Toronto·CBC Investigates

Some 'snitch-line' tips on teaching about same-sex marriage are flagged as alleged professional misconduct

The Ontario government flagged parent complaints as “allegations of professional misconduct” about educators teaching same sex marriage, sexting and masturbation alongside complaints about teachers using racial slurs, and making sexual advances toward students, according to records CBC News obtained through a freedom of information request.

Ontario places some cases in same category as sexual advances toward students

The back of students' heads can be seen as they listen to a teacher at the front of a classroom.
The flagged teacher complaints CBC News reviewed stem from submissions to the tip line the Ontario government created when it released an interim health and physical education curriculum for elementary schools in August 2018. (Shutterstock/Syda Productions)

The Ontario government has flagged some parent complaints about educators teaching same-sex marriage, sexting and masturbation as "allegations of professional misconduct."

It placed those complaints in the same category as complaints about teachers using racial slurs and making sexual advances toward students, according to records CBC News obtained through a freedom of information request.

The 27 flagged teacher complaints CBC News reviewed stem from submissions to the tip line — dubbed a snitch line by critics — the Progressive Conservative government created when it released an interim health and physical education curriculum for elementary schools last August.

The interim curriculum is based on a version from 1998 that replaced the sex-ed curriculum brought in by the previous Liberal government in 2015.

Just under half of the flagged complaints appear to be connected to the controversy surrounding the sex-ed curriculum, with six of them condemning teachers who allegedly said they would teach or were teaching aspects of the 2015 curriculum, like LGBT issues, sexting and masturbation.

All but two of those complaints were submitted in the first week the tip line was introduced. By the end of September the ministry had received roughly 25,000 submissions — although most of those involved curriculum concerns and not allegations against specific teachers.

Please investigate.If my child is taught about same-sex marriage I will sue.- Parent's complaint

In one of the flagged teacher complaints a parent says that a Durham District School Board (DDSB) teacher told the parent she plans to teach children about same-sex marriage.

"I do not want my child learning about this vile act, and Mr. Ford has made it clear that she should be fired (and go to hell) for teaching this," reads the complaint. "Please investigate. If my child is taught about same-sex marriage I will sue."

Another flagged complaint concerning a different elementary school in the DDSB takes issue with a teacher saying he'll teach his students "about cyberbullying and how they shouldn't send 'sexts.'"

"This is disgusting, and he needs to be fired," writes the complainant. "I elected a great man to stop this bulls--t. Why should my child learn what 'sexting' is? It's perverted. The best prevention is to NOT teach them."

The DDSB had the second most flagged complaints, with three of the 27.

It was only topped by the Toronto District School Board, which is the largest school board in Canada, whose teachers were the subject of eight of the 27 complaints.

CBC News reached out to the Ministry of Education to find out what its criteria were for flagging a complaint about a teacher, and provided a copy of the complaints obtained through an FOI request.

In an email, a spokesperson explained that "flagged submissions were those which included allegations of professional misconduct by a member of the teaching profession."

Some complaints 'absolutely not' misconduct

But a University of Toronto education professor and former principal says the flagged complaints about same-sex marriage and sexting are "absolutely not" examples of misconduct.

Instead, Mary Reid told CBC News that the "bottom line is [teachers are] responsible to deliver a program in which their students are safe."

Education professor Mary Reid says the complaints the Ministry of Education flagged about same-sex marriage and sexting are 'absolutely not' examples of misconduct. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

"There are LGBT kids perhaps in that classroom, in that school, within that community," said Reid. "They're not going to feel included. Teachers are responsible for their well-being."

After reading some of the complaints CBC News obtained, one LGBT Toronto parent says the records just reinforce the fears that led her to launch a lawsuit against the provincial government with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to stop the changes to the sex-ed curriculum.

Last week, a divisional court dismissed Becky McFarlane's case, arguing it's the role of elected officials, not the courts, to make legislation and policy.

But the decision from the three-judge panel noted that "nothing in the [interim] curriculum prohibits a teacher from teaching any of the topics in question, which include: consent, use of proper names to describe body parts, gender identity and sexual orientation, online behaviour and cyberbullying, sexually transmitted diseases and infections."

That's one of the defences government lawyers had used in response to the lawsuit. But now the flagged complaints have McFarlane questioning whether teachers are really free to teach those topics.

LGBT parent Becky McFarlane is worried the tip line is being used to 'promote hatred.' (Chris Glover/CBC)

The government says "you can totally talk about LGBTQ2S, you could totally talk about consent, there's no problem whatsoever," McFarlane told CBC News. "And yet what we now are learning is that the Ministry of Education presumably doesn't think so."

Flagged complaints include racial slurs

For some of the other flagged complaints the allegation of professional misconduct seems more clear. A few refer to teachers using racial slurs in front of and toward students, others allege sexual impropriety — including an alleged video of a teacher having sex with a student.

"You can't compare somebody having sexual relationships with a student … with a teacher who's teaching about LGBT issues," said Reid, adding that as soon as there are "allegations of sexual misconduct we know there has to be an investigation immediately."

Regardless of the nature of the complaint, or whether it should be considered an allegation of professional misconduct, the Ministry of Education says it "does not have authority over matters relating to the conduct of individual teachers."

Tip line a 'waste of taxpayers' time'

That power rests with the Ontario College of Teachers. So the province redirected 13 of the 27 complainants — those who provided contact information — to the regulatory body's website for more information about its complaint process.

For Reid, that process illustrates why the tip line is "a waste of taxpayers' time."

"Why doesn't the parent just go directly to the system that's already in place and has been working already for many years?" she said to CBC News.

The College of Teachers declined a request for an interview. In an email it said, "the college does not comment on complaints from any particular source" but does provide statistics in its annual reports on the nature and origin of complaints. Staff are still putting together the 2018 numbers.

Despite the fact the province doesn't have the power to investigate the complaints it flagged, McFarlane still worries about some of them getting passed to the college, since investigators there are busy looking into "legitimate issues that keep children safe."

"I don't want those really useful mechanisms to be used to actually serve a completely different motivation, which is to promote hatred towards any other group of people," she said.


Nicole Brockbank

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nicole Brockbank is a reporter for CBC Toronto's Enterprise Unit. Fuelled by coffee, she digs up, researches and writes original investigative and feature stories.

With files from Chris Glover and The Canadian Press