Sexual Education in Ontario: Canadian Civil Liberties Association Lawsuit

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Some accomplishments in life deserve applause, approval, and accolades. However, accomplishment can seem ambiguous in the evaluation of the relative success of a purported achievement.

Indeed, the updates – or, maybe, ‘down-dates’ or ‘back-dates’ – for the sexual education curriculum for Ontario students are underway. It brings the notion of a good education and a bad education into the forefront of the public discourse, where it can show in the words and the actions of the general population and, most importantly, the educators.

International and national documents speak to the right of children to have their best interests in mind, where the parents, the educational system, the community, and the governments bear the responsibility to enact the best interests of the children by implication. Rights exist for everyone, not some – or in part for some and all for others.[1]

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association decided to sue the Government of Ontario based on discriminatory changes to the sexual education curriculum – or ‘sex ed’ curriculum – in Ontario (Gollom, 2018).

This suggests human rights, the best interests of the child, and the right to education for children. One core document in international children’s rights remains the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (OHCHR, 1989).

Article 3(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states the best interests of the child should be – so a moral stipulation – the primary consideration in all actions (OHCHR, 1989).[2]

Article 28 of the Convention remarks, in part, on the fundamental recognition of the right to education for children (Ibid.). Furthermore, Article 29 of the Convention speaks to the goals of education with the inclusion of respect for others, human rights, and their own and others’ culture (Ibid.).[3]

One may reflect on the human rights of, and intrinsic respect for, the sexual orientation and gender identity minorities within the province of Ontario educational curriculum through potential non-inclusion or minimization of existence.

If an advanced industrial economy, constitutional monarchy, and democracy retains the ability to provide a fuller education or give better educational provisions via the sexual education curriculum, and if the same nation does not, does this, in part, deny the full implementation of the right to education for children as per Article 28 of the Convention? Also, does this violate the best interests of the child as per Article 3(1)?

Elected in 2018, Premier Doug Ford (Progressive Conservative government for Ontario) announced the retraction of the newer sexual education curriculum constructed and implemented by the previous government in Ontario led by Kathleen Wynne.

Teachers may risk punishment through non-compliance with the implementation of the old sexual education curriculum from almost two decades ago, in Ontario. This old curriculum will be an “interim curriculum” (Gollom, 2018).

Now, the Ontario government is creating a website for parents to complain or express concerns over what kids may hear in class. Does the reportage of parents, possibly en masse, in Ontario public schools work to build the needed bonds of trust and solidarity between teachers, parents, and government for the best interests of the child or not?

Does the potential public humiliation and intimidation of conscientious objector status teachers improve the morale of educators in Ontario or not? What might be the long-term impact on teacher-government relations into the future because of it?

Michael Bryant, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association Executive Director, opined, “[The government’s actions are a] ham-fisted dog-whistle of bigotry, of homophobia, dressed up as a consultation fix… We are calling it out and taking it to court” (Ibid.).

Some judge the decisions of Premier Doug Ford as discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community and a “lesson in homophobia” (Bigham, 2018). Others see this as the placement of parents’ rights first (Salutin, 2018).

Others, with proper authority, including Education Minister Lisa Thompson has or, have been unavailable for comment for prominent news organizations such as the CBC (CBC, 2018a). Still others, they opine on the level of knowledge children have about sex, i.e., a lot (Thomas, 2018).

Some may direct attention to the recent furor over the right to free speech – with international movements, dialogues, debates and lecture circuit attendees riding the wind of it, and making good money off it – in some of the culture, which, of course, remains a misnomer – ‘free speech’ – when they mean the right to freedom of expression (Government of Canada, 1982; UN, 1948).[4] As an aside, in actuality, a minor phenomenon worth little attention.

However, the argument from Vice News is the hypocrisy in the argument for free speech while also the prevention of educators to teach kids about consent by the government (Csanady, 2018). Take, for example, the inclusion of the term “transgender” only with a single appearance now, too (Ibid.). These limit the ability of educators to properly and fully teach the young.

Does this transgender or trans example relate to the minimization of the marginal – often suicidal due to more bullying, misunderstanding, and prejudice – in this country through the educational system regression mentioned earlier and in-progress now (PREVnet, 2018)?[5] Bullying remains a human rights violation as well (Ibid.; PREVnet, n.d.).[6]

The updated sex education curriculum emerged in 2015, as a revision and expansion of the 1998 sexual education curriculum in Ontario schools for children. In the electronic era, this included the information about gender identity, online bullying, and sexting. Something not foreseeable by most in the 1990s.

Social conservatives remain the main opponents to the 2015 educational curriculum coverage on gender identity, masturbation, and same-sex relationships.

With the call to appeal to the social conservative base of Premier Ford, several teachers’ unions and “thousands of parents and the Official Opposition have criticized the government’s decision to scrap the modernized sex ed curriculum” (Gollom, 2018).

