Politics

Father of bullying victim Rehtaeh Parsons calls Ford's sex-ed repeal 'infuriating'

The father of a girl who died after attempting to commit suicide following an alleged sexual assault says the Ontario government's decision to repeal the province's sex education curriculum will put more teens in danger.

Glen Canning says he believes better education could have saved his daughter's life

Rehtaeh Parsons died in 2013 following a suicide attempt. The young woman was distraught after months of bullying triggered by an alleged sexual assault. (Leah Parsons)

The father of a girl who died after a suicide attempt that followed months of bullying and an alleged sexual assault says the Ontario government's decision to repeal the province's sex education curriculum will put more teens in danger.

On Wednesday, the newly elected Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford announced the sex-ed curriculum to be taught to children in the coming school year will be an older version — not the controversial updated program brought in by the previous government.

The curriculum will revert back to the version taught in 1998, excluding recently added topics such as same-sex marriage, masturbation, online bullying and sexting.

"It's infuriating to see them do this," Glen Canning told CBC Radio's The House on Friday, adding that teaching consent in schools might have made all the difference for his daughter, Rehtaeh Parsons.

In November 2011, the Nova Scotia teen attended a party where she said she was sexually assaulted.

An explicit photo was taken during the incident — one that would be spread among the kids at her school and lead to months of online bullying.

Seventeen-year-old Rehtaeh was taken off life support in April 2013 after attempting suicide.

When Rehtaeh Parsons died following a suicide attempt, a national conversation was sparked on how people address sexual assault and consent. The outrage over her death, and what led to it, is still felt five years later, especially in her home community of Cole Harbour, N.S. CBC News spoke to family and friends of Parsons' about her legacy. 4:44

Canning said he believes that if Ontario's modernized — and soon to be replaced — sex-ed curriculum had been in place in Nova Scotia at the time, his daughter might still be alive.

"I think I'd still have my daughter with me right now."

Education and prevention

Canning said repealing the curriculum means children and teens in Ontario won't learn about topics that can help them feel safer in school — like consent, LGBT issues and sexual violence.

He accused Ford of scrapping the curriculum to appease his party's socially conservative voters.

Ford's new education minister, Lisa Thompson, said the government is planning to consult with parents on a new curriculum to replace the one adopted in 2015.

But Canning said too many parents are failing to teach their kids the facts about sex, sexual exploitation and bullying now. If schools and parents fail to address these topics properly, he said, more teens will suffer the way his daughter did.

"What happened to my daughter was preventable ... it was preventable with a good sex education program."

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