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A messy legal dispute between a 14-year-old transgender boy and his father, who rejects the child’s gender identity, has expanded into a fight over freedom of expression.
In a recent decision, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ordered the father to stop publicly discussing the case after finding some of his actions, including interviews with conservative media outlets, exposed his child to significant harm and constituted “family violence.”
But the father’s lawyers say the restraining order is “draconian” and they plan to file an appeal.
“We’ll make submissions on freedom of expression, freedom of thought and opinion, and freedom of conscience, in this matter,” said Herb Dunton, one of the father’s lawyers.
A publication ban imposed by the court restricts media from identifying the child or the father by name.
The case started last year as a clash between child autonomy and parental rights. After undergoing multiple evaluations from a psychologist and staff at B.C. Children’s Hospital, the boy, with the support of his mother and health professionals, wanted to proceed with hormone therapy to help transition from a female body to a male one.
However, his father, who shares joint custody with the boy’s mother, opposed the treatment.
In February, the boy, who is in Grade 9, sought an order from the court recognizing that it was in his best interests to undergo treatment for gender dysphoria and that he had the capacity to consent to such treatment.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Gregory Bowden subsequently granted the request, concluding that there should not be any further delays to treatment, citing the boy’s risk of suicide. Bowden also went on to declare that any attempts to persuade the boy to abandon treatment, addressing the boy by his birth name or referring to the boy as a girl or with female pronouns “shall be considered to be family violence.”
The father immediately filed an appeal of Bowden’s decision, which has not yet been heard.
Public statements, private impact
Meanwhile, the father’s public statements about the case came under scrutiny.
In multiple interviews before and after Bowden’s decision with The Federalist, an American conservative online magazine, and Culture Guard, a B.C.-based conservative activist group, the father continually referred to his child as female, discussed his child’s personal information in detail and stated his opposition to hormone therapy. At one point, the father expressed his hope that Fox News and Breitbart, a conservative website known for publishing far-right conspiracy theories, would cover the story.
The boy’s lawyers filed a separate application in court seeking a protection order to restrain the father from publishing, speaking or giving interviews about the case.
The boy told the court he felt “as if my dad is going behind my back” and that his father was “associated with groups that hate trans people.”
“I love my father I want to have his name as my middle name. … But I cannot be around him unless he respects who I am and my gender identity. It messes with my head and I cannot stand his berating me all the time.”
The father argued his public commentary was essential to society and his rights as a parent. He said the case has turned into a dispute not with his child but with “activists” who want to take away his rights.
Those arguments didn’t fly with B.C. Supreme Court Justice Francesca Marzari.
Even though the father kept his child’s identity anonymous in his public comments, his conduct still put the child at high risk of exposure, violence, bullying and harassment, the judge found.
Marzari noted that the father’s public sharing of information about the case had exposed his child to “degrading and violent” public commentary and that the father was essentially using his child to “promote his own interests above those of his child.”
“While I accept that (the father) does not agree with (the child) as to what is in (the child’s) best interests, he has been irresponsible in the manner of expressing his disagreement and the degree of publicity which he has fostered with respect to this disagreement with his child,” Marzari said.
Order sets boundaries
The judge’s protection order restrained the father from sharing any information related to his child’s sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental or physical health — except with his lawyers, the court or medical professionals. He was also forbidden from trying to persuade his child to abandon treatment and from addressing his child by his birth name or referring to him as a girl.
Dunton, the father’s lawyer, said the father intends to comply with the order while he prepares an appeal.
Meanwhile, lawyer Carey Linde has filed a complaint on behalf of the father with the College of Psychologists of British Columbia against the psychologist who initially assessed the child.
In the complaint, Linde cites a talk in February that the psychologist gave at a Vancouver library that was recorded by Culture Guard volunteers. Linde accuses the psychologist of counselling parents of transgender children to falsely threaten suicide as a way for their children to get treatment.
“So what you need is, you know what? Pull a stunt. Suicide, every time, they will give you what you need,” the complaint quotes the psychologist as saying.
But the complaint does not provide the full context for the quote. The psychologist was lamenting to the audience the lack of provincial resources devoted to preventive care. By focusing only on “reactive care,” the province had caused families to feel like they have to pull stunts in order to get care.
“Because in a way, we’re teaching the kid, You need to be sick enough, then we will give you what you need,” the psychologist said, according to a certified transcript reviewed by the National Post. “So what you need is, you know what? Pull a stunt. Suicide, every time, they will give you what you need. They learn that. They learn that fast, right? … So I think that even the government is, like, telling the kids, Hey, wait till you’re sick enough. Don’t do — we do reactive care here. We don’t do preventive care.”
The psychologist declined a request for comment this week, citing ongoing legal proceedings. The court recently ruled that the identity of the psychologist and other health professionals associated with the case must also be shielded because they have received death threats.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019