A few hundred people gathered outside the Ontario legislature Tuesday to protest the province's revised sex-education curriculum, while inside Premier Kathleen Wynne went on the attack against an Opposition critic.
Progressive Conservative Monte McNaughton, who is running for the party's leadership, is openly critical of the updated curriculum and said it's not the job of the premier – "especially Kathleen Wynne" – to tell parents what is age appropriate for their children.
Wynne, who is openly gay, demanded that McNaughton explain why he feels she is not qualified to set standards for kids in schools.
- New Ontario sex-ed curriculum ready for September
- Wynne wants students to learn about sexual consent early
- Liz Sandals 'taken aback' by sex ed criticism
"Is it that I'm a woman? Is it that I'm a mother? Is it that I have a master's of education? Is it that I was a school council chair? Is it that I was the minister of education?" Wynne said in the legislature.
'Is it that I'm a woman? Is it that I'm a mother? Is it that I have a master's of education?' - Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne
Education Minister Liz Sandals said after question period that McNaughton has made remarks "that are quite homophobic."
"What I find disturbing, other than just the undertones to some of the comments that have been made, is the fact that what we're trying to do is keep our kids safe and healthy," she said.
McNaughton said Wynne's suggestion that he's homophobic is "the lowest thing a premier of Ontario could say about any other legislator."
"When I started back in November questioning the premier on this I was very clear that this is about public consultation, talking to parents across the province, and for this premier to stoop this low is absolutely a shame and absolutely ridiculous," he said after question period.
Meanwhile, outside the legislature about 300 people protested the sex-ed curriculum, with some saying parents were not consulted enough, many complaining about masturbation being mentioned in the Grade 6 curriculum.
"I talk to my son about him growing up, about getting to that stage," said Hasan Ismail, a father of three who came from Hamilton to protest.
'You should decide who helps your child learn about your values.' - MP Patrick Brown
Speakers at the rally included McNaughton and fellow PC leadership contender MP Patrick Brown.
"You should decide who helps your child learn about your values," Brown told the crowd. "Maybe that's your family, your church, your synagogue, your mosque."
A spokesman for the third remaining candidate in the race, MPP Christine Elliott, said minutes before the rally began that she was due to speak, but Elliott did not end up attending. Her spokesman said "there was a change in plans as Christine had legislative duties to attend to."
Other speakers at the rally included members of the anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition, the Catholic group Parents As First Educators and several parents.
A small group of counter-protesters — which included NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, who is also a United Church minister — turned out to defend the new curriculum.
"Do they really want their children to learn about sex from the internet?" said DiNovo, referring to the anti-curriculum protesters. "Do they really want their children to learn from other children?"
The curriculum, which has not been updated since 1998, does not address newly arisen issues such as sexting and online bullying.
Parsons speaks in Toronto
Other proponents of the update include Leah Parsons of Dartmouth, N.S, whose teen daughter Rehtaeh became synonymous with those issues when, amid intense bullying, she died following a suicide attempt in 2013.
Parsons, who was in Toronto to speak at a conference on school safety, told CBC News her daughter "ended up in a situation with others who weren't taught what consent is, and respect and boundaries."
She says the advent of new technology makes a new curriculum crucial.
"Our children need our help and they need education," she said.
The government plans to introduce the new material in September.