Nova Scotia

Halifax parents of gender-diverse children say they're upset by Conservative convention vote

Some parents in Halifax are expressing concern after delegates at the recent federal Conservative Party policy convention voted in favour of a proposal limiting health care for transgender and gender-diverse children.

Policy proposal banning some gender-affirming care for children passed with 69% of vote

A person with shoulder-length hair, a necklace and glasses looks to the side. Behind her are trees, grass and bushes.
Cynthia Sweeney is the parent of a transgender child and leads the Halifax chapter of Pflag Canada, a charity that supports families with LGBTQ children. (Andrew Lam/CBC)

Parents in Halifax are expressing concern after delegates at the federal Conservative Party policy convention voted in favour of a proposal prohibiting "life-altering medicinal or surgical interventions" for transgender and gender-diverse children.

Michelle Badalich, a delegate who spoke in favour of the proposal said, "gender dysphoria ... requires therapy, not irreversible procedures — please protect our kids." The proposal passed with 69 per cent of the vote, however it's not clear what types of health care would be targeted.

"As a parent, it's upsetting," said Cynthia Sweeney, whose child is transgender and transitioned in elementary school. She said gender-affirming care — health care which supports a person's gender identity — can reduce feelings of depression and save the lives of trans children.

"Protecting [children] is helping them to be … the best version of themself that they can be," Sweeney said.

And although the policy was adopted at the convention, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre does not have to include it, or any other adopted policy, into a future election platform.

"I feel very frightened for my child," said Bénédicte Wiggett, who is the parent of a gender-fluid child.

A person with hair just past shoulder-length is wearing earrings and has a serious expression.
Bénédicte Wiggett is the parent of a gender-fluid child. (Submitted by Bénédicte Wiggett)

Sweeney said gender-affirming care is not something a child can access instantly. "It's a long, exploratory process that empowers children to explore their gender identity," she said.

What care is available in Nova Scotia

In Nova Scotia, children under 18 have access to a range of gender-affirming care depending on their age and circumstances. And the care doesn't have to be medical in nature. 

"Often people are only thinking about medical or surgical [treatment]," said IWK child and adolescent psychiatrist Sue Zinck. "But really, gender-affirming care begins with helping a family and a youth … have all their needs met and so there's no age limit on being referred to, for example, the gender-care team at the IWK."

Puberty blockers are another type of gender-affirming care which temporarily stops the progression of puberty, providing a child with more time to explore their identity — for example through clothing or with family — and to seek any supports they may need. 

Zinck said the blockers are available to children who have reached an early stage of puberty which is different for every child.  

A person with mid-length hair and glasses looks at the camera with a neutral expression. Behind them is a garden with flowers and rocks.
Sue Zinck is an associate professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University, and is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the IWK. (Andrew Lam/CBC)

When it comes to hormone therapy, the timing also depends on a child's needs, but generally could begin at age 13 or 14.

For gender-affirming surgery, the province's policy states that an individual must be 18 years or older at the time of the procedure, among other requirements. Certain surgeries are available with an exemption application if a teenager is at least 16.

Ultimately, Zinck said there is a measured approach leading up to providing any gender-affirming medical care to youth and children. For example, a child who has only been out as transgender for a short time may need to wait a few years to access hormone therapy.

The progress Pride flag, which includes stripes to highlight transgender people and people of colour, is flown on a flag pole with trees behind.
Children in Nova Scotia have access to a range of gender-affirming care which can include support and transition advice. (Andrew Lam/CBC)

And medical evidence shows that gender-affirming care makes a difference for transgender and gender-diverse children, she said.

"For [children] … who have accessed puberty blocking care," Zinck said, "they have better outcomes with regard to showing less disruptive behaviour, less distress, better ability to focus and attend school."

Meanwhile for teenagers and adolescents going into adulthood, she said gender-affirming care can reduce gender dysphoria and improve mental health. 

"What you also see is ability for them to move through the world as themselves," Zinck said, "which has kind of hard to measure knock-on effects that are showing up as improved self-esteem and improved ability to … build the connections that they're looking for."

Federal role

Jane O'Neill, who has been a lawyer for 25 years and is a member of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party, said a federal government could possibly limit access to gender-affirming care through the Criminal Code. 

"They'd have to criminalize providing gender-affirming care," O'Neill said, because health care falls within provincial jurisdiction.

O'Neill said she doesn't see how such a law could be compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, a federal government could use the notwithstanding clause of the charter — which provincial governments have invoked in recent years — to pass the law.


Andrew Lam

Reporter/Associate Producer

Andrew Lam (they/she) is a Chinese-Canadian and trans reporter for CBC Nova Scotia. They are interested in 2SLGBTQIA+, labour and data-driven stories. Andrew also has a professional background in data analytics and visualization.

With files from The Canadian Press