When Emotion Trumps Data and Analysis

Recently, we saw the passage of Bill 208, which recognizes March 31 as Two-Spirit and Transgender Day of Visibility in Manitoba. This was brought forward by the NDP MLA for […]
Published on June 1, 2024

Recently, we saw the passage of Bill 208, which recognizes March 31 as Two-Spirit and Transgender Day of Visibility in Manitoba. This was brought forward by the NDP MLA for Kirkfield Park, Logan Oxenham. Government (NDP) members all voted in favour of the bill along with all of the Opposition (PC) members in attendance, except for four (Goertzen, Guenter, Narth, Schuler). With it being a recorded vote and a voice vote, the names of those who voted and how they voted gets recorded in the records of the Legislature.

Say what you will about the topic of the bill, but commemorative days like these pass the Manitoba Legislature frequently as they are an easy way for MLAs to recognize a community or group and get a political win. This bill was however not just a case of recognizing a community, but it was an extreme political statement explicitly mentioning “gender-affirming care” and suggests it as a universally accepted approach to managing patient outcomes for “two-spirit, transgender and non-binary people”.

The bill’s preamble notes denying this type of care is discriminatory, suggesting those who voted for the bill ascribe to the promotion of “gender-affirming care” and that it results in positive outcomes for youth. This term is a euphemism for irreversible drugs and procedures such as cross sex hormones and puberty blockers for children, as well as physical surgeries that result in permanent, life-altering outcomes. This is clearly being used as a wedge issue and is in direct contradiction to what we are seeing as a trend globally, with public policy related to these issues starting to take a different approach in other jurisdictions.

In Britain, the final report of the Cass Review was released this spring, which was an independent review commissioned by the National Health Service (NHS) to make recommendations on how to improve NHS gender identity services. The report concluded not only that “the rationale for early puberty suppression remains unclear, with weak evidence regarding the impact on gender dysphoria, mental or psychosocial health,” but also that “the lack of long-term follow-up data on those commencing treatment at an earlier age means we have inadequate information about the range of outcomes for this group.”

This report resulted in the British government issuing an immediate emergency ban on the use of puberty blockers in individuals under 18 years of age. They cited the report as the reason for issuing this ban and demonstrates how government should be responding to data (or lack thereof) when it comes to the safety and efficacy of widely utilized drugs and therapies. Alberta, as well as over 20 US states, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark have begun to acknowledge the questions and uncertainty around policies geared toward driving patients with gender dysphoria toward pharmaceutical and surgical centric approaches.

Following the vote of Bill 208 in Manitoba, response to the four members who voted against the bill was as expected. They were accused of hatred and discrimination by government MLAs, including the Premier, and one could argue that the timing of this bill’s vote was no coincidence with Pride Month slated to begin on June 1.

From a policy perspective, there are legitimate questions about having elected officials pass legislation that supports the continue march toward expanding “gender-affirming care” which exposes patients, most often youth, to a laundry list of unknown risks that will cause irreversible outcomes on their physical and mental development. However, the emotional blackmail that is used in place of data and analysis, in many cases even by those in the medical field, seems to be what wins the day in Canada.

If we want elected officials who serve the interests of the people they represent, shouldn’t we want them to be generally skeptical and ask questions? Shouldn’t their decisions be made based on data and not emotion? The issue of gender identity and how as a society we should be supporting individuals experiencing gender dysphoria is something that in Canada, we do not do a good job of discussing openly and honestly.

Having elected officials shamed into voting for legislation because they don’t want a bad news story or to be called names by their political opponents should not take precedence over data-based decision making and analysis. In this case, it appears that the four MLAs who voted against it took the side of data and stayed true to their responsibilities as elected officials. There needs to be more of this by people in their roles across all parties, regardless of the issue at hand. Only then will we have public servants doing exactly that; serving the public and the public interest.


Claudius Sowellus is an anonymous, recently retired policy staffer from Manitoba

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