One daughter could be marginalized in the light of the sexual education curriculum reversion to 1998 from 2015. Bryant uses the lawsuit from the family of the daughter who may face marginalization from within the school if the complete regression to the 1990s happens in the sexual education of Ontario youth.

The daughter is 10-years-old with a protected identity. The mother, Becky McFarlane, is queer. Bryant argues the interim curriculum leaves important information out of the sexual education information needed by students now.

Bryant stated, “They’ve taken out content in a way that discriminates against this family on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity” (Gollom, 2018). A Chernos Flaherty Svonkin LLP lawyer, Stuart Svonkin, is working with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association from three main targeted arguments:

  • The government’s decision is not consistent with Ontario’s Education Act, which requires the province to provide inclusive school environments.
  • The decision is inconsistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — specifically, the equality of rights and security of the person.
  • The decision violates the Ontario Human Rights Code. (Ibid.)

Many human rights lawyers are working on challenges to the decision of the government of Premier Ford, on behalf of six other families. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) asked teachers to ignore the call by the Government of Ontario (Newport, 2018a). This created the foundation upon which the government based the “snitch-line” for parents about dissenting teachers (Newport, 2018b).

Windsor, Ontario LGBTQ+ leaders remain unhappy with the decision of the provincial government (Georgieva, 2018). The head of the largest school board in Ontario attempted to console and cajole the teachers about several important topics remaining within the interim sexual education curriculum (The Canadian Press, 2018). While at the same time, John Malloy, stated the interim curriculum still leaves things out now (Ibid.).

However, this has been frustrating several teachers on-the-ground (CBC, 2018b). Important to note, and as far as I can tell, Premier Ford and Minister Thompson have not taken questions – not simply for the CBC but any media outlet.

The Toronto District School Board chair, Robin Pilkey, described how the interim curriculum does not address the permissions and restrictions on educators of what can and cannot be taught to the youth.

As reported by The Canadian Press (2018), “She says board staff are currently combing through the new document and the now-repealed modernized version to figure out how they differ — but notes the province had months to provide that information.”

Does this disrespect the time and profession of teachers in Ontario? By implication, through insufficient time to prepare educational materials for students, does this harm students with improper and incomplete education?

The Government of Ontario declared a consultation process for the sexual education curriculum without an explicit statement as to the costs of it (Gollom, 2018). Throughout the consultation, high school students will learn the modernized, 2015, curriculum while Grades 1-8 will learn the interim curriculum in Ontario.

“My understanding is it’s not going to include concepts like consent, that it’s not going to address issues like cyberbullying and that leaves our kids at risk,” Andrea Horwath, the NDP leader, stated, “For the purposes of satisfying backroom deals that Mr. Ford made when he was running for the leadership with the radical social conservatives in his party, he’s continuing to put our children at risk.”

As asked throughout, does this violate the best interests of the children in Ontario?

Does this, in part, deny the right to education of the children in Ontario?

Does the calling out of teachers humiliate them and not empower them?

Does this ‘snitch’ program degrade government-parent-teacher relations over the long-term?

Does the insufficient time given to teachers disrespect the time and profession of the educators?

By implication, through not enough time to prepare the curriculum for students, does this harm students with improper and incomplete, and hastily put together, educational resources?

If an affirmative response to some, most, or all of these, then those – as per statements at the outset – are accomplishments, of a sort, Premier Ford can count on the record with little in the way of “applause, approval, and accolades,” but, rather, the opposite on a number of fronts.

References

Bigham, B. (2018, August 28). Ontario’s dated sex-ed plan is a lesson in homophobia. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-ontarios-dated-sex-ed-plan-is-a-lesson-in-homophobia/.

CBC. (2018a, August 28). GTA school boards still parsing Ontario PC sex ed changes. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/school-boards-grapple-with-sex-ed-changes-1.4801773.

CBC. (2018b, August 24). Sex-ed edict frustrates local educators. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/sex-ed-curriculum-1.4797055.

Csanady, A. (2018, August 28). The Worst Part Of Doug Ford’s Sex Ed Snitch Line Is His Glaring Hypocrisy. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/paw5qk/the-worst-part-of-doug-fords-sex-ed-snitch-line-is-his-glaring-hypocrisy.

Georgieva, K. (2018, August 27). Windsor LGBTQ leaders rip into interim sex-ed curriculum. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/lgbt-leaders-sex-education-curriculum-1.4799872.

Gollom, M. (2018, August 16). Sex-ed curricula can’t satisfy everyone, and they shouldn’t try, say some experts. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sex-education-ontario-canada-curriculum-1.4786045.

Government of Canada. (1982). Constitution Act, 1982: Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Retrieved from http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html.

Newport, A. (2018a, August 28). Here’s How Mississauga Schools Will Address the Sex-Ed Controversy. Retrieved from https://www.insauga.com/heres-how-mississauga-schools-will-address-the-sex-ed-controversy.

