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Poilievre confirms he opposes puberty blockers for kids under 18

Prime Minister Trudeau says Conservative leader wants to take away rights
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre talks to media at a party caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb.7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The political battle lines over gender identity came into sharper focus Wednesday as Pierre Poilievre came out against treating young people with puberty blockers — a position that prompted a broadside from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Conservative leader wants to take away the rights of parents and kids alike, Trudeau said after Poilievre finally clarified his stance on the controversial course of gender-affirming therapy.

Transgender children are much more likely to attempt suicide, Trudeau said, and governments should not be contemplating ways to take away their medical options.

The prime minister also took a swipe at Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, who announced plans last week to ban puberty blockers and hormone therapy for children 15 and younger who have not already begun such treatments.

Taking those options away from families and their doctors “is anchored in ideology and is not about protecting the most vulnerable,” Trudeau said before question period.

“Our government will do whatever it takes to protect the most vulnerable.”

Puberty blockers, as they’re known, are used to prevent the body from producing the sex hormones that fuel both male and female development.

The Alberta Medical Association has released statements voicing concern over Smith’s policies, saying transgender and gender-diverse youth who lack access to such care face an increased risk of depression and suicide.

Smith also proposes rules that would require parental consent for kids 15 and under who want to go by a different name or pronoun at school. Teens aged 16 and 17 would be able to make such changes without permission, but schools would have to notify their guardians.

The proposals have spurred protests in Alberta and Ottawa and drawn condemnation from Liberal politicians including Trudeau, who accuse Smith of pushing an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.

The proposition also triggered a barrage of media questions for Poilievre this week about his views on gender-affirming medical treatments for transgender youth.

Asked directly on Wednesday whether he opposes the use of puberty blockers for gender-diverse youth under the age of 18, Poilevre said, “Yes.”

“We should protect children and their ability to make adult decisions when they’re adults,” he said.

For months, the federal Conservative leader has said he supports the rights of parents to raise their children as they wish, and urged Trudeau to “butt out” of provincial decisions about schools and hospitals.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs was the first provincial leader to change the notification policy in schools for gender-diverse children wishing to go by a different name or pronoun. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe followed his lead last fall.

Poilievre said it’s the prime minister who is attacking families who are trying to protect their kids.

“He will, in the end, back down on this,” he said.

“I think we should protect the rights of parents to make their own decisions with regards to their children, and I believe that adults should have the freedom to make any decision they want about their bodies.”

Liberal cabinet minister Randy Boissonnault, an openly gay MP who represents an Edmonton riding, paused before the party’s weekly caucus meeting Wednesday to deride Poilievre’s position.

The decision to use puberty blockers should be based on a conversation between a young person and their doctor, Boissonnault said.

“I don’t see M.D. after Pierre Poilievre’s name or Danielle Smith’s,” he said. “So, not their business.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh struck a similar tone, saying health-care decisions should involve an individual and their doctor: “Based on evidence, based on science, based on best practices and not based on the opinion of Pierre Poilievre.”

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommended in a position statement last summer that health care providers should adopt an affirming approach to care for all children and youth and advocate for “timely access to specialized gender-related care.”

The recommendations included ensuring that providers be sufficiently familiar with gender-affirming hormone therapy to discuss benefits and risks of that kind of intervention or ensure timely referral to people who can offer that advice.

The executive director of Egale Canada, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, said Poilievre and Smith are “playing politics with some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Helen Kennedy said in a written statement that the policy positions run counter to expert guidance, violate the constitutional rights of LGBTQ+ people and “will lead to irreparable harm and suffering.”

Since becoming leader, Poilievre has tried to keep his party focused on cost-of-living issues and crime — two areas the party sees as core to a winning strategy.

Some of his supporters, however, have pressed him to veer further into the debate around how schools handle issues of gender diversity and sexual orientation among their students.

At last year’s policy convention in Quebec City, grassroots party members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution that calls on a future Conservative government to prohibit “medicinal or surgical interventions” for gender-diverse and transgender children.

Poilievre has yet to say whether he has any plans to ink that party policy into a future election platform.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, support is available 24/7 by calling or texting 988, the national suicide prevention helpline.

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