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Scrap Ford, not sex ed

Carolyn Egan

July 18, 2018

When Rehtaeh Parsons’s father Glen Canning spoke out after reading the revised sex ed curriculum in Ontario, he said: “I really wish there was something like that in Nova Scotia 10 years ago. Because if there was—and if consent and empathy and respect were being taught in schools in Nova Scotia—I honestly believe that I would still have my daughter with me today.” Rehtaeh was 17 years old when she committed suicide after being sexually assaulted by four teenage boys at a party. Pictures were then spread on the internet, which led to continued harassment and bullying.

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is pandering to the most regressive elements in our society that are intent on rolling back all the gains that we have made through decades of struggle. It was homophobic, misogynist, anti-choice forces that helped win him the leadership of the party, and they are demanding their payback.

Campaign Life, and other groups that have fought consistently to turn back the clock on those seeking to make their own determination on whether to continue a pregnancy, were elated when Ford became the Premier with a majority government. They have a strategy of step-by-step overturning sexual and reproductive rights, as has been done by their counterparts in the United States. Ford said that he will take away the right to be free from abuse entering an abortion facility, impose parental consent for teens and no longer require physicians to refer those seeking an abortion.

So many have fought against the systemic violence against women, trans and LGBTQ people, very often of colour, and although a sex education curriculum is not going to be a panacea for all that we face, it was a progressive step forward. Teaching consent, respect and an end to bigotry and harassment speaks to a gaping wound in our society that everyone who has ever been subjected to this type of violence and harassment knows only too well. The numbers who have been scarred by this are way larger than many would imagine, and that is why the outcry has been so strong.

Our society is riddled with systemic violence and disrespect. You need only look at the anti-Black racism and Islamophobia which communities are fighting. Keeping young people sexually safe with the ability and confidence to control their own lives must be a priority of the educational system. The fact that scrapping the new sex ed was one of the first steps taken by the new government makes very clear its ideological stance against the women’s, LGBTQ and other progressive movements which have been fighting for meaningful reforms. 

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, which has a majority of women members, has spoken out strongly against the Tory government’s move to bring back the previous curriculum. It is 20 years old and is sadly lacking in many of the elements that students need most to deal with their lives. The fact that teachers are taking a stand in support of their students and most parents is very important. They are the ones required to teach the curriculum and are in day to day contact with students who in many cases turn to them with problems that they are confronting.

The teachers’ unions have often been in the vanguard of fightbacks against regressive forces, as we have seen in Chicago and most recently in West Virginia and Arkansas, where they took strike action to demand more resources for their students. The teachers played a very important role in the struggle against funding cuts under the previous Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris.

Community groups are also gathering to plan a strong campaign against this regressive move. People from many backgrounds have spoken out against it, and there’s been some indication that the government is feeling the heat. Let’s keep up the pressure and fight alongside those in other movements like the Fight for $15 and Fairness, to make the Tories back off all their attacks. In unity there is strength.

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