Abortion, Holocaust comparison prompts calls for sex ed investigation in Alberta

Sexual health advocates are calling for a provincewide investigation of Alberta’s sex education curriculum after a video comparing abortion to the Holocaust was shown in a Red Deer Catholic school.

Warning: some may find the content in this video disturbing

A video shown to students at a Catholic high school in Red Deer, Alta., compares abortion to the Holocaust. (Facebook)

Sexual health advocates are calling for a provincewide investigation of Alberta's sex education curriculum after a video comparing abortion to the Holocaust was shown in a Red Deer Catholic school.

"The messaging in the video shown was irresponsible; it was medically inaccurate; it was theological. It was misinformation and it was myths," said Cristina Stasia, the founder of Accessing Information not Myths (AIM).

"That's incredibly frustrating because there are resources that provide evidence-based information about abortion and reproductive rights, and none of that was shared with the students."

Groups seeking investigation

The three-minute video, titled The Case Against Abortion: Personhood, was screened in a Grade 10 religion class at École Secondaire Notre Dame in March, during a presentation by the group Red Deer and Area Pro Life.

About 75 seconds into the anti-abortion video, a controversial parallel is introduced when a piece of paper fills the screen, stating, "… abortion, infanticide, and the euthanization of the disabled, elderly or infirm can all be justified. Of course, we've seen this before."
Representatives from the Red Deer and Area Pro Life screened this anti-abortion video for Grade 10 students at Ecole Secondaire Notre Dame in March. In this excerpt, the video draws a parallel between abortion and the Holocaust. 1:07

It then cuts to the word Auschwitz, a reference to the Second World War Nazi death camp. The next 40 seconds of the video are about the widespread killing by the Nazi regime.

Several groups, including the Compass Centre for Sexual Wellness, the Calgary Sexual Health Centre and AIM (Accessing Information not Myths), are asking Education Minister David Eggen to investigate the incident and ensure students are not being "indoctrinated."

On Tuesday, Eggen called the video inappropriate.

"Making an assertion between abortion and the Holocaust was quite fundamentally outrageous," said Eggen, insisting Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools must investigate.

"Quite frankly if this is taking place in other classes around the province, I want to hear about it."
A screenshot from the video shown to students at a Red Deer Catholic high school. (Facebook)

Eggen said the incident was a lesson in making sure balanced and accurate information is being presented to students.

"This was not any of those things," he said of the video. 

The sentiment is echoed by the B'nai Brith, an advocacy group for Jewish and human rights. 

"It's really disturbing because it seems to me like it's propagandising," a western coordinator for B'nai Brith, Ryan Bellerose, told CBC News. "To make an invalid comparison to the Holocaust when you're talking about legally mandated abortions, that just seems wrong to me."

The school district responds

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools said the presentation was intended to teach students that "human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception," as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 

The school district acknowledged that the presentation contained controversial resources that did not achieve the "intended teaching outcome." 

In an emailed statement, board chair Guy Pelletier apologized for any "issues" the presentation may have caused students, but indicated the school will welcome the group back to their classrooms.

Pelletier said the division has asked the Red Deer and Area Pro-Life to "make adjustments" to the presentation to ensure it is more appropriate for students.

'Parents and taxpayers need assurances'

"I'm glad that the board chair and the minister are recognizing that the video is a problem, but the video is hardly the only problem with that presentation," Stasia said. 
Christina Stasia said the incident raises serious concerns about the quality of sexual education across the province. (Supplied)

Stasia said the use of tax dollars to fund "fear-based' sexual education in public classrooms is unacceptable.

"Parents and taxpayers need assurances that myths and misinformation are not being delivered in other schools, and swift action by the minister will ensure that our children receive a non-judgmental, 21st century education," Stasia said.

"We don't need to bring in people who are not educated about sex ed to teach about sex ed" when experts are readily available, she said.

She's lobbying the government to investigate all third-party sexual-health presenters in Alberta schools, and explore what screening protocols are in place for third-party presenters.

The province should also expedite updates to Alberta's sexual health curriculum to ensure it's up to date and medically accurate, Stasia said.

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon


Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

With files from Roberta Bell