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By Joie Chow, CCLA-PBSC Rights Watch student

About the repeal

In July of 2018, Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced that schools would revert to teaching the 1998 health and physical education curriculum. This change is in adherence to a pledge made by Premier Doug Ford during the provincial election. Premier Ford, along with some social conservatives, consider the 2015 curriculum inappropriate for children.

Unlike the 2015 curriculum, the 1998 curriculum does not mention the various uses of the Internet, including cyber-bullying and social media. It does not mention “visible and invisible differences” between individuals, such as sexual orientation, learning abilities, gender identity, and race. In short, the curriculum is dated and fails to mention many pressing issues of the 21st century. Chris Markham, executive director of Ophea, a non-profit group that develops materials for school, highlights the fact that students may nonetheless bring these pressing topics to the classroom and notes that teachers will have trouble avoiding addressing topics considered now to be out of bounds.

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario court hearing

In August, Premier Ford issued a statement asserting that the government will act if teachers fail to comply to the new curriculum. The Ontario Conservatives also launched a website where parents can report their concerns, which critics have called “the snitch line”. The statement and website prompted the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) bring forward a legal challenge. ETFO lawyer, Howard Goldblatt, states that the Ontario government is constraining the teachers’ freedom of expression.

This month, lawyers defending the province told a Toronto court that teachers can still use the 2015 curriculum as a resource to discuss issues about consent, homophobia, and transgender issues. This statement is in stark contrast with the message Premier Ford has given to teachers and has confused observers. For teachers, this mixed messaging gives poor direction to how they are to conduct their lessons. For socially conservative parents, this message may feel like a retraction of Premier Ford’s promise to fully repeal the 2015 curriculum. The hearing and its final decisions are currently pending.

Other court hearings

The CCLA has issued its own legal challenge to the 1998 curriculum, arguing that the erasure of references to the LGBTQ+ community violates their constitutional right to equality. Further, the removal of these references may put LBGTQ+ students at risk of bullying and unequal treatment due to differences.

A similar legal challenge has been brought forth by an 11-year-old transgender girl, identified as AB, who argues that she is in danger as her classmates will not be required to learn about gender identity. Her lawyer, Mika Imai, states that AB feels the government is “…putting trans students in the shadows” with their curriculum changes. AB’s claims will be supported by experts, who affirm that students who fail to learn about the queer community are more likely to bully their LGBTQ+ classmates. A decision for this challenge by the Ontario human rights tribunal is pending for spring.

This post was written by a CCLA-PBSC Rights Watch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC. 

Originally posted January 22, 2019 on Rights Watch Blog | A joint project of CCLA and Pro Bono Students Canada

About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.

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