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Pronoun Coercion in Canada
Under activist pressure, a British Columbia court upends millennia of tradition.
By Bruce Bawer
Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
There are many places around the world where the current transgender madness has become fully institutionalized and caused extensive damage to the lives of confused young people. But one of the very worst jurisdictions, as far as sheer sanity is concerned, is the Canadian province of British Columbia.
A few months back I wrote about a postman in Vancouver who ended up in jail because he dared to protest when his troubled daughter, after talking with her school counselor, was launched, beginning at age twelve, and at first without his knowledge, on the now familiar path toward “gender-affirmation surgery” – that is, irreversible mutilation of her sexual organs.
But that postman’s story isn’t the only bonkers trans-related news from B.C. Last December, the provincial judiciary – acting on “guidance” from an activist body called the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community (SOGIC) – instructed lawyers that thenceforth, whenever they identified themselves to a judge in a courtroom, they would be expected to announce their pronouns of choice as well as the pronouns of their clients.
When an attorney named Shahdin Farsai submitted an article critical of this new policy to a Canadian law journal called The Advocate, the editors accepted it only to change their minds for fear that it would lead to a human-rights complaint. A shorter version of the piece later appeared in The Canadian Lawyer, but the editors, after receiving furious responses from readers, pulled the article from their website and posted an apology.
Farsai and other critics of the new policy then called for a debate about it at the annual meeting of the Law Society of British Columbia, which takes place today, October 5.
“There are three issues here,” says James Heller, one of the policy’s critics. “How the transgender activists in the bar managed to get the judges to do this in the first place, the wisdom or merit of the directives (or lack thereof), and the importance of at least keeping a ‘safe space’ for lawyers of all people to discuss this subject.”
Jordan Peterson, recalls Heller, first gained international attention with his opposition to Bill C 16 (2017), requiring Canadians to honor one another’s chosen pronouns. Peterson’s warning that the bill, if passed – and it did pass – would lead to situations beyond anyone’s imagining has now come true. “We’re deeper into Candyland,” says Heller, “where lawyers, and anyone coming into court, are forced to announce their own pronouns now. This is all an encroachment on common sense, not to mention the lawyer’s own sense of self and likewise his or her client’s. Most people are secure in how the world sees their gender or sexual identity and have no interest in pretending that that’s an uncertainty that must be continually addressed.”
Heller adds that “C 16 would not likely have passed if we had known just where this was leading. But the critical concern central to our resolution is that we must be able to talk about these things. We can’t have legal periodicals scared off from hosting essential discussions and debates in which lawyers consider issues, ruminate, persuade, and refine their understanding. That isn’t ‘hate speech,’ last time I looked.”
On October 1, CBC Radio broadcast a segment about the pronoun issue in B.C. courts. Host Gloria Macarenko had one guest: Margot Young, whom Macarenko identified as a law professor at the University of British Columbia.
In fact, Young is not just any law professor. Her bio at the university’s website identifies her as a teacher of “social justice law,” as “the Director of the Social Justice Specialization at the law school,” as a research associate with “the Centre for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at UBC,” as “co-editor of the collection Poverty: Rights, Social Citizenship and Legal Activist,” as “a member of the editorial boar[d] of the Canadian Journal of Women and Law” and an associate of “the Feminist Alliance for International Action.”
In other words, she’s not just a lawyer and law professor. She’s one of those hard-core academic activists who believe in using the law – twisting it, mangling it, turning it inside out and upside down – to advance radical causes.
In this case, the cause is transgender ideology.
Asked by Macarenko what this matter was about, Young characterized it as a matter so trivial that any protest was either frivolous or outright hateful. Lawyers, when introducing themselves in a court case, now have to state not only their names but also their pronouns, to wit: “I use she/her pronouns. My client uses he/she pronouns.” This, Young assured Macarenko, amounted to a “very minor change” that “gives the court important, key information” and “saves transgender or nonbinary people from…distressing misgendering.”
How then, asked Macarenko, can this new policy be criticized? Young professed to find it “hard to understand the criticism.” The complainants, she noted, describe the policy as an “infringement with free speech,” a “transgression of privacy,” and “an ideological move by the court.” But, she added, “if you ask me to explain – I just can’t.”
Macarenko laughed merrily. The message was already clear. To raise one’s voice in protest against this innovation was risible. Never mind that at no time in human history had people in courtrooms ever been compelled to announce their pronouns. Precedent is crucial in the practice of law; but in B.C. it had been swept aside tout de suite to accommodate a new trend backed by a powerful activist lobby.
Young took the oh-it’s-no-big-deal line: there are always “changes in language”; this new policy was just “catching up with what is a common-sense practice these days”; it was only about being “Inclusive and respectful of transgender and binary individuals.”
