Editorial: More pronoun absurdity

  • August 31, 2023

Canada’s Federal Court may have unwittingly brought us to peak gender pronoun nonsense. We can only hope — or better yet pray — for a return to earth it puts our feet back on sensible ground.

As the National Post reported last week, a Federal court justice has further delayed the four-year attempt to deport an individual with a record of “serious criminality.” Why? Because the miscreant in question said he was offended by the pronouns used to identify him in court documents.

Colin James Ewen, a U.K. citizen, identifies as a man and uses (quelle surprise!) “he/him” as his gender reference points for earthly existence. But what ho? Justice Richard Bell noted that the legalese justifying Ewen’s heave-ho from Canada in 2019 referred to him as “they/them” instead.

Shock waves ensued when Justice Bell, unbidden by either the Crown or Ewen’s own lawyer, wondered whether calling “he/him” a “they/them” might violate a Charter right to perpetual protection of transient pronoun modification. A ringing hint that no such Charter right exists should have been conveyed by the very fact of the judge having to ask the question in the first place.

In fact, the Post reports, government lawyers were so gob-smacked that they argued even if such a right ever existed, it would have no bearing on the case before the court. Undeterred, the justice noted some social scientists maintain “misnaming” is a form of “violence.” He appears oblivious to the irony that the deportee in the dock stood convicted at least twice of assault, including assault causing bodily harm, and so “he/him” personally knew the difference between real violence and social science soft soap.

Nevertheless, clearly being a quick study as well as quick with his fists, Ewen replied “kind of, yes” when Justice Bell asked “he/him” if his dignity had been violated by fashionable clerks using “they/them” instead of his declared pronouns. The result was a reprieve from deportation until at least a mid-September hearing. A door might have opened as well for the start of a long and arduous trek up the legal slopes to the windy heights of a Supreme Court Charter decision.

Hope and prayer must ride with the alternative prospect that the sheer nonsensical nature of Ewen’s case will slam that door shut on the destabilizing effect of discovering “pronoun preference” in the bedrock of our guaranteed rights and freedoms.

Respecting an adult individual’s declared “he/she/his/her/they/them” identifier is without question an essential of civility, charity and good citizen common sense. But we lost our footing when we sought to codify it as an overarching bureaucratic imperative rather than preserving it as a prerogative of common language for the common good. The consequences of such codification becoming the supreme law of the land would be even more injurious for our capacity to properly discern what’s what in the world.

We need only look for evidence to current political perturbations in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. In both provinces, public school systems usurped familial authority over the gender and pronoun choices of elementary students, prompting legislative responses to answer parental concerns. A result? Fissures threatening to become crevasses between individual citizens and broader social groups — as if we need more of that given our already chasmic political divides.

The reductio ad absurdum of the Ewen case, in which a man convicted of serious violent criminality is left walking free among us because of the “violence” of mistaken pronouns, illustrates the Babel-like fall from grace that portends if we continue up the current politico-legal pronominal path. God willing, our tongues and our feet will soon find rest on saner, solid ground.

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