Earlier this week, it was revealed the federal government directed front-line workers at Service Canada locations to use gender-neutral language when dealing with customers. The move has prompted much controversy.
The feds asked workers who handle queries to avoid using terms such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss and other “gender-specific” honorifics.
“The use of honorifics in client interactions… can also be seen as gender specific by a client,” the note, dated Jan. 19, says. “[Staff] can address the client by their full name or ask how they would prefer to be addressed.”
The government says the change is being done in conjunction with an update to its IT systems, HuffPost Canada reports. The latter change will involve eliminating previously mandatory fields such as “Mother’s given name” and “Father’s given name” – which it says is intended to make things more inclusive for same-gender families and parents. Under the change, parents would be identified as “Parent” and “Parent” instead.
An anonymous Service Canada employee told CBC News the directive is already causing confusion and “difficult” situations.
“It happens that we talk to people and we ask, ‘What is the name of parent number one?’” the official said. “People do not understand.”
The suggestions and changes have drawn a lot of criticism on both sides of the issue.
The Tories have slammed the move, with Conservative MP Larry Miller saying the Liberals’ “priorities are way out of whack” and “anybody out there… [still has] a mother and a father biologically,” according to HuffPost Canada.
The publication reports Independent MP Rheal Fortin called the move “bordering on hare-brained,” and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said it was “ridiculous.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he supports the directive, Huffpost Canada reports.
“If we want to create a society where we respect everyone, we must give more consideration to individuals who are in minority positions who have experienced a lack of respect for years,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Helen Kennedy, executive director of national LGBTQ human rights organization Egale Canada, also supports the move. But she told the Toronto Star it “requires more awareness training and education around non-binary and gender-neutral language in order to work.
Kennedy also told CBC News the government directive must also come with training for staff on “why it’s important to properly gender people.”
“Otherwise there will be a state of confusion,” she said.
Gabrielle Bouchard, the president of Quebec’s main women’s federation – who is transgender – also told the Toronto Star the move is a good first step. But she points out many transgender people do not want to stop using terms like “Mr.,” “Ms.” or other gender-specific honorifics, since they use pronouns like he/him and she/her.
“What we want isn’t the elimination of choice, what we want is to add more choice,” she told the publication.
In an interview with CBC News on Wednesday, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos said the directive is “confusing” and “will be corrected… so that it’s clear Service Canada agents have the respectful responsibility to do exactly what they are paid to do.”
Duclos told CBC News the directive is “more about asking Canadians how they want to be addressed – and then following that advice.”
So, what do you think of the federal government’s directive? Vote in the poll above and let us know in the comments.
With files from HuffPost Canada and CBC News