You might think that there’d already been years of intense worldwide conversation about this pronoun stuff, and that after endless back-and-forth the whole business had finally been more or less settled. But no: this new twist has happened virtually overnight, foisted on institutions by activists who plainly didn’t want the public to have a voice.
And it’s clear why. Most people have common sense. A man can’t be a woman. A woman can’t be a man. All the surgery in the world can’t change that.
To be sure, for a long time transsexuals had been a tiny minority, mostly content to be left alone. Most of them had had extensive surgery, were taking hormones regularly, and made an effort every day to look as much as possible like members of the opposite sex. They asked only to be referred to as members of that sex. As a rule, the rest of society went along. Not because anyone thought that, say, the famous travel writer Jan Morris, born James Morris, was really a woman, but because it seemed harmless to pretend that she was, just to be kind.
But this is no longer about being kind. Suddenly, in the last few years, everything changed. People who identify as transgender are no longer a vanishingly tiny minority. Identifying as the opposite sex is now a hot trend. Pronouns are no longer just pronouns – they’re markers of specialness. Today, men calling themselves women and women calling themselves men are all over the place. And they’re not asking to be left alone. They’re demanding that every longstanding institution, every centuries-old practice, every rule and regulation, be adjusted to account for their reality-defying claims of gender identity.
It’s supremely irrational. But somehow, in certain countries, and above all in the Anglosphere, buying into this madness has become the supreme hallmark of whether one is a member of the sophisticated elite or of the vulgar deplorables.
So it was that Macarenko, interviewing Young, laughed again. How could any civilized person protest such a plainly humane measure as the new pronoun rule?
She asked Young what the critics of the policy meant by “forced speech.” Young replied by calling that charge “trivial, silly.” As for the complaint that B.C. lawyers had not been consulted on the new policy, she countered that “the court did its job on consultation” by meeting “with marginalized communities” and “with some committee” (perhaps she meant the SOGIC).
Admittedly, the judiciary had chosen not to consult with potential critics of the new pronoun dispensation. And Young felt this was an entirely proper decision: “they have quite rightly refused to open up a broader conversation or debate over this.” Why? Because “some issues are not up for debate.” This, after all, was a matter of “human rights.”
And there you have it: an example of the slithery sleight of hand at the center of this entire movement. It’s all about “human rights” – case closed.
No, it’s not about “human rights.” It’s about reorganizing society around an ideology centered on sweeping identity claims that have no basis whatsoever in reality. It’s about transforming millennia of human practice to accommodate a bizarre, irrational craze whose promoters have consistently used intimidation tactics to stifle even the slightest open debate about it. Even to ask questions, they insist, is to show disrespect – or even to invite suicide.
Another B.C. lawyer, in another interview with another journalist about the new pronouns policy, added to the “human rights” argument another familiar claim: that to oppose any accommodation of trans people was to deny their very existence. “I’m afraid the resolution actually is an expression of suspicion about whether trans people are real,” attorney Adrienne Smith, who identifies as non-binary, told City News.
“I don’t think trans identity is something that should be debated,” said Smith. “I don’t think our entitlement to dignity and respect and human rights protection is something that should be debated.” But dignity and respect for an individual are one thing; accepting that individual’s claim to be a member of the opposite sex, and his or her demand that any number of social and legal conventions be upended on his or her account, is another.
Yet another B.C. attorney, Kyla Lee, wrote yesterday in Lawyers Daily that taking the arguments against the new policy to the logical extreme “would suggest that lawyers could permissibly debate the merits of slavery.” In other words, not having a court respect whatever pronouns you decided to use when you woke up this morning is comparable to involuntary servitude.
Echoing Young and Smith, Lee declared this matter “beyond debate.” They all want it to be beyond debate. Because this is a debate that, if held rationally among members of society at large, they would lose.
Toward the end of her interview with Macarenko, Young implied that critics of the new B.C. pronoun policy were guilty of “hate speech” – even though she admitted that she hadn’t “read either” of the articles about the policy by Farsai. Finally, as if what she’d already said hadn’t been disturbing enough, Young closed by charging that the critics of the new policy were, by doing so, taking inappropriate advantage of their freedom of speech – which, she declared, as if it were the most obvious of truths, has its limits.
Even at that point, Macarenko chose not to push back. As the interview wound up, one thing was clear: these two were a tag team. Their common purpose was to send out the message that this pronoun decree is the new orthodoxy. Today B.C., tomorrow the world: dissent at your peril! If you do, you’ll be laughed at, accused of hate speech – and, if the enforcers of the new orthodoxy get their way, worse. Much worse.