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  • Sarah Tremblay

Lost in Transition: How Our Duty Canada is Fighting to Protect Children's Rights

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

by Sarah Tremblay

**Although my child identifies as a boy, I use female pronouns in this article for clarity and to highlight the fact that this phenomenon currently affects mostly natal girls. It also reflects my personal belief that this is very much a feminist issue.

This letter is very difficult for me to write. There is something that I have been carrying inside me for a long time, and really need you to know. I hope that you will support me. I am non-binary. My chosen name is Sam, and my pronouns are they/them.”

I recognized the handwriting as my daughter’s, but the words did not sound like her. The letter went on to tell me that she “always knew she was different,” she “finally understood why,” and she “needed to live as her authentic self.”

She was 12 years old.

This is how my four-year journey with my trans-identified child began. In retrospect, I wish that I had felt more alarmed the day she handed me that letter before running out the door to catch the bus for school. But as I read the letter, I did not feel particularly alarmed. I felt mostly confused and somewhat concerned. My daughter had always seemed like a typical pre-teen girl. She was highly intelligent and somewhat socially awkward, but she had friends and absolutely loved school. She also loved music, reading, clothing and anything with glitter. She could sometimes be secretive, moody and defiant, but that seemed normal to me for her age. Overall, she was happy and full of life, spreading her quirky wit and sense of humour everywhere she went. She was absolutely beautiful in her own unique way, and I loved every minute of being her mother.

When I talked to her later that day about the letter and tried to get a sense of what “non-binary” meant to her, she said she “just did not feel like other girls.” She felt “different.” She liked hanging around with boys at school. She wanted to cut her hair short and wear more masculine clothes. We talked about stereotypes, and I emphasized that she was free to dress and wear her hair however she liked, and free to be friends with whomever she wanted – boys or girls. We had never enforced sex-based stereotypes in our home. We had always stood firmly against them.

She also told me her new name and pronouns were important to her, and she wanted me to start using them. This change seemed so big and so sudden. In my gut, it did not feel right. I did not say “no,” but I told her I needed time to give it some thought. I began to look for a therapist who worked with youth. I was concerned that my daughter, who had always seemed happy to be a girl, was suddenly expressing this ambivalence. However, I also thought it might be normal and that she was probably not the only preteen girl with struggling with this issue. I was confident that a good therapist could help her work through her feelings.

Looking back to that day, I wish I had felt more alarmed. That feeling might have motivated me to ask more questions and be more cautious. It would have helped me to be less trusting of therapists and other “experts” who would soon become involved in my daughter’s “care.” If I had felt more alarmed, I would likely have done more research and become more aware of what is happening in our country, and in others, around “gender identity.”

All of that came much later, but in those early days I trusted too much and questioned too little. My daughter began to see a therapist who immediately affirmed her new non-binary identity, name and pronouns. The therapist told me that I had to do the same, or the consequences would be terrible for my child’s mental health. So, against my better judgment and instincts, I stopped using the name I had given her at birth and began using her new “chosen” name. The therapist soon diagnosed my daughter with gender dysphoria and told me it was very important to get her a binder. I complied with this, too. I wanted to do what was best for my child, and the therapist assured me all these steps were simply part of a “social transition” that was “entirely reversible” and involved no risk at all.

Within a year, the non-binary identity evolved into a transgender identity. My daughter “came out” again, this time as a boy. This new identity came with yet another new name and the new pronouns “he/him.” This time, however, she first announced her new transgender identity at school. And when she did this, absolutely everyone at school immediately affirmed her new male name and pronouns without consulting me or even letting me know after the fact. When I found out, I contacted the school and was told that they were authorized to do this because of a school policy that was in place to “protect” transgender students.

To say I was shocked is an understatement. When I found and read this policy online, I could not believe what I was seeing. I learned that right here in Canada, in the beautiful prairie province that I call home, a policy was very quietly adopted (no notice ever went out to parents!) that rests on the assumption that school staff are “safer” and know more than parents do about what is best for our children. See page 8 in the document linked here:

I soon learned that almost identical policies exist in every single Canadian province. In Atlantic Canada, these policies are often at the provincial level, set forth by the Ministry or Education. In central and western Canada, they are most often at the school district or school board levels.

Newfoundland (see pages 9 and 10, and especially paragraphs 2.4 and 3.1):

Prince Edward Island (see page 16, first bullet point under #6):

Nova Scotia (see last paragraph of page 10):

New Brunswick (see page 5, paragraphs 6.3.1 and 6.3.2):

Quebec (see bottom of page 4):

Toronto District School Board (see “Privacy” section on page 6):

Manitoba (see page 26; I note that the Manitoba provincial policy does place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of involving parents):

Prairie Spirit School Division, Saskatchewan (see section on “Parent Support”, page 10):

Vancouver Board of Education, British Columbia (see page 6, last paragraph):

This was a tipping point for me, the moment that I truly began to feel alarmed and to wonder what was going on. I began to question absolutely everything and quickly learned that what I was seeing in my child’s school was only the tip of the iceberg. What I have learned about “gender identity” and its role and impact in Canadian society, and especially on women and girls, could fill many volumes. However, these are the most salient facts:

  • The number of children who identify as transgender has exploded in many western countries, including Canada, in the past 8-10 years, and most of them (around 75%) are teenage girls. We do not yet know why this is happening. There are many theories, but we do not yet have good research findings that allow us to draw sound conclusions about this phenomenon.

