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  • Writer's pictureTaylor McNallie

Parental Rights, or Parental Control?

Updated: Feb 4

On Wednesday, January 31st, Premier Danielle Smith released a video on X (formerly known as Twitter) to announce new anti-trans bans for the province of Alberta. These new bans come under the guise of “parental rights,” a term that has long been used throughout history. While we are often told “parental rights” are in place to protect children, that history shows us that it is much the opposite. Children have always been viewed as property, and parental rights have always been used to maintain parental control.

Danielle, whose real name is Marlaina, ends her video to say how much “we love and support you” to the youth impacted by these decisions, along with “we as the adults in your life will be there for you,” as if some parents aren’t abusing their 2SLGBTQIA+ kids, kicking them out of the house when they choose disclose their gender identity, and being led to an increased the risk of suicidality, substance use, and depression. Despite extensive research being publicly available to support the detrimental effects these types of bans and laws have on 2SLGBTQIA+ kids, governments continue to violate the rights of children based on right-wing propaganda and fear. In Saskatchewan, where similar legislations were passed, UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity filed a legal injunction to temporarily halt the bill on the basis of its violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In response, Conservative Premier Scott Moe called an emergency sitting of the provincial legislature to invoke the notwithstanding clause, which gives provincial legislatures the ability to override parts of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for five years.

So, who is this protecting? Is this really about the children, or is this about a generation of individuals who are working overtime to maintain a world we are trying so hard to transform?

The term "parental rights" has been coming up a lot lately and, as we should always do, we should explore where this term and the laws attached to is has come from. Parental rights has, historically, been used as a form of parental control. Parents have obligations to their children, while a child is a full human who deserves to have rights of their own. However, children remain an oppressed class. Arguably, they remain the most oppressed demographic on earth.

"Children’s oppression is the new problem that has no name. Their alienation is stigmatized as brattiness, ingratitude, and mental illness. Children are told that they’re lucky to not have to worry about money or politics. They’re given no say over the policies that marginalize, racialize, and commodify them. Medication and punishment will not solve children’s oppression: only political empowerment will." - Mich Ciurria

Parental Rights and Child Abuse

For decades, conservatives have used “parents’ rights” as a cover for violence, white supremacy and bigotry. For example, in the 60s and 70s as public schools were being racially integrated, "parental rights" were used for white parents to keep their children away from Black children through the creation of more <segregated> private schools and a push for home-schooling. Modern home-schooling in the West is, quite literally, rooted in white supremacy.

For those who may be unaware of my.. weekend accommodations, I am currently spending my weekends in prison. During my time there, there's not much else for me to do other than read whatever books I am provided with, and none of them are very great. However, there have been a few books that offered interesting information and historical context to some of the things we continue to see today. For example, there was one book titled 'The Loud Silence of Francine Green' which told the story of a young girl living through the McCarthyism era and reminded me of the history that upholds the belief that communism is a threat to our societal well-being. Another book, 'A Man Named Dave,' told the story of Dave Pelzer and his survival from extreme child abuse at the hands of his mother. In the book there are moments that help to explain the way "parental rights" were used to shield parents in the abuse of their children, particularly in the way teachers and other adult figures close to the family were made to accept that it was no ones business what happens in the home - even if a child was showing up to school or family functions with bruises. Those who tried to interfere were said to be violating "parental rights" as it was to be up to the parents on how to "discipline" their children.

It wasn't until the 70s, and even as recent as last year, that child abuse prevention acts and child labor laws were officially introduced and enacted in North America, such as the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in the United States in 1974 or the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act in Canada that was only just passed in May of 2023. However, as most things put in place by the government, these acts have upheld more harm as many of these laws and legislations are used to further oppress marginalized communities further by using them to remove Black and Indigenous children from the home and continue their efforts of assimilation.

Ironically, given the recent announcement, Canada also signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child with the United Nations in 1990 which states, "the child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice."

