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Quebec now requires all new and renovated schools to have gender-specific bathrooms

Quebec’s school service centers will have to ensure bathrooms and changing rooms newly built or renovated are gender specific rather than gender neutral, according to a new government directive published Wednesday in the province’s Official Gazette.

“I believe that our boys and girls in schools have the right to have a private space,” Education Minister Bernard Drainville said Wednesday.

The controversy dates back to last year when a petition was launched against a plan to make gendered bathrooms gender neutral at D’Iberville high school in Rouyn-Noranda, Que.

Drainville said at the time that the school should “correct the course,” particularly to avoid discomfort and harassment of young girls.

Premier François Legault tasked Family Minister Suzanne Roy with setting up an advisory committee to study the matter. The committee’s recommendations are expected next winter.

However, Drainville decided not to wait.

“I announced last fall that we would move forward with this directive,” he said, adding he believes the committee would come to the same conclusion.

Bernard Drainville, Quebec Minister of Education. speaks to the press alongside Quebec Premiere Francois Legault during a press conference in Montreal, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter McCabe

Bernard Drainville, Quebec’s education minister, says the new provisions respect everyone’s rights. (Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press)

The new directive takes effect immediately. It stipulates that the school service centers “implement the means at their disposal so that all bathrooms and changing rooms that will be built or renovated in the future are gendered (boys/girls).”

Schools under construction that are 30 per cent or more complete may, however, retain their gender-neutral bathrooms. Schools that already have gender-neutral bathrooms may keep them.

“We are pragmatic people. We do not want to delay the progress of work on new schools,” said Drainville.

The minister’s new directive also urges the service centers to provide individual bathrooms that are always accessible, secure and located in strategic locations that allow for adequate supervision.

“These provisions respect everyone’s rights,” Drainville said. “It’s a very respectful and balanced solution.”

The advocacy group LGBT+ Family Coalition disagrees with the minister.

“It’s not well balanced because it stigmatizes kids that are a bit different,” said Mona Greenbaum, the group’s co-director.

“We know that from all sorts of research that it’s very harmful for young people to not have their gender identity affirmed.”

According to figures provided to Radio-Canada by Drainville’s office, the Quebec school network had 1,453 gender-neutral sanitation blocks out of 12,667 as of last fall. There are 196 gender-neutral changing rooms out of 4,448.

This data, collected from 70 of the province’s 72 school service centres, also showed that 301 of the network’s 3,014 buildings had only gender-neutral sanitation blocks.

Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon described the government’s decision as reasonable. However, Quebec Solidaire’s Alexandre Leduc said he did not understand why this was a priority for the education minister.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “He doesn’t have anything more important to deal with right now?”

Jennifer Maccarone, Liberal Party critic for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, said the Ministry of Education published a guide for schools in 2021. The guide deemed it appropriate to provide neutral privacy spaces, allowing free choice for students and staff.

“Does the government still stand by their document?” Maccarone asked during a news conference.