A Canadian government agency has issued new guidelines telling staff to use gender-neutral terms instead of “father” or “mother” when talking to clients. The move by the agency has been heavily criticized.
The directive by Service Canada, an agency tasked with delivering government services and programs to the citizens, says staff should use gender-neutral honorifics in order to avoid “portraying a perceived bias” towards a particular sex or gender.
Honorifics such as mister, missus or miss “can be seen/perceived as gender specific by a client,” according to the document seen by French-speaking broadcaster Radio Canada and Huffington Post Canada. Instead, Service Canada’s employees should address citizens by full names or use their preferred way of naming themselves.
“It is important that Service Canada, as an organization, reflects Canada’s diverse population and ensures that the views and interests of Canadians are taken into account when we develop policies, programs, services and initiatives,” it said.
The guidelines noticeably rule out using the words “father” and “mother,” as they are deemed “gender specific.” The word “parent” should be used instead, as a more neutral option.
Service Canada inadvertently confirmed its adoption of the new practice, writing in a tweet that it “has made some adjustments that allow the public to confirm how they wish to be addressed by Service Canada, to adapt to the reality of the 21st century.”
It said: “Madam/Sir will still be used by Service Canada employees if the client’s preference is known.”
In all cases, “Canadians will decide how they wish to be addressed.”
Reaction to the move was swift, with opposition politicians ridiculing the agency’s directive.
“Their priorities are way out of whack,” Conservative MP Larry Miller told reporters on Wednesday. “[It’s] totally ridiculous. I have a mother and I have a father. Anybody out there, even if you were born through a surrogate, you still have a mother and a father biologically… We all have a mother and a father. That’s all I have to say.”
Bloc Quebecois MP Louis Plamondon suggested the move was a slippery slope, saying: “Should we stop talking about the ‘black market’? Should we ban that? Should we also ban the term ‘whitewashing’? This is all very philosophical, isn’t it?”
Rheal Fortin, an independent MP, joked: “I almost want to say I’m glad they don’t have any bigger problems than that at Service Canada.”
As outrage mounted, Families Minister Jean-Yves Duclos defended Service Canada‘s guidelines. “Let us be clear, Service Canada will continue to use Mr/Ms when interacting with Canadians. We are only confirming how people want to be addressed as a matter of respect,” Duclos tweeted.
Justin Trudeau’s liberal government had earlier introduced a number of similar proposals, including the adoption of a gender-neutral anthem, in which the second line of the text was changed from “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command.” Last year, the federal government announced that it would be offering a third gender option – the gender designation ‘X’ – on the country’s passports and travel documents.