PC's sex-ed repeal 'fails to keep young people safe,' Toronto protesters say

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and a thousand students, parents and teachers descended on Toronto Saturday to blast the Progressive Conservative government's decision to teach a 20-year-old sex-ed curriculum this school year.

A thousand people gathered at Queen's Park to decry the government's sex-ed rollback

A thousand people, including students, parents and teachers, rallied at Queen's Park Saturday in a show of solidarity against the government's plan to revert to a 20-year-old sex-ed curriculum. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and a thousand students, parents and teachers descended on Toronto Saturday to blast the Progressive Conservative government's decision to teach a 20-year-old sex-ed curriculum this school year. 

Glen Canning, the father of Rehtaeh Parsons — the Halifax teen who died in 2013 following months of bullying and an alleged sexual assault — was among the protesters at Queen's Park.

Canning told the crowd, "I have absolutely no doubt in my mind, no question at all," that if Ontario's modernized sex-ed curriculum had been in place in Nova Scotia at the time, his daughter might still be alive.

"Five years ago we put our child into the ground, when she was 17 years old, because there were four boys in her high school who weren't taught and weren't educated about what consent means," he said. Halifax RCMP did not lay charges of sexual assault in her case.

"Imagine where we'd be right now in Ontario if we started there, if we started when kids were really young and needed to hear this message. Imagine what the sexual violence statistics would be in Ontario if we kept doing that."

Glen Canning has been one of the most outspoken critics of the newly elected government's decision. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

In November 2011, Parsons attended a party where, she alleged, she was sexually assaulted.

An explicit photo taken during the incident spread among the kids at her school and led to months of relentless online bullying. Parsons died when she taken off life support in April 2013 following a suicide attempt.

"We would do anything to go back in time with Ontario's 2015 curriculum and make sure with all our strength and all our might that was going to be taught in the schools of Nova Scotia," he said.

Canning said repealing the curriculum means children and teens in Ontario won't learn about topics that can help them feel safer in school.

"We have your back and we're not going to give up on this, we're going to win this," Canning said to youth and the LGBTQ community. 

Rehtaeh Parsons, a Nova Scotia teen, was taken off life-support in April 2013 after attempting suicide. Her death sparked a national conversation about sexual assault and consent. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

'No decisions on what new curriculum will look like': PCs

​Premier Doug Ford announced last week that the sex-ed curriculum taught in classrooms this fall will be the 1998 version, not the updated and controversial program introduced by the Liberals in 2015. Ford has called the modernized curriculum a "failed ideological experiment."

But on Monday, following staunch criticism from the Official Opposition and advocates, Education Minister Lisa Thompson went back-and-forth on just what concepts will be taught, telling reporters at the Legislature that not all parts of the modernized curriculum would be scrapped. 

"We know they need to learn about consent, we know they need to learn about cyber safety, we know they need to learn about gender identity and appreciation, " she said, while maintaining that the former Liberal government's consultation process was flawed. 

"We have made no decisions on what the new curriculum will look like. The final decision on the scope of the new curriculum will be based on what we hear from Ontario parents."

Following her comments on Monday, Thompson did not answer questions from reporters again for the remainder of the week, despite repeated attempts by multiple news outlets to get further clarification on the government's plan. 

1998 curriculum fails youth, Horwath says

Protests have spread across the province since Ford's announcement.

Horwath, who has repeatedly spoken out against the PCs plan, called it "shameful" on Saturday and pointed out that the curriculum needed to be updated to cover a range of topics facing youth today — such as sexual consent, cyberbulling, gender and sexual identity that are not included in the old curriculum.   

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Tory government's decision is 'shameful,' adding the curriculum needs to cover a range of topics facing youth today. (Paul St. Onge/CBC)

"Doug Ford is absolutely wrong to rip up that curriculum and drag Ontario back to the previous century," she told protesters.

"It's going to put kids at risk, it's not going to give our kids the tools they need to stay safe, and it's not going to give our queer youth the sense of belonging they deserve."

She added the old curriculum fails youth on several levels because it wasn't conceived to address the ever-changing digital landscape, such as social media, and the adoption of same-sex marriage in 2005.   

"There's such a tumultuous situation that is not only going to be difficult for educators, but it's going to be very, very challenging for young people because they're going to be taught a curriculum that has no bearing on a modern society," she explained.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson, left, says the 1998 curriculum will remain in place until a newly revised curriculum can be put together after consultations with parents. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Horwath accused the premier of "dancing to the tune" of the social conservative faction with the PC party, pandering to a group that she says "doesn't represent or show what the people of Ontario believe when it comes to keeping our kids safe."

"We're saying to Mr. Ford, 'You don't have to do this, you don't have to drag us back to 1998,'" she told reporters on the lawn of the Legislature.

"It's not acceptable, it's not appropriate thing to do and it's going to put our kids at risk and educators in an untenable situation."

Many parents have expressed resistance towards the PCs revised sex-ed curriculum, saying it doesn't properly equip their children to deal with the challenges of today. (Yanjun Li/CBC)