British Columbia

B.C. government replaces 600 clauses in 70 laws and regulations with gender neutral terms

The B.C. government has made sweeping changes to language used across 15 ministries.

Inclusivity advocates say it's a step towards social acceptance and legal clarity

The B.C. government introduced sweeping changes to replace gendered language with non-gendered alternatives in provincial laws and regulations. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

For years now, Brynn Hanks has been quietly correcting gendered pronouns, replacing "she" and "he" with "they."

In the 15 years since Hanks has been out as a queer trans man, the northern B.C. resident has seen society slowly shift its language and attitudes.

"I think it signals to everyone that diversity of our strength." Hanks told CBC Radio One.

Now, the B.C. government has made sweeping changes to language used across 15 ministries.

"Anyone who's felt discrimination or seen themselves excluded will immediately see why this is important and why words matter," Ravi Kahlon, B.C.'s minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation, told CBC News.

"I think we owe it to everyone in B.C. to reframe the language we use, to ensure gender inclusivity in both our language and also in the policies."

On Wednesday, an order-in-council replaced more than 600 instances of gendered language in 70 B.C. laws and regulations, including the Family Law Act and Employment Standards.

Pronouns, like "he" or "she," have been updated with gender-neutral alternatives. Familial relationships, like "sister" and "brother" will use "sibling."

"Husband" and "wife" is replaced by "spouse" and gendered terms like "man-made" will be termed "human-made."

Kahlon says the change goes beyond political values or symbolic inclusion. He says gender-neutral language can also eliminate ambiguity in the law.

"In many of the cases ... it left the regulations open for interpretation. We found ways to address that but also have certainty in the regulation."

The NDP government is planning to review and remove a remaining estimated 3,400 instances of gendered language in regulations and legislation.

People may prefer pronouns that don't fit with preconceptions of what that gender looks like. (Alice Che/Shutterstock)

Jasmeet Wahid, a family lawyer and partner at Kahn Zack Ehrlich Lithwick LLP,  is welcoming the changes.

"It makes complete sense," she said. "Language is powerful."  

Wahid litigated a high-profile transgender rights case to the B.C. Court of Appeal, A.B. v. C.D., which concerned a child's consent to gender-affirming care.

"The fact that we are doing this, that we're normalizing it, from my perspective is significant," Wahid said. "For those people that are troubled by it, perhaps they don't appreciate the significance around language or the struggles for inclusivity."  

B.C. courts have also recently introduced a policy asking lawyers to provide preferred pronouns during hearings.

Inclusivity advocate Brynn Hanks spoke to CBC Radio One about B.C. government's decision to replace gendered language in provincial laws and regulations. (Faith Fundal, CBC)

For Brynn Hanks, inclusion and recognition of gender identity remains a long and ongoing process.

"It's a great start," he said. "[But I] don't think it's enough to erase the kinds of history that trans people have experienced in Canada in general and in our community."  

Rather than focus on individual identity, he takes comfort from First Nation colleagues he works with and Indigenous values and culture of community:  speaking as "we" and "us," instead of "I."

"I'm really looking forward to the day when our laws and guidelines are more inclusive of us as a collective, instead of individuals."

(As a policy, CBC's language guide adopts pronouns used by a person or reflects how the person lives publicly.)

To learn more about gender identity, listen to They & Us, a CBC British Columbia original podcast hosted by Faith Fundal.

Find more at cbc.ca/theyandus and subscribe on  CBC ListenAppleGoogleSpotify or however you like to listen.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said the B.C. Court of Appeal "ruled that acts of misgendering and trying to discourage the child from seeking gender treatment amounted to family violence." In fact, this was the decision of a previous court trial and was overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal.
    Mar 12, 2021 12:16 PM PT

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