Parental Rights and Child Labor

For many years, people’s primary reason for having children had much to do with economics and a supply of labor. During industrialization and urbanization in the mid-19th century, children were the preferred "employees" because they could be paid less while also being seen as a demographic that would not cause problems by fighting back for fair treatment in the way adults would. Parental rights were used as a way to oppose child labor laws in the West, because children were beneficial to producing income for the household. Seeking out an education was never seen as a priority for children and, in fact, was something that was strongly opposed by parents and conservative governments who were dependant on the productive labor of children. Not only were children used to provide for the family, but beginning their life in the workforce at a young age prepared them for a life of labor in a capitalist society. Anyone who got in the way of this agenda was said to be violating parental rights.

Much of the work taken on by children was dangerous enough for adults, that it left many children disabled, or even deceased, due to workplace accidents. During the Industrial Revolution, an average of 112 deaths and 6,389 injured was the daily count on children due to their working conditions. This left families short on income when their children were no longer able to contribute to household income and, as children were viewed as property, courts of that period would provide a payout to parents based on "the probable value of the services of the deceased from the time of his death to the time he would have attained his majority.”

The fight on protecting child labor laws throughout the West continue to this day, as conservatives say "working has moral value for young people" and that "parents should make decisions for their children."

Parental Rights to Protect the Nuclear Family

In the video released by Danielle Smith, she begins her reasoning for these new bans with saying “decisions like choosing a career, a partner, and raising children" are impacted if youth are able to explore their gender identities and sexuality. This type of thinking is on par for the way we have been conditioned to view and respect the nuclear family; a family unit comprised of a married heterosexual, cisgender couple and their children. The nuclear family has been the staple family unit in the eyes of Western governments, particularly that of conservative governments, because it helps maintain the structures we exist in under capitalism.

Friedrich Engels taught us in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State that the nuclear family was how society remained "organized" through private wealth accumulation and patrilineal property inheritance. Much in the way children were used for labor to maintain the household, children have also been used to sustain lineages and futures (now see generational wealth). This idea, then, requires a certain type of family to carry on the legacy.

In the book 'Radical Intimacy' by Sophie K Rosa, she offers us insight into the many relationships we hold in our lives and how they are shaped based on the social and political influence dictating our lives. To maintain the nuclear family, which maintains the status quo, it requires cisgender people, heterosexuality, and monogamy in order to exist. We are continuously confined to the these boundaries as a form of control while living in a capitalist society. "Parental rights" are used as way to eliminate our learning and exploring of something outside of these cisheteropatiarchy norms by controlling our personal, interpersonal and intimate relationships with the people and world around us. The more we lose our identities as well as our relationship with people and land, the further we get from the reimagining and creating of new worlds.

"Often, 'protecting the children' is invoked to displace fear and hate. -- Moral panics reveal sublimated anxieties. If women are allowed to petition for divorce on equal terms, my wife might leave me for another man! If gay people are allowed marriages, it might change the significance of my straight one! If some relationship are non-monogamous, my monogamous one might be threatened! People often find reasons to negate increasing freedoms in the intimate sphere - intentionally and unintentionally shoring up the status quo - because, on some level, we are scared that a widening of acceptable ways of being might challenge the validity or stability of the identities and relational forms in which we seek meaning and security." - Sophie K Rosa

Imagine what our world would look like if we centered the needs and imaginations of children, a demographic so eager to learn, to create, to dream. I believe the child is suppressed within all of us in order to keep us from nourishing these qualities, because our dreams pull us away from what is and allows us to think of what could be. Our dreams create a world of possibility, and I dream of a day when we all get to play in it.


"Taylor McNallie dedicates her time to seeking racial justice and collective liberation through education and hands-on work with both marginalized communities and accomplices alike. As the co-creator of Inclusive Canada, she provides education on anti-racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness. She is also a member of the Walls Down Collective which provides access to no-barrier resources and care such as Harm Reduction, free food programs and an alternative to local policing."

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