Newport, A. (2018b, August 23). Ontario Government Asking Parents to Tattle on Teachers Who Ignore Sex-Ed Mandate. Retrieved from https://www.insauga.com/ontario-government-asking-parents-to-tattle-on-teachers-who-ignore-sex-ed-mandate.

OHCHR. (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx.

PREVnet. (n.d.). Bullying: A Human Rights Issue. Retrieved from https://www.prevnet.ca/sites/prevnet.ca/files/fact-sheet/PREVNet-SAMHSA-Factsheet-Bullying-A-Human-Rights-Issue.pdf.

PREVnet. (2018). LGBTQ Youth. Retrieved from https://www.prevnet.ca/bullying/parents/parents-of-lgbtq-youth.

Salutin, R. (2018, August 28). Doug Ford will put parents’ rights first. Who will do that for kids?. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2018/08/28/doug-ford-will-put-parents-rights-first-who-will-do-that-for-kids.html.

The Canadian Press. (2018). Head of Toronto school board reassures teachers on sex-ed curriculum. Retrieved from https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/head-of-toronto-school-board-reassures-teachers-on-sex-ed-curriculum-1.4068075.

Thomas, W. (2018, August 28). Ontario’s new sex-ed: horny birds and honey bees. Retrieved from https://www.niagarathisweek.com/opinion-story/8865152-ontario-s-new-sex-ed-horny-birds-and-honey-bees/.

UN. (1948, December 10). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/.

Footnote

[1] If one argues for one right for oneself, e.g. freedom of religion, and against one right for another, e.g., reproductive health rights, then one denies the universality of human rights in principle and, in turn, the basic premise of human rights as something for all people through implementation of all rights – never perfect but in the fundamental ethical precept implied through the universality of human rights. Important to note, when one speaks of human rights and the international community, the purpose of the reiteration of the stipulations not only amounts to personal or group opinion in the moment about the particulars of an issue impinging on the human rights concerns of members of a society but also on the fundamental basis of stating the international rights agreed upon and signed through international rights documents, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Not simply a single person or group touting an opinion, rather, the consensus and agreements, and stipulations, of the international community, of which the single person or group agrees on – the rights of persons.

[2] Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states in full:

1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

OHCHR. (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx.

[3] Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states in full:

1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

(a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;

(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;

(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;

(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;

(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.

2. No part of the present article or article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principle set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.

OHCHR. (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx.

[4] Part I(2) in subsection b of the Constitution Act, 1982: Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:

…freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

Government of Canada. (1982). Constitution Act, 1982: Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Retrieved from http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in full:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

UN. (1948, December 10). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/.

[5] PREVnet (2018) LGBTQ Youth states:

All Youth Deserve To Feel Safe. Bullying Is A Human Rights Violation.

Questioning or accepting one’s sexual orientation can be a difficult process for teens, especially when coupled with the other stresses of adolescence. Approximately 4% of teens identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBTQ). These kids are more likely to be victims of bullying, sexual harassment and physical abuse and face a greater risk of social isolation.

The bullying experienced by LGBTQ youth is similar to other types of bullying in adolescence, but it is particularly hurtful because these kids are keenly aware of society’s heterosexual bias.

PREVnet. (2018). LGBTQ Youth. Retrieved from https://www.prevnet.ca/bullying/parents/parents-of-lgbtq-youth.

[6] Bullying: A Human Rights Issue (n.d.) states:

When children are victimized, whether the perpetrator is an adult or a peer, their rights are being violated. Every human deserves and is entitled to respect and protection from discrimination and harassment. As a vulnerable population within society, children are at an increased risk for victimization and depend on adults to protect them and advocate for their human rights.

PREVnet. (n.d.). Bullying: A Human Rights Issue. Retrieved from https://www.prevnet.ca/sites/prevnet.ca/files/fact-sheet/PREVNet-SAMHSA-Factsheet-Bullying-A-Human-Rights-Issue.pdf.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

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2 thoughts on “Sexual Education in Ontario: Canadian Civil Liberties Association Lawsuit

  1. This is an absolutely monumental topic; it is much more than a question of good or bad education.

    This topic, I believe, represents the largest full frontal assault on the values of our Judeo-Christian civilization. Christianity, in particular, has endured (and, miraculously, survived!) over 200 years of literary, historical, and philosophical criticism. Yet throughout those years, its values, specifically its emphasis on the nuclear family and hetero-normativity, have remained largely unquestioned.

    This sex-ed curriculum debate, for the first time, officially seeks to undermine those traditional values in the public sphere. I don’t think this story will have a happy ending; society will splinter (I really think it is that serious).

    Discussion on rights are red-herrings. This is not a debate on arbitrary human rights, but fundamentally on questions of morality. Traditional values are being attacked; some might think that is a good thing, but I think this assault will upset our social fabric.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Lots to talk about here and lots to think about.

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