Hundreds demonstrate over TDSB-Confucius Institute partnership

Hundreds demonstrate at a Toronto District School Board committee meeting as trustees discuss a controversial partnership with the Confucius Institute.

Committee recommends cancelling deal with Chinese cultural group

Parents, teachers and students have protested against any involvement of the Chinese government in Canadian schools. (CBC)

Hundreds demonstrated at a Toronto District School Board committee meeting on Wednesday night as trustees moved towards cancelling a controversial partnership with the Confucius Institute.

The school board previously delayed a partnership with the Chinese cultural institute so that it could be more closely examined after parents, many of them Chinese immigrants, began raising objections to the partnership, citing concerns that the institute is closely linked to the Chinese government and operated by Beijing's Communist Education Ministry. 

The partnership would see after-school programs on Chinese culture taught by Ontario-certified teachers in line with the province’s curriculum.

The committee voted Wednesday to recommend the program be cancelled. 

"I do not yet feel reassured that going forward with this would be a good move for the board," said TDSB chair Mari Rutka.

"There have been too many concerns raised, I think, again, we have the examples of a number of other institutions that have decided not to go on with this."

'The evidence was overwhelming'

Many other trustees agreed with the assessment. 

'When it became obvious that this was an organization with connections to the Chinese government and parents were very concerned about it, we asked staff to bring it to us so we could look at it," said Cathy Dandy, a TDSB trustee, on CBC's Metro Morning Thursday morning.

Dandy also said that in most cases, staff can sign partnership arrangements without the consent of the board. Trustees only asked to review the Confucius Institute deal after vocal objections from parents. 

"For many of us the evidence was overwhelming ... the risk versus reward was just too great to continue with this," Dandy said. 

The TDSB has already accepted nearly $100,000 from the Confucius Institute for classroom upgrades and materials, but Dandy says any money left over will be returned and there will no further costs to the TDSB.  

The University of Toronto and Penn State University in the U.S. have both backed away from working with the Confucius Institute in the past several years. 

TDSB trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher told CBC News that she can't understand what all the fuss is about.

"I would be shocked out of my mind if the Chinese government can reach across the ocean and touch Canadian citizens here, who are teaching Canadian children Canadian curriculum," she said in a recent interview.

The TDSB will vote on the matter at the end of the month, and Dandy said a review will determine if the rules should be revised so that trustees have more of a say in future partnership agreements. 

With files from the CBC's Jasmin Seputis