Quebec police probe threats after school says nonbinary teacher prefers Mx. pronoun

MONTREAL — Police southeast of Montreal are investigating after a letter meant for parents about a nonbinary teacher's honorific was shared widely online, resulting in threats and disparaging comments.

The Richelieu, Que. school that hired the teacher issued a letter to parents on Wednesday saying that the part-time instructor will use the Mx. honorific (pronounced Miks) because they are gender neutral.

The principal noted in the letter that the Mx. honorific for people who don't identify as male or female is used in English and is widely recognized, including by the Canadian government.

Centre de service scolaire des Hautes-Rivières, the school district that hired the teacher, confirmed the authenticity of the letter and said it should not have been shared on social media.

Céline Falardeau, director of legal affairs and communications for the school district, said Thursday the publication of the letter resulted in "abusive, defamatory and threatening comments" on social media.

Sgt. Jean-Luc Tremblay of the Richelieu-St-Laurent police force said an investigation began Wednesday after police received a complaint from the elementary school about threatening online and voice messages left at the school.

Tremblay said there was a sort of "domino effect" after the publication of the letter and authorities are now looking at the comments to see which — if any — might lead to charges.

"For now, it's the beginning of the investigation," Tremblay said. "There are no arrests and we are looking at the entirety of the messages." He said the main issue with the comments thus far appears to be their tone and the sense of insecurity they have created.

The principal was scheduled to meet with students on Thursday to talk about openness, inclusion and gender identity, and the school district says it is offering the necessary support to school staff and management.

Education Minister Bernard Drainville appealed for calm, telling reporters Thursday in Granby, Que., that insults and threats are unacceptable and that a reflection would have to take place about how students should address a nonbinary teacher.

"Insults and threats have no place, ever, in any context, for any reason. So, let's remain calm," Drainville said. “This designation of 'mister' and 'madam' will remain … so now we have to reflect about what to call a teacher that does not consider themselves (that)."

Québec solidaire's education critic, Ruba Ghazal, praised the school's efforts to raise awareness among parents and students.

“What we need in schools are good teachers," she said. "Their gender doesn't matter."

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said he won't use the Mx. title, even as he called for respect for nonbinary people. The PQ leader said Mx. doesn't exist in the French language and social conventions can't be imposed by one person.

"I've never used the term 'Mx.', I don't intend to use it," he added.

Conservative Leader Éric Duhaime suggested the teacher simply be called by their first name, complaining the Legault government was allowing "wokeism" to enter the province's schools and daycares.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2023.

-- With files from Caroline Plante in Quebec City

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press