds” of complaints Hogan and Higgs have claimed the government has received.
Higgs spoke to reporters for nearly 20 minutes at the legislature Tuesday to defend the review.
He said parents should be informed by schools if children under the age of 16 want to adopt a different name and pronoun at school.
The premier also said he doesn’t think elementary and kindergarten children should attend drag queen storytime events, asking if schools are to promote something instead of teaching.
‘You can count us as thousands’
Vautour said in an interview after the meeting that there are children who don’t feel safe expressing their identity to their parents.
“For us to put an age limit where the parent is contacted if a child decides to speak to a guidance counselor to join an alliance group, or whatever it may be that would be outing that child to the parents, which may be hostile,” Vautour said.
“We’ve seen it time and time again in other jurisdictions and other countries, how harmful it can be to the children.”
The Premier’s Office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.
Council members voiced a series of remarks critical of Hogan’s claim about the number of complaints that led to the review launched in April.
“Minister Hogan, there are 11 of us,” Ian Hebblethwaite, another council member, said of the group’s support for keeping Policy 713. “You can count us as thousands.”
“Can we talk about numeracy now?” member Kristin Cavoukian said followed by laughs in the room.
“Obviously, numeracy has failed some people in this province,” Vautour said, going on to speak about the premiere.
Superintendent Randy MacLean told the district council would continue to strive to create safe spaces for students.
Legal challenge of council powers planned
It was the second topic in which council members were highly critical of the province’s approach. Earlier, they voted to hire legal representation to challenge Bill 46.
The bill introduced last week would eliminate decision-making authority at four anglophone school districts, but preserve it with francophone districts.
“This is important,” Hebblethwaite said ahead of the unanimous vote. “It’s about local representation. The government is proposing to remove that.”
Multiple council members said the province appeared to want to centralize power in Fredericton after a fight over changes to French immersion in the anglophone sector.
They suggested reducing the power of councils to make decisions could see controversial changes made without local input.
“We become a consultative body that can be ignored,” Cavoukian said.
The vote was a concrete step toward a formal legal challenge the four anglophone districts threatened to launch in a news release last week.
It wasn’t clear whether the other councils would also vote to hire a lawyer.