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Service Canada moves away from calling Canadians Mr., Mrs., or Ms.

Service Canada employees who interact with the public are being asked to stay away from terms like Mr., Mrs., father and mother, and to use gender-neutral terms in their place, CBC News has learned.

According to documents obtained by Radio Canada, the French-language arm of CBC, front-line staff must now "use gender-neutral language or gender-inclusive language."

"This avoids portraying a perceived bias toward a particular sex or gender," says a copy of speaking notes prepared for managers and team leaders.

"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," says the directive.

The new guidelines also rule out using terms such as mother and father because they are "gender specific" and say the neutral word "parent" should be used instead.

The same goes for honorifics such as Mr., Mrs., and Ms., and in both languages. Instead, employees are being directed to address customers by their full names or ask them what they want to be called.

Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, whose department oversees Service Canada, took to Twitter Wednesday to clarify that agents can still call people Mr. or Ms. if that's what the caller prefers.

"We are only confirming how people want to be addressed as a matter of respect," he said.

 

Let us be clear, @ServiceCanada_E 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.

 

We are proud that @ServiceCanada_E reflects the diversity of Canada’s population and is working to adapt to the reality of 21st century families.

Service Canada helps Canadians connect with a variety of government programs, including Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security.

Updating government forms

According to an official — who asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak on the issue — the new directive is already in place and has led to some difficult situations for civil servants.

"It happens that we talk to people and we ask, 'What is the name of parent number one?' People do not understand," said the official.

Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBT rights group Egale Canada, said her group is "very pleased" to hear about the changes. She said people who don't fit into "neat boxes" often have uncomfortable and negative experiences accessing government programs.

She also urged the government to provide staff with training on why it's important to properly gender people.

"Otherwise there will be a state of confusion," she said.

Conservative MP and Treasury Board critic Gérard Deltell said there are more important issues for the government to concentrate on right now.

"Maybe one day this government will decide to cancel each and every Mother's Day or a Father's Day," he said.

In addition to the changes in how staff interact with the public, the directive indicates that Service Canada is also in the process of amending some service forms, including the Social Insurance Number application form.

Canadians are already able to identify as gender 'X' on their passports.

The new directive also includes a warning that agency employees will be observed to ensure they are following the protocols.

"Going forward, the proper use of gender-neutral language will also be added to the observations in the In-Person Quality Monitoring Program," the directive said.

Earlier this year, a same-sex couple from Nova Scotia called for Service Canada to update its forms so men don't have to declare a "maiden name" in order to get social insurance numbers for their children.

Nick Bonnar and Graham MacDonnell said they ran into a roadblock when an agent told them they had to provide a maiden name to complete and process the electronic form.

Last summer, the Liberal government passed a law enshrining protections for transgender Canadians. The bill updates the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include the terms "gender identity" and "gender expression."

Sources: CBC