Adopting gender-neutral terms 'step in the right direction' for Service Canada

The news that the federal government is directing Service Canada employees to refrain from using common pronouns and use gender-neutral terms in their place was welcomed by a Charlottetown advocacy group.

PEERS Alliance director says it's a basic level of respect to ask people how they want to be referred to

Service Canada's front-line staff must now use 'gender-neutral language or gender-inclusive language,' according to a directive obtained by CBC Radio-Canada. (Shutterstock)

The news that the federal government is directing Service Canada employees to refrain from using common pronouns and use gender-neutral terms in their place was welcomed by a Charlottetown advocacy group.

The new guidelines rule out using honorifics such as Mr., Mrs., and Ms., and terms such as mother and father because they are "gender specific" and say the neutral word "parent" should be used instead. Employees can still use those terms if that's what the caller prefers.

Employees are being directed to address customers by their full names or ask them what they want to be called. Service Canada helps Canadians connect with a variety of government programs, including Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security.

Matter of respect

The directive is a measure of respect for Canada's diverse population, said Cybelle Rieber, executive director of the PEERS Alliance.

"I think it's a great step in the right direction that our government is moving toward ensuring that the diverse populations that are part of Canada are being recognized and that there's space being made to ensure everyone can access the services they need without having to go through really uncomfortable or difficult processes to get there," she told CBC News: Compass.

'It's a great step in the right direction,' says Cybelle Rieber, executive director of the PEERS Alliance. (CBC)

She noted that when people are referred to incorrectly, it can be triggering and can cause real harm and anxiety to individuals.

"Ultimately the most respectful thing we can do as service providers is ask people how they want to be referred to," she said.

Province to follow?

She would like to see the health-care system adopt a similar directive so that people can avoid uncomfortable situations.

"Our language changes all the time, it's just a matter of time before that becomes what people expect," she said.

As for the provincial government issuing a similar policy, she said she doesn't see it happening yet. But, she said they're moving in that direction and hopes to see it happen in the coming years.

"Ensuring that we're asking and referring to people as they want to be referred to is just a basic level of respect."

More P.E.I. News

With files from CBC News: Compass

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