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Revisiting Bill C-16 and Gender Pronouns

By I Lam Ko

Gender pronouns matter nowadays. From the invention of neo-pronouns, such as xe/xem/xyr and ne/nym/nis, to guidelines in universities and public institutions to share and ask for one’s preferred pronouns, pronoun usage is trending.

Many perceive using special or preferred pronouns as a move to create an inclusive and non-heteronormative environment, whereas others see these extra efforts on creating new pronouns and clarifying each other’s preferred pronouns as ridiculous and restrictive to freedom of expression. Those who object using neo-pronouns or the person’s preferred pronouns are thought to be Conservative or a rightist

Gender pronouns seem to mirror one’s political ideologies.

Debate on Bill C-16

In 2017, Bill C-16 was passed to add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to protect gender-diverse people. This ignited the fiercest discussion of gender pronouns. Jordan Peterson, the clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, considered the bill as a product of Marxism to restrict freedom of expression due to its potential criminalization of pronoun misuse.

Brenda Cossman, a professor of Law at University of Toronto, refuted Peterson’s argument by explaining that the bill was not about gender pronouns but the protection of trans rights and that it was constitutional and would not punish pronoun misuse. She suspected that Peterson’s fear of compelled speech was a pretext for expressing rightist transphobic sentiments in Canada.

Bill C-16 protects gender-diversity

Peterson’s fear of freedom of expression perishing with the legislation of Bill C-16 in 2017, did not, or has not, come true in Canada. Cossman was right – the bill was not about gender pronouns but it is about the protection of gender-diverse people.

In 2016 Ontario, 20% of transgender people have been physically or sexually assaulted and 34% have been verbally threatened or harassed. Therefore, there is a need for the federal government to implement reasonable restrictions on treating vulnerable individuals who have been suffering from discrimination and harassment due to their non-conformity to social norms.

However, I was disturbed by how gender pronouns were characterized in the debate and how both arguments were about digging out and denunciating the opponent’s hidden “radical leftist” or “rightist” political agenda.

Are “gender pronouns” totally irrelevant or meaningless, and do they only operate as a political weapon in our discussion of Bill C-16?

Asking the right questions

While it is problematic to equalize the bill to a leftist scheme to enforce compelled speech and to restrict freedom of expression, I think that it is equally naïve to deem the discussion of gender pronouns as a rightist move to impede the bill. Such a split helps nothing but produces a simplified, polarized version of today’s political spectrum.

The discussion of gender pronouns needs not be a thorn in one’s political stance. We should not treat “gender pronouns” as merely a rhetorical weapon but as a key part of our process of defining “gender,” “gender expression” and “gender identity” as well as the boundary between respecting one’s “gender expression” and executing one’s “freedom of expression.”

In an opinion piece on Unherd, Andrew Doyle wrote that asking for one’s preferred pronouns and stating one’s preferred pronouns assumed that “we each have an inherent gender that has nothing to do with our bodies.” Meanwhile, Judith Butler, the gender theorist and the author of Gender Trouble, has questioned the clear-cut dichotomy between sex and gender.

As the definition of gender remains ambiguous and contested, shouldn’t we ask questions that help us define and/or refine the meaning of gender and gender expression that truly benefit trans or gender-diverse people?

Gender pronouns are indeed worthy of discussion and legislation. But we can create a far more fruitful discourse if we are willing to go beyond the limitations of reductive political labels.

Canadian Drug Strategies

By Mykayla McGowan

Are Canadian Drug Strategies Out of Commission?

Substance use is the fuel that keeps the dumpster fire of Canada’s criminal justice complex and health care system ablaze. With 1 in 5 Canadians experiencing a substance use disorder in their lifetime, it is no wonder that the country we call home harbours the fastest-growing rate of overdose mortality globally.

The current Drugs and Substances strategy is failing Canadians and requires immediate modification.

Canada’s Current Situation

Approximately 6 million Canadians meet the criteria for a substance use disorder during their lifetime. Potential harms from such use have heightened amid Canada’s opioid crisis, as supplies have become increasingly contaminated with synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Canada’s Drugs and Substances Strategy emphasizes four key pillars to prevent and treat problematic substance use. The pillars are:

  • Prevention: educate the public about the risks of substance use
  • Treatment: support treatment and rehabilitation services
  • Harm reduction: reduce the negative effects of substance use on individuals and communities
  • Enforcement: address production, trafficking and diversion of drugs

What’s Not Clicking in Canada?

National Inconsistency

The current Canadian system unloads enforcement and harm reduction responsibilities onto provinces and territories to deal with individually. The lack of a cohesive, national strategy focused on reducing problematic drug use and overdose has set Canada and its citizens up for failure.

Research, Evidence, and Evaluation Issues

The government fails to ground its substance use policy in evidence. The country does not have a central organization for data collection and analysis on substance use issues, as exists elsewhere, such as in Australia and the United States.

If things do not change, Canadians will start to feel the consequences of the inaction taken by our federal government.

Is Anyone Doing it Right?

