It was only three years ago that anti–sex ed activists were regularly protesting the provincial government’s introduction of a revised sexual education curriculum.
But on July 21, 2018, a very different group of people had gathered to protest that curriculum’s repeal by the Doug Ford government.
Hundreds of people attended the March for Our Education at Queen’s Park in Toronto to demand that the government scrap its plan to revert to the old sex-ed curriculum, which had been introduced in 1998.
“Three years ago I remember clearly seeing on television a crowd as large as this right here at Queen’s Park — but it was a different crowd,” Frank Hong, a Grade 12 student at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute and co-chair of the event, told the audience. “It was a crowd, whipped up by radicals, the fringe elements of society.”
Speakers emphasized the dangers of going back to a curriculum that was written before social media, same-sex marriage or trans rights.
“I’ve seen friends struggle with the issue of gender identity and acceptance from their peers,” Hong said. “For some, these changes might directly impact life or death.”
Glen Canning, whose daughter Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide in 2013 after photos of her rape were distributed around her town in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, said the information about consent in the revised sex-education curriculum could have saved his daughter’s life.
“I have absolutely no doubt in my mind, no question at all, that Rehtaeh’s life would have turned out a lot different had consent been taught in school when she was growing up,” he said.
Canning emphasized that the only acceptable outcome of any consultation process was to leave the sex-education curriculum as it is.
In her speech, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said that even in 1998, the old curriculum wasn’t adequate.
“I think we would all agree that the 1998 curriculum was never good enough to keep young people safe, even in 1998,” she said. “It completely ignores queer youth, gender identity and LGBT2+ families.”
Horwath said Premier Doug Ford had cut a “backroom deal” with extremist social conservatives to rip up the curriculum.
“Doug Ford cares more about the favours that he owes to social conservatives, to radical, extremist social conservatives, than he does about keeping young people safe,” she said.
The Ford government continues to vacillate on what students will be taught in the upcoming school year.
While Lisa Thompson, the education minister, has announced that the curriculum will be reverted, school boards have yet to receive any directions from the government.