Par­ents’ bill of rights is wrong choice for On­tario

The Delhi News-Record - - OPINION - AM­BER LA­BELLE Am­ber La­belle of Glouces­ter, Ont., is co-founder of On­tario Moms for a Brighter Fu­ture.

As the mother of two small chil­dren, a sci­en­tist and an ac­tivist for qual­ity pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, I’m deeply con­cerned about the On­tario gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal for a par­ents’ bill of rights.

The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion’s con­sul­ta­tion asks for feed­back on what el­e­ments should be in­cluded in a par­ents’ bill of rights. Af­ter liv­ing in the most con­ser­va­tive parts of the United States, I’ve seen how a par­ents’ bill of rights can be used to un­der­mine teach­ers, de­fund pub­lic schools and harm chil­dren, es­pe­cially those who iden­tify as les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der (LGBT) or who are even ques­tion­ing.

No other prov­ince has a par­ents’ bill of rights and the ne­ces­sity for one re­mains un­clear. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion has not spec­i­fied how it would be used nor its le­gal stand­ing rel­a­tive to ex­ist­ing law and the Cana­dian Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms. We must look else­where to see how a par­ents’ bill of rights af­fects stu­dents, fam­i­lies and teach­ers.

In the U.S., a par­ents’ bill of rights has been used to al­low par­ents to with­draw their chil­dren from school with­out penalty on days when sub­jects they dis­agree with are taught. Com­monly avoided top­ics are evo­lu­tion, sex­ual health ed­u­ca­tion and climate change. It is also used to refuse vac­ci­na­tions, lead­ing to out­breaks of pre­ventable dis­eases. It has even been used to jus­tify phys­i­cal abuse in the form of spank­ing or other cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment.

Ad­vo­cates of a par­ents’ bill of rights in the U.S. some­times fall within one of the fol­low­ing groups: far-right leg­is­la­tors, rec­og­nized hate groups and anti-LGBTQ re­li­gious groups.

One re­li­gious group, Fo­cus on the Fam­ily, has de­vel­oped a model par­ents’ bill of rights for sup­port­ers to pro­pose in their leg­is­la­tors and school boards.

In On­tario, ad­vo­cates for a par­ents’ bill of rights in­clude Lou Ia­co­belli of Ev­ery­day for Life Canada and Parental Rights in Ed­u­ca­tion De­fense (PRED). PRED funded a 2016 law­suit by par­ent Steve Tour­loukis against the Hamil­ton-Wentworth Dis­trict school board in which he al­leged the school board vi­o­lated his parental rights by not pro­vid­ing ad­vance no­tice of class­room con­tent that was not in align­ment with his fam­ily’s re­li­gious views. A judge ruled in favour of the school board, stat­ing stu­dents’ rights to eq­uity and in­clu­sion as sup­ported by the Char­ter of Rights and the pro­vin­cial eq­uity and in­clu­sion in ed­u­ca­tion strat­egy su­per­seded the need of Tour­loukis’ chil­dren to avoid all ex­po­sure to ma­te­rial the fam­ily deemed ob­jec­tion­able.

Par­ents al­ready have the abil­ity to re­quest re­li­gious ac­com­mo­da­tion in On­tario pub­lic schools, and this case set le­gal prece­dent that an eq­ui­table learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment free of stigma or con­dem­na­tion is in align­ment with Cana­dian law.

In the U.S., a par­ents’ bills of rights is used to jus­tify the splin­ter­ing of pub­lic tax dol­lars to­ward al­ter­na­tive school­ing choices, such as pri­vate re­li­gious schools, char­ter schools and home school­ing.

On­tario tax­pay­ers should re­gard a par­ents’ bill of rights with skep­ti­cism.

The name “par­ents’ bill of rights” might lead some to be­lieve the in­tended pur­pose is to strengthen the re­la­tion­ship be­tween par­ents and schools and foster par­ent en­gage­ment. That is not how it is used in the U.S. Given the adop­tion of a res­o­lu­tion at the re­cent On­tario Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive con­ven­tion in­cor­rectly iden­ti­fy­ing gen­der iden­tity as “un­sci­en­tific” and an­other sup­port­ing a par­ents’ bill of rights, the mo­ti­va­tions for such an un­prece­dented pol­icy in Canada must be ques­tioned.

On­tario tax­pay­ers can re­ject the idea of a par­ents’ bill of rights by par­tic­i­pat­ing in the ed­u­ca­tion con­sul­ta­tion at www.on­tario.ca/ page/for-the-par­ents.

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