Jack Fonseca, project manager of Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interim, “I think this is the biggest provincial protest in Ontario’s history.” He was talking about a mass protest organized by CLC and Canadian Families Alliance in front of at least 103 of 107 MPP constituency offices on Sept. 2, – a Wednesday – to urge the government to shelve the sex education curriculum schedule to take effect this school year in Ontario’s public and separate (Catholic) schools.
Kathleen Wynne’s Don Valley West constituency office was the focal point of the campaign, with vocal opposition from her riding’s large Muslim population against the sex-ed curriculum, but other MPPs offices – Liberal MPP Brad Duguid (Scarborough-Centre), Vic Dhillon (Brampton West), and Laura Albanese (York South Weston) – also attracted about 100 protesters (90-125 each). Also, Minister of Education Liz Sandal’s Guelph constituency office had nearly 50 protesters.
Fonseca called the campaign “an unqualified success” as there was widespread media coverage, the presentation of a statement and petitions to constituency staff, and demonstrations of support from some MPPs. According to organizer Sarah Proud, Randy Hillier, Tory MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington, joined the protest outside his Perth constituency office, holding a sign as he spoke to the approximately 30 people in attendance.
While an exact number was not available when The Interim went to press, Fonseca said it was safe to say thousands of parents, grandparents, and other concerned citizens took part in the demonstrations. “This puts the lie to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s claim that Ontarians are okay with the sex-ed curriculum,” he said. “Clearly, they are not.”
From Chatham to Ottawa, Brampton to Sudbury, citizens held signs that said, “Let kids be kids” and local leaders read a prepared statement expressing specific concerns about the sex-ed curriculum.
Tory MPP Vic Fedeli (Nipissing) reportedly told protest organizer Joe Sinicrope that the Liberal government should listen to the 185,000 people who signed a petition asking for repeal of the curriculum. He said Kathleen Wynne “dismissed parents’ concerns. She clearly rushed into the process.”
Some protesters did not find receptive MPPs or staff. The office staff of Liberal MPP Chris Ballard (Newmarket-Aurora) turned their lights off and locked their doors, although they were still there and working in the dark, as one participant phoned and someone answered the telephone. Staff at the office of Liberal MPP Michael Chan (Markham-Unionville) locked their doors also, but spoke to protesters through the mail slot, claiming that the protesters were breaking the law by being on private property and that the staff were not allowed to receive petitions. One local participant told The Interim Chan’s staff seemed not to understand that the constituency office is actually public property and that they showed disrespect to his constituents by denying their democratic right to bring concerns to the MPP directly.
The local demonstrations led local media to cover the issue. Conservative MPP Rick Nicholls (Chatham-Kent-Essex) was quoted in the Chatham Daily News as being, in the reporter’s words, “concerned about how child sexual predators can manipulate what will be taught in the new sex-ed curriculum,” and that he has “heard from teachers who are not comfortable about having to teach this curriculum.”
The Brockville Recorder quoted local protest leader Anna Gibbons saying, “The government is not listening to the thousands of parents who’ve been protesting this since February.” Gibbons added, “The curriculum needs to be age-appropriate and it needs to be what children can comprehend.”
The new curriculum teaches in Grade 3 that gender is a social construct and is fluid, in Grade 6 that masturbation can be a pleasurable outlet for sexual self-exploration, and about oral and anal sex in Grade 7.
Conservative MPP Steve Clark (Leeds-Grenville) listened to Gibbons present her speech but told the local paper that the sex-ed curriculum needs to be updated, noting that since the previous curriculum was implemented in the 1990s, the internet has made the old lessons out-dated. Parroting the government’s talking point, he said that sexting – sending digital naked images by email or social media – necessitated a new curriculum. CLC’s Fonseca is having none of that excuse, saying that the overhaul was not necessary to teach that sending naked pictures of oneself is unwise. He also noted that the curriculum does not urge students to resist sexting or say it is wrong or illegal, but rather that is should be done carefully and with consent.
This September protest against the sex-ed curriculum followed numerous other rallies this year, a 185,000-name petition to repeal the curriculum, a 5,000-plus rally at Queen’s Park, a school strike during which parents pulled over 35,000 kids from school last spring, and the formation of Canadian Families Alliance, which represents over 200,000 Ontarians opposed to the sex-ed, to combat the curriculum.
Hundreds of parents at a predominantly Muslim school – Thorncliffe Park Public School – in Wynne’s riding, withdrew their children from classes for the first week of school, and many of them kept their children home or taught them at “school in the garden” organized by the Thorncliffe Parents Association for the full month of September.
A similar province-wide protest pulling students from class was scheduled for Oct. 1.
Fonseca said “the protests won’t stop” and that “this will be an election issue in 2018” when the next provincial election is scheduled.