The Canadian province of Alberta has proposed a range of gender policies restricting surgery and hormone treatment for minors – measures criticised by doctors, teachers and rights groups.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the proposals as “the most anti-LGBT of anywhere in the country”.

But the leader of the opposition Conservative Party nationally, Pierre Poilievre, who has a huge lead over Trudeau in the polls, has backed the Alberta plan.

Trudeau’s Liberals accused Poilievre of mimicking U.S. Republican Party rhetoric and seeking to fuel a debate in Canada that has polarised political parties in the United States.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is the legislation and when is it due?

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said late last month her United Conservative Party government would introduce the gender legislation in the autumn this year – from late September to late December – but gave no precise date.

The proposed new rules would prohibit hormone treatment, puberty blockers and gender affirming surgery for children under 16, while anyone aged 16 and 17 would require approval from parents, a physician and psychologist to start hormone therapy.

Gender-affirming surgery will be banned for minors.

Parental notification and consent will be required if a student under 15 wants to change their name or personal pronouns.

Students aged 16 and 17 will not need permission, but their parents must still be notified by the school.

Parents are to be notified about education lessons that cover subjects related to gender identity, sexual orientation or sexuality, and LGBTQ+ books and teaching materials must be approved by the Education Ministry in advance.

Transgender women will be banned from competing in sports.

Why is Alberta introducing these rules?

Smith said she was introducing the measures as she did not want minors making decisions that could affect them for the rest of their lives.

“Making permanent and irreversible decisions regarding one’s biological sex while still a youth can severely limit that child’s choices in the future,” she said in a social media video.

“Prematurely encouraging or enabling children to alter their very biology or natural growth, no matter how well intentioned and sincere, poses a risk to that child’s future that I, as premier, am not comfortable with permitting in our province.”

What do opponents say?

Doctors at the Canadian Paediatric Society said Alberta’s proposed policies would have harmful consequences on the physical and mental health of vulnerable children and teens.

“Gender-affirming medical care for youth should be a decision between the patient, their parents, and their medical care team, without intrusion by government,” the organisation wrote in a public letter to Smith.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association said some of the changes would have a chilling effect on classrooms and some students might feel forced to suppress their identities. It said transgender youth were five times more likely to think about suicide and nearly eight times more likely to attempt it.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the policy changes would rob LGBTQIA+ people of their rights and freedoms.

How has the federal government responded?

Trudeau has been a vocal supporter of queer and trans rights since coming to power in 2015. His Liberal government invested an unprecedented $20 million for LGBTQIA+ community organisations in 2019 and in 2022 banned conversion therapy.

“If Premier Smith wants to fight someone, stand with us and fight for Canadians on lower grocery prices, on affordable fuel, on more housing, on fighting climate change,” Trudeau said. “Don’t fight against vulnerable LGBT youth.”

What happens next?

Smith’s United Conservative Party won a clear majority in provincial elections last year so should have the power to pass the proposed rules.

She also has the backing nationally of the main opposition Conservatives who are riding high in the polls ahead of federal elections due next year.

Smith may face a legal challenge, however, from rights groups Egale and Skipping Stone Foundation which have pledged to take the government to court if the policies are passed.

“The draconian measures announced run directly counter to expert guidance and evidence, violate the constitutional rights of (LGBTQ+) people, and will lead to irreparable harm and suffering,” the organisations said in a joint statement.

Reporting by Denio Lourenco.

GAY TIMES and Openly/Thomson Reuters Foundation are working together to deliver leading LGBTQIA+ news to a global audience.