Ontario teachers' union takes legal action to fight repeal of modernized sex-ed curriculum

One of Ontario's largest teachers' unions has launched a legal challenge against the government's decision to repeal a modernized version of the province's sexual-education curriculum.

PC government has warned of consequences for teachers who stick with curriculum introduced by Liberals in 2015

ETFO President Sam Hammond, left, and Howard Goldblatt of Goldblatt Partners LLP, right, outline the union's plan to take legal action to fight the Ontario government's repeal of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

One of Ontario's largest teachers' unions has launched a legal challenge against the government's decision to repeal a modernized version of the province's sexual-education curriculum.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario said Tuesday — the first day of the school year in the province — it is seeking an injunction to keep the curriculum in place and to stop what it calls the government's "snitch line" where parents can report non-compliant teachers.

ETFO President Sam Hammond said the government's changes to the curriculum are reckless and put students at risk. He said the union's legal action is vital to ensure that educators and school boards can continue to protect the safety and health of students.

"It also seeks to stop the operation of this unnecessary and counterproductive complaint or snitch line," he said.

Ontario's Progressive Conservative government has warned there will be consequences for teachers who use the modernized version of the lesson plan put in place by the Liberals in 2015.

"In a worst case scenario this snitch line would allow anonymous parents, or anyone as a matter of fact, to target any teacher for any reason," Hammond said. "The potential for abuse is enormous."

PCs promise wider consultation

The Tory government's plan to scrap the 2015 sex-ed curriculum was announced in July, fulfilling one of Premier Doug Ford's key campaign promises. The document included warnings about online bullying and sexting, but opponents, especially social conservatives, objected to parts addressing same-sex relationships, gender identity and masturbation.

Abdulrauf Jangda pulled his children out of Thorncliffe Park Elementary School in 2015 when the previous sex-ed curriculum was introduced. He said most of the modern curriculum is fine, but teaching about same-sex relationships and transgender issues conflicts with his religious beliefs.

"The constitution of Canada gives us the right that we can follow our faith, that we can raise our kids on our faith," said Jangda. "According to the Muslim faith, the activities that LGBTQ people do, these are not allowed."

Abdulrauf Jangda pulled his two children out of Thorncliffe Park Elementary School in 2015 when the previous sex-ed curriculum was introduced. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Jangda said the consultation process that led to the 2015 curriculum did not include parents like himself.

"What we want is to sit at the table and to discuss with us, what you want and what we want, and we reach some conclusion … and we come to a point where we all agree," said Jangda.

Ford has promised province-wide consultations to build a new curriculum starting this month.

Late last month, the Ontario government released a sex-ed curriculum meant to temporarily replace the now-repealed modernized version. It was delivered to school boards and posted online after repeated requests from educators who sought clarity on the issue.

The province also launched a website where parents can flag concerns about teachers who stray from the government's "revised interim curriculum" and has also urged parents to file complaints with the Ontario College of Teachers.

Hammond said the union has no choice but to turn to the courts in order to protect the safety and health of students. The government's decision is an abuse of power and a direct conflict with teachers' professional obligations, he added.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

"Teaching issues like consent, LGBTQ relationships, gender identities and many other human development issues related to today's realities are not only necessary but vital for student safety, well-being and inclusivity," he said.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Lisa Thompson said because the matter is before the courts it would be inappropriate for the government to comment.

Other groups have also launched legal challenges

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he supports ETFO's legal challenge, slamming the government for changing the sex education curriculum based on ideology.

"The premier is forcing teachers to choose between their job security and the safety of children," he said in a statement. "It is wrong for the government to prevent teachers from creating the kind of safe and open space that is crucial for students' health and well-being."

NDP education critic Marit Stiles said the legal challenge is a sad way to start the new school year.

"No matter how you look at it, this is going to be a costly affair for this government," she said. "That to me is just not good government ... If we're going to be tied up in the courts all the time, that's not good for anyone."

This isn't the first legal challenge of the sex-education curriculum. In late August, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed an injunction with the Ontario divisional court in a bid to stop the government from replacing the 2015 curriculum.

The CCLA filed the challenge on behalf of the Toronto-area family of Becky McFarlane, a queer parent whose 10-year-old daughter will be attending Grade 6 in the fall.

McFarlane's family feels excluded from the revised interim lesson plan, the association said at the time.

With files from CBC Toronto


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