Ont. fights le­gal chal­lenge

Gov­ern­ment wants chal­lenge over de­ci­sion to re­peal sex-ed cur­ricu­lum dis­missed

Simcoe Reformer - Times-Reformer - - ONTARIO NEWS - AL­LI­SON JONES

TORONTO — The Con­sti­tu­tion does not set out what sex­ual health top­ics must be taught in schools, On­tario gov­ern­ment lawyers ar­gue as they ask a court to dis­miss a chal­lenge to the prov­ince’s sex-ed cur­ricu­lum.

Both the Cana­dian Civil Lib­er­ties As­so­ci­a­tion and the El­e­men­tary Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion of On­tario al­lege the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment’s re­peal of up­dates the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral regime made to the cur­ricu­lum is un­con­sti­tu­tional, say­ing it puts stu­dents at risk.

Those 2015 up­dates in­cluded les­sons warn­ing about on­line bul­ly­ing and sex­ting, but op­po­nents, es­pe­cially so­cial con­ser­va­tives, ob­jected to parts ad­dress­ing same­sex re­la­tion­ships and gen­der iden­tity. Crit­ics have also ac­cused the Lib­er­als of not con­sult­ing enough with par­ents.

Lawyers for the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment ar­gue in a doc­u­ment filed ahead of a Wednes­day hear­ing that the Con­sti­tu­tion doesn’t en­trench any par­tic­u­lar cur­ricu­lum and is not a mat­ter of con­sti­tu­tional law.

“The leg­is­la­ture has given to the min­is­ter, and not to the courts or the ap­pli­cants, the re­spon­si­bil­ity to set ed­u­ca­tional pri­or­i­ties and di­rec­tion for all of On­tario’s pub­licly funded schools,” the gov­ern­ment ar­gues.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Lisa Thomp­son or­dered schools to teach a cur­ricu­lum based on the pre­vi­ous ver­sion from 1998 as the gov­ern­ment con­ducted pub­lic con- sul­ta­tions on sex ed­u­ca­tion.

“This de­ter­mi­na­tion should be ap­proached with def­er­ence by the court, given the min­is­ter’s demo­cratic ac­count­abil­ity and her greater in­sti­tu­tional ex­per­tise in mat­ters re­lat­ing to ed­u­ca­tion,” the gov­ern­ment ar­gues.

An over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of roughly 1,600 sub­mis­sions on the first day of con­sul­ta­tions op­posed the re­peal of the mod­ern­ized sexed cur­ricu­lum, but Premier Doug Ford suggested “cer­tain groups” flooded the process in its early stages.

The gov­ern­ment has said it will be look­ing at the con­sul­ta­tion data in Jan­uary and writ­ing and test­ing a new cur­ricu­lum through the spring. The ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter has said the new doc­u­ment will be in­tro­duced in time for the new school year in the fall.

The 1998 cur­ricu­lum tem­po­rar­ily re­placed the up­dated Lib­eral doc­u­ment, but it was panned by crit­ics who said it didn’t ad­dress themes like gen­der iden­tity, con­sent and cy­ber-safety.

The gov­ern­ment later an­nounced it had come up with an in­terim les­son plan that ad­dressed those is­sues but ex­perts said it con­tains only pass­ing men­tion of mod­ern con­cepts such as the in­ter­net and cell­phones and largely used the vague lan­guage and broad topic out­lines used in the 1998 doc­u­ment. But the gov­ern­ment ar­gues that the cur­rent cur­ricu­lum is pur­posely gen­eral to give teach­ers flex­i­bil­ity.

“Teach­ers are free to an­swer ques­tions and ad­dress top­ics that are not ex­pressly re­ferred to in the cur­ricu­lum doc­u­ment in the course of teach­ing the cur­ricu­lum,” they write.

The gov­ern­ment ar­gues that if the cur­ricu­lum prior to 2015 didn’t in­fringe the char­ter, it can’t be un­con­sti­tu­tional to re­turn to it.

ETFO pres­i­dent Sam Ham­mond has said that teach­ing is­sues such as con­sent, LGBTQ re­la­tion­ships and gen­der iden­ti­ties are vi­tal for stu­dent safety, well-be­ing and in­clu­siv­ity.

Gov­ern­ment lawyers ar­gue that there is no ev­i­dence the pre­vi­ous cur­ricu­lum re­sulted in any harms to stu­dents, nor that the mod­ern­ized 2015 cur­ricu­lum pre­vented any.

POST­MEDIA NEWS FILES

On­tario Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion Lisa Thomp­son or­dered schools to teach a sex-ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum based on the pre­vi­ous ver­sion from 1998 as the gov­ern­ment con­ducted pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions.

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