Workers for Service Canada were issued a correction to a previous directive regarding greeting callers with non-specific gender neutral language. The old directive caused mass confusion over the use of “parents” instead of “mother” or “father” — when speaking to the public.
Service Canada provides a wide range of government services and benefits for Canadian citizens. The new rules recognize Canada’s “diverse population,” meaning transgenders and same-sex couples with children.
Under the previous directive, whenever a citizen (or non-citizen) called Service Canada for children’s services, the worker referred to them as “parent number one” or “parent number two”, which caused mass confusion.
“It happens that we talk to people and we ask, ‘What is the name of parent number one?’ People do not understand,” said a government official who spoke to the CBC anonymously.
Under the new directive, agents still use “parents” rather than “mother” or “father”. Honorifics such as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” will still be recognized, but agents must ask the caller what they wish to be called.
“The directive that was sent this morning was confusing it will be corrected, so that it’s clear Service Canada agents have the respectful responsibility to do exactly what they are paid to do,” said Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.
“Now, when there is uncertainty as to how Canadians want to be respectfully greeted by Service Canada agents, Service Canada agents will politely and respectfully ask Canadians how they want to be greeted.”
“This avoids portraying a perceived bias toward a particular sex or gender,” says a copy of speaking notes prepared for managers and team leaders, obtained by the CBC.
Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBT rights group Egale Canada, said her group was “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.
Stock photo by FatCamera / Getty Images