Although it is easy to critic drug strategies across the globe for one reason or another, some countries are doing it right.

Take Portugal, for example. As of 2001, the Portuguese federal government decriminalized the personal possession of all drugs as a part of a push to treat substance use as an issue of public health rather than public order in response to high rates of HIV linked to injection drug use.

Portugal’s strategy acts as a cohesive, nationwide plan that enforces policies on a case-by-case basis. Problematic drug use is addressed by dissuasion committees rather than the criminal justice system, where sanctions, charges, or voluntary treatment referrals are imposed instead of jail time.

As a result, Portugal has enjoyed various benefits, including:

  • Reduced problematic drug use and incidences of HIV/AIDS
  • Increased number of citizens utilizing treatment facilities
  • Fewer drug-induced deaths
  • Overall social costs of drug misuse declined

Why it Works for Portugal

The Portuguese drug strategy is informed by evidence and research conducted within the country. Portugal identified the issues they wanted to address and approached them in a culturally and socially informed manner.

So What?

This blog has two purposes:

  • Criticize the Canadian federal government’s approach to drug use (which is well deserved)
  • Identify a need for change

Imagine that the Canadian federal government wants to adopt an effective strategy to reduce problematic substance use. They would need to:

  • Accept contextual factors facing Canadians
  • Be open to innovation
  • Situate any intervention within an evidence-informed continuum of prevention, harm reduction, and treatment
    • An evidence-informed continuum supports the collection and monitoring of data and is required to evaluate the success of any policy-based approach to substance use. This continuum allows for corrections to be made easily, as they are grounded in evidence and account for changes in external factors, such as trends in drug consumption or overdose rates

A great place to start would be forming a national organization for data collection and analysis on substance use issues.

Creating such an organization will allow the government to self-reflect and identify the most pressing problems that require immediate attention, such as the opioid crisis. Only once the key issues are pinpointed, the organization could conduct research to find the most effective solutions for our countries problems.

Perhaps this imaginary organization could take notes on the drug policy of Portugal as a starting point.

Obesity in Canada… The way forward

By: Victoria Ekunnusi

Multiple Variables of Obesity

Obesity has many factors: Personal, Behavioral, and Environmental. Personal predisposing variables include genetics and ethical background. Behavioural variables are practices (sedentary lifestyle and food choice) that turn into habits over time. Finally, environmental variables are the living conditions and the overarching social determinants of health. Often, obesity is a result of a combination of these variables.

Obesity- A chronic health condition

Obesity is considered to be a chronic disease by organizations like Obesity Canada, Canadian Medical Association and the World Health Organization because obesity is the leading cause of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer and other health problems, it can cause a significant strain on individuals, families, and the health care system. 

Despite public health prevention strategies, obesity continues to persist, and the rate has tripled over the past three decades in Canada, and now, about one in four Canadians is obese.

Cost of Obesity 

The annual direct health care cost of obesity which includes physician, hospitalization, and medication cost, is currently estimated to be between $5 to $7 billion. This cost is projected to rise to about $9 billion by 2021. The economic and psychological costs of obesity will continue to increase without comprehensive, evidence-based, and people-centred strategies. Thus, addressing the prevalence of obesity in Canada should be an utmost priority.

Addressing Obesity at the early stage of life

Recently, the Canadian government has created policies by placing taxes on unhealthy meals, banning certain fatty food, and providing open spaces to encourage physical activities. However, these interventions have not yielded the desired outcomes. 

Obesity and weight gain develop over a lifetime. Therefore, the impact of obesity points to the importance of prevention through healthy behaviours, including increased physical activity and a healthy nutritional diet, beginning at an early stage, and continuing through all the stages of life.

The federal government should encourage addressing Obesity from early childhood. For example, countries like Japan and Finland were able to reduce obesity issues by adopting the “health in all policies approach” (Addressing Obesity at the early life), where the health department worked with schools, childcare providers, and parents to create a healthier environment at the early life.

Considering the increasing rate of obesity, a possible way for the government to truly eradicate or at least reduce the prevalence of obesity is to address it at the early stage of life by adopting some guidelines (listed below) that could help reduce the national burden of obesity.


Here are the guidelines that should be followed to reduce obesity:

  • Young children should be educated on the importance of healthy eating and engaging in physical activities.
  • Young married couples should be encouraged to initiate healthy meals for their children early in life so that it becomes part of their lifestyle.
  • The government could subsidize the cost of healthy food and gym membership for low- and middle-income families to facilitate involvement in healthy lifestyle choices.
  • There should be an ongoing evaluation strategy to identify and monitor areas of improvement.

Awakening Call

The quality of life of Canadians should be at the forefront of the government priorities to ensure all citizens live a healthy life. Addressing Obesity at the early stage of life is the way forward that can help reduce the burden of chronic health issues over time, significantly increasing Canadian’s quality of life and reducing the huge medical cost of obesity

Strategies to prevent obesity need to address all phases and places in life, starting from birth to make sure we are living healthy lives through healthy eating and physical activity.