Parent calls Sask. government’s new bill a ‘smokescreen’ over mental health, addictions crisis

Warning: This story includes discussion of suicide.

Bee Lawson is being remembered by loved ones as someone who lived life fully, making people laugh and causing a little mayhem along the way.

The 14-year-old from Yorkton, Sask., died by suicide in May.

Their mother, Sarah Mackenzie, was invited to the Saskatchewan Legislature by the Opposition NDP on Thursday — the day the Saskatchewan government introduced Bill 137, the Parental Bill of Rights, moving ahead with its plan to invoke the notwithstanding clause to protect a controversial new policy dictating how schools deal with gender-diverse students. 

Standing beside NDP Leader Carla Beck, Mackenzie told reporters how her child came out as pansexual and non-binary at age 11, requesting to go by they/them pronouns and the name Bee going forward. 

For years, she said that Bee struggled with mental health issues and addiction, eventually losing hope after four friends died from suicide or overdoses.

“Their life mattered. They’re not just a number. They are not just a statistic. They were a human being and my child,” Mackenzie said.

“I think that the government doesn’t want to be held accountable. They’re using this new issue as a smokescreen to divert attention, continuing to divide us as a society so we can’t band together and demand change.”

Teen with long burgundy hair and two lip piercings poses for picture with hand under chin.
Bee Lawson, 14, loved reading, writing and binge watching television. (Submitted by the Saskatchewan NDP)

Mackenzie said she believes there are many holes in the system, including a lack of counselling in schools and in the community.

“If you want a decent psychologist or a decent counsellor, you have to pay a lot of money to get that care. The free counsellors that you want to get into, the waitlists are unreal,” she said.

“We all have a voice, and we all need to stand together and use our voices for the ones who no longer can. We are not powerless. Our children and loved ones we’ve lost and continue to lose to mental health and addiction deserve justice. “

WATCH| Sask. mother of non-binary child who died by suicide says government’s proposed pronoun and gender policy is ‘smokescreen’ to distract: 

Sask. mother of non-binary child who died by suicide says Parents’ Bill of Rights is ‘smokescreen’ to distract

Featured VideoBefore Saskatchewan’s new and controversial Parents’ Bill of Rights was introduced, a mother was at the legislative building to suggest the new bill is a smokescreen to distract people from real issues. As CBC’s Bonnie Allen reports, her non-binary child died by suicide in May.

‘There’s more work to do’

Premier Scott Moe offered his condolences to Mackenzie’s family in the legislature Thursday.

“I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t fathom the loss of a child. When it comes to mental health supports, there’s more work to do,” he said.

“This is not an, ‘Awe shucks, wait and see, we need to do better.’ They are the government. It is their responsibility to do what it takes to keep children alive in this province,” Beck said in Question Period in response to Moe’s remarks.

“With better supports, Bee would be with us today.”

The NDP pointed to a provincial education sector staffing profile, which shows the number of school counsellors has increased by 0.7 positions and psychologist positions have decreased by 1.9 positions during the last two years. 

Moe has said the new policy will include increased supports for children, and Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill echoed that again in the legislature on Thursday.

“We do believe that what it does is it creates a better environment for those supports to be offered to students with whatever choices those students are making around identity,” Cockrill said.

Saskatchewan MLAs are set to debate the bill next week.

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