  • Despite this lack of knowledge, medical and mental health professionals insist that affirming a child’s gender identity is the best (and only) approach to all children who identify as transgender. This includes, as a first step, the “social transition” of the child (changing their name, pronouns, clothing, appearance, etc.) and often, eventually, their “medical transition” (with synthetic cross-sex hormones and/or surgeries).

  • Affirming children’s gender identity has become mandated by law in Canada. This is the result of two recent pieces of Canadian legislation. The first is Bill C‑16, which was passed in June 2017. Bill C-16 added the words “gender identity or expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act and to a section of our Criminal Code that targets hate speech. As a result, not affirming a person’s gender identity (using their chosen name and pronouns) may be considered an act of discrimination or even hate speech. The second is Bill C-4, a Criminal Code amendment banning “conversion therapy,” which is defined as “any service, practice or treatment designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, or gender identity to one that matches the sex assigned at birth.” Effectively, this means that school staff, therapists, doctors and even parents are not allowed to question a child’s gender identity, no matter the child’s age, comorbidities (depression, anxiety, ADHD) or other circumstances. Canadian mental health professionals have begun to fear the consequences of using other therapeutic approaches, such as exploratory psychotherapy, with transgender-identified children.

  • As a result of these legal limitations, gender affirming care has become a one-size-fits-all treatment path for children in Canada. There are no long-term studies that demonstrate the safety or effectiveness of this treatment path. Several independent reviews of the evidence underlying gender affirming care, including some that were recently featured in the British Medical Journal, have concluded that the evidence is very weak and often conflicting. On the other hand, the risks associated with cross-sex hormones and surgeries are incredibly high and often irreversible.

These are the facts. However, no one at any point informed me of these facts. The therapists and doctors all assured me that gender affirming care was evidence-based and that the science was “settled”. This is a lie. When I asked them, one by one, to provide me with the evidence, they were unable to do so. When I began to point out the lack of evidence and the raging debate that I had discovered within the medical community surrounding gender affirming care, I was ignored. Instead of providing evidence or even engaging in a rational discussion about my concerns, the professionals that I spoke with all told me that not supporting gender affirming care for my child would harm my relationship with her and increase her risk of suicide.

My own child is now on the doorstep of beginning testosterone therapy. Despite the utter lack of evidence of its safety or effectiveness in the long term, and despite the horrifying and often irreversible damage that testosterone sometimes does to girls’ bodies, absolutely no one seems concerned about this, other than me. Her mother. The woman who has nurtured her healthy, growing body since long before she was even born. No one even seems to think it is important to take the time to ask my daughter WHY. Why does she believe she will be happier in a body that looks more masculine? Why is this so important to her that she is willing to put her health at risk? When did she start to feel this way, and why? When I ask her therapist to explore these questions with her, I am ignored.

To say that I feel trapped in some kind of alternate reality would be an understatement. I have never felt so lost and isolated as a parent. To cope, I began to make some connections with other parents, mostly mothers, through online parent groups. This is what led me to Our Duty Canada. We are a group of Canadian parents of transgender-identified children, from coast to coast, who advocate for safe and evidence-based support for our children. We work to raise awareness among other parents, schools, medical professionals and decision-makers about the lack of evidence that underlies gender affirming care, and the enormous risks that these treatments entail. We are all volunteers, and we work tirelessly, around the clock and across all Canadian time zones, because we know that the wellbeing of all our children is at stake.

A big part of our work in recent months has been the preparation of our Stakeholders Report to the 2023 United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR occurs every 4.5 years to assess the state of Human Rights in Canada.

The focus of our Stakeholders Report is Canada’s commitments to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In our report, we argue that the rights of the child are being violated in Canada by gender affirming care. We submit that these non-evidence-based treatments violate children’s rights to protection “from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse” (UNCRC Article 19) and “the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health” (UNCRC Article 24).

In our thorough report, we take an evidence-based approach in explaining how known and unknown long-term effects of puberty blockers, synthetic cross-sex hormones and invasive surgeries in children outweigh their socially and politically endorsed, but largely unsubstantiated, benefits. Key to the report is the lack of evidence for the safety and efficacy of the medicalization of Canadian children who experience gender ideation or incongruence with their sex. We support our concerns with peer-reviewed studies and academic articles.

Our report will be included in the UPR’s Session 44 in Geneva in November 2023, and the full document can be found here:

I am proud of this report and of the incredible women and mothers who wrote it together. For me personally, it has been validating and empowering to connect and work with these women across geographic, political and religious divides towards a common goal: the protection of our children and their right to live free from sex-based stereotypes without becoming lifelong medical patients. It gives me hope for our future as women and as Canadians, and for the future of a new kind of feminism, grassroots activism and democracy.

It also gives me a glimmer of hope for my daughter, my perfect-just-as-she-is child, that she may be whomever she wants, beyond any and all stereotypes, and eventually understand that she was not “born in the wrong body” and she does not need dangerous drugs and surgeries to “live as her authentic self.”

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