3 min

School board intervenes in ESL brouhaha

Publishers say pamphlet's not hate literature

While dropping by the Adult Learning Centre at 2944 Danforth Ave last month, Matt Hughes stumbled upon a pamphlet that has resulted in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) bringing staff together for antihomophobia education.

Hughes, former president of the Canadian Lesbian And Gay Archives, also reported the pamphlet to the police, but says nothing’s come of it.

The pamphlet in question, sitting among the swimming lesson schedules and community workshop brochures, was from the rightwing Christian group Defend Marriage. The front page features a photo of a bride kissing her groom and reads: “Paul Martin’s antimarriage Bill C-38 threatens human rights and religious freedom, our culture and the future of Canada itself. Find out why this bill is dangerous and what you can do to stop it.”

“As a married gay man, this did not go over well,” says Hughes, who says he was shocked to see the pamphlet in a school setting.

Hughes, who was there picking up information for a friend, complained to staff. He says they looked puzzled and one replied, “I don’t know what you mean.” Hughes says he met with the principal who tore up several of the pamphlets.

Hughes says he was unable to find out who put them there in the first place.

“The table with the brochures and pamphlets was near the principal’s door,” he says.

Hughes called the Ontario Human Rights Commission to lodge a complaint; staff there told him that since the offending material wasn’t directed at him as an individual, it didn’t qualify as a complaint. The commission directed him to the Toronto Police Service’s Hate Crimes Unit.

Hughes called the unit four times and was told three times that someone would call him back. He hasn’t heard back and he’s given up.

“If this is the way the office is run, it would be difficult for anyone to complain,” says Hughes. “I’ve done my part.”

Hughes got more results from his complaint to the TDSB, which manages the English As A Second Language (ESL) program at the school. Within two weeks the board had two staff from its equity department conduct a session on discrimination and homophobia for senior staff at all the board’s Language Instruction For Newcomers To Canada (LINC) schools.

“Our human rights department went nuts,” says Kathryne Rumbel, manager of the board’s ESL programs. “There is absolutely no way this can be in a TDSB school.”

Rumbel says the sessions went well and that there “was a lot of lively discussion.”

The half-day session featured speakers talking about homo-phobia and harassment issues. Staff were given an antihomophobia resource guide and participated in exercises about stereotyping. Rumbel says they were told about their duty to accommodate difference , including sexual orientation. The sessions also included information about same-sex marriage.

“They need to know how to deal with the upcoming Bill C-38,” says Rumbel, referring to the same-sex marriage bill currently working its way through Parliament. She says there will be a follow-up session this month “to make sure the site supervisors know everything down cold.”

Rumbel says that all of the board’s ESL schools are expected to monitor what the school displays from now on. “Nothing will go on the resource table until it is vetted by the LINC personnel officer.”

Hughes is happy with the school board’s actions. “They’ve taken a major step in cleaning up their act.”

The pamphlet was produced by the Defend Marriage Coalition, a relatively new organization founded by rightwing groups Catholic Civil Rights League, Canada Family Action Coalition, Campaign Life Coalition and Real Women Of Canada.

Joanne McGarry, Toronto-based executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League, says that whoever put the pamphlet in the school should have asked first.

“Any pamphlet should not be put somewhere without permission,” says McGarry. “I always ask permission to leave pamphlets at different churches.”

McGarry disagrees with Hughes’ characterization of the pamphlet as hate literature.

“Hate literature has to be very serious defamation,” says McGarry. “I’ve seen hate literature, and this isn’t it.”