Ontario unveils new sex-ed ad in week before classes resume

The Ontario government has released a new ad for its controversial sex-education curriculum that touches on areas including same-sex marriage, sexting and consent.

Message targets parents as well as students

The Ontario government has released a new ad for its controversial sex-education curriculum that touches on areas including same-sex marriage, sexting and consent.

The ads, produced in French and English, were released online Monday, just over a week before students return to class. It will run on Ontario-based television networks for the next four weeks starting today.

The province unveiled the new sex-ed curriculum in February, sparking protests at Queen's Park from some parents.

In the new ad, five youth from various ethnic backgrounds confront several different situations — ranging from a teen apparently being cyberbullied to a younger boy seeing two grooms atop a wedding cake — before raising their hands.

The ad's tagline is: "Our kids have questions. The sex ed and health curriculum can help."

Other situations involve a teenage girl considering taking a provocative image of herself, a girl being led toward a bedroom by a boy, and a young woman concerned by her appearance in the mirror.

In an emailed statement to CBC News Education Minister Liz Sandals said the ads are being targeted at the parents as well as youth.

"Parents play an integral role in their child's education, and we're launching this campaign so that parents have factual information about what's in the updated curriculum," Sandals said.

Sandals also said the old curriculum was "dangerously out of date" and needed an update to keep up with technological changes that have changed the way youth communicate.

First update since 1998

The new sex-education curriculum, which is the first update to the subject area since 1998, has been praised by many experts in the field, but blasted by some parents.

Some objections come from religious groups who claim the curriculum doesn't align with their values, while other parents object to the subject matter, which includes discussions about gender identity.

"I think it's great," said Annie Kidder, who leads the group People for Education. "I like that it seems to, in a pretty simple way, cover the gamut of what's in the curriculum, how kids are online all the time now, that kids sometimes have issues with their own bodies."

Not everyone agrees. 

"They're wasting tax dollars," said Jotvinder Sodhi, who opposes the new curriculum and sees the ad as an attempt to discredit the people who protested against it.

"We are all family people, we are all concerned about our children, and why doesn't the government listen to the parental concerns and resolve it?"

Sandals's press secretary, Alessandra Fusco, told CBC News that any parents who have questions or concerns should raise them with the teacher or school principal. Fusco said parents should also contact the school if they want to withdraw their child from the class over content they find objectionable.

She said school boards would consider requests for accommodation on a case-by-case basis.

Government officials did not respond to a question about the cost of the ad.