Youth

Making Youth Voices Matter

Rayne Fisher-Quann
Executive Director, March for Our Education
@rayneydaes

Hi! My name is Rayne Fisher-Quann and I’m the founder and executive director of March for Our Education. We’re an advocacy group dedicated to fighting for the rights of young people and marginalized groups in Ontario who stand to suffer as a result of education cuts and curriculum changes. We believe that education is, full stop, the most important contributor to the safety, health, and progress of our population, and we view it as a human right that education be modern, equal-minded, and up to date.

We started in the summer of 2018, right after Doug Ford announced his changes to the sexual education curriculum and the Indigenous curriculum. We quickly put together a rally that drew over 2000 people to Queen’s Park to stand for sex ed and Indigenous education. When we didn’t see a response, we decided that young people needed to have their voice heard: so we started organizing a walkout with a few other groups. The movement blew up, and in just three weeks, our walkout became the largest organized high school protest in Canada’s history.

We believe in the power of young people and we believe in their right to be heard. There is nothing more important than making youth feel like their voices matter: after all, we’re the future of this province and it almost seems ridiculous that we don’t have a say in what comes next. We are a movement built on young women, and while that meant that getting the respect we deserve was a little harder, we think that there is no more powerful force on earth than that of smart, motivated, educated teenage girls. We’re going to change the world.

Court Cases

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the…

Cara Zwibel
Director of Fundamental Freedoms Program
czwibel@ccla.org

 

 

 

 

 

It was a bad day for equality but a good day for teachers, when Ontario’s Divisional Court dismissed the application brought by CCLA and Becky McFarlane challenging the government’s decision to repeal the 2015 sex education curriculum and replace it with content from 1998. We intend to continue the fight and will be seeking to appeal the decision.

The good news is that the Court provided clear and unequivocal confirmation that teachers can teach about topics contained in the 2015 curriculum that are absent from the interim version that is currently in place. The missing content relates primarily to issues around consent, sexual orientation, family status and gender identity. Despite the government’s tough talk when the interim curriculum was first released – and their decision to institute a snitch line and encourage parents to report on teachers where they had “concerns” – the position of the government in Court was much different. As the judgment makes clear, the Minister’s lawyer confirmed that “as long as a teacher meets the learning objectives set out for that grade in the 2010 Curriculum, a teacher may address topics that go beyond those expressly set out in the 2010 Curriculum to meet the needs of a given class or student. Those topics include the topics in the 2015 Curriculum that are not found in the 2010 Curriculum.”

This was a significant concession for the government to make, and it certainly upset some of those who were so opposed to the 2015 content and supportive of the government’s decision to send the province’s kids back to the 1990s. Indeed, the President of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said that the concession made the case “a victory for ETFO and others”. ETFO had also challenged the government’s decision, albeit on grounds different from the CCLA.

The bad news? For students and parents, today’s decision is so disappointing.  It means that a transgender student may sit in a classroom and hear nothing of themselves reflected in the lesson. It means that a student with a queer mom, like Becky’s daughter, may hear nothing about queer families. What teachers may do is different from what they must do, and that is the importance of a provincial curriculum document. It sets the baseline, and CCLA’s argument has always been that, regardless of what happens in classrooms, the provincial government’s decision to remove content from the curriculum sends a message loud and clear. The message is one of exclusion and inequality. The ugliness of today’s decision is that it does nothing to disabuse Ontarians of that message. We will have to hope that the Court of Appeal will take up the call.

LGBTQ Rights

This Public Consultation on Sex Ed is Keeping a…

Cara Zwibel
Director of Fundamental Freedoms Program
czwibel@ccla.org

 

 

 

 

The Ontario government’s decision to scrap the 2015 sex ed curriculum and replace it with content from 1998 has been the subject of significant controversy, debate, and more than one legal challenge. In January, the CCLA and our co-applicant Becky MacFarlane were before the Ontario Divisional Court arguing that the decision to revert to the old curriculum violated the right to equality and was an arbitrary decision that should not be upheld. We are waiting for the Court’s decision, as are Ontario’s students, teachers and parents.

To us, the government’s reasons for reverting to the 1998 curriculum are clearly grounded in discriminatory attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community, despite its statements about respecting parents and listening to “the people”. The government’s own purported reason for the change was that the 2015 curriculum was the product of an inadequate and flawed consultation process. As a result, the government engaged in what the Minister of Education has described as “the largest-ever consultation on education in Ontario’s history”.  Early reports about the consultation process demonstrated that there was a huge amount of support for the 2015 sex ed curriculum and little appetite for a reversion to the lessons of the 1990s. However, Premier has already attempted to cast doubt on the consultation process – the one his own government designed and implemented – by saying that “certain groups” flooded the process in its early days and may have skewed the results.

As an organization that is fiercely committed not only to equality but also to government accountability, we wanted to know how the government would take what they learned through the consultation and use it to develop the next curriculum. We had thought that a government that gloats about the extensiveness of its consultation process would want to show off the results. Surely, a government “for the people” would be responsive to the people. At a minimum, the people would be allowed to know what the people said. Turns out we were wrong.

Shortly after the consultation process closed in December of 2018, I made an access to information request to the Ministry of Education, asking for the results or data that the government gathered through the consultation process, particularly for the sex ed issue. The government designed the consultation process in a way that makes requests for access complicated. People wishing to share their views with the government could respond to a targeted survey, but could also send an email, submit a form with lots of spaces for open text, and participate in a telephone town hall. The consultation had no obvious way to control for multiple submissions from the same individual or even to assure that those participating were people residing in Ontario. Apparently, the government received over 70,000 submissions in one form or another – so there would be a lot of information to go through.

I worked with accommodating staff on the Ministry’s Information and Privacy team and pared my request down to weekly summaries of the consultations that Ministry staff had created. This would make the request easier and cheaper to process since it would not involve staff going through tens of thousands of pages of submissions or redacting personal information.

Now, however, the Ministry has denied my request on the basis that the summaries are “Cabinet records” under section 12 of Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.  Since the summaries are purportedly going to Cabinet for discussions about future policy directions, the Ministry argues that they cannot be turned over under access to information laws. The logical conclusion from this position is that if consultations with “the people” will inform discussions in Cabinet (as they should), the people can’t know what the people said.

Why does this matter? A consultation process doesn’t mean that the public gets to decide on policy, but if it is a meaningful one it should allow the public to understand what the government heard and how it arrived at its ultimate decision. Without robust access to information, politicians can spin the results. The Premier’s statement that “certain groups” skewed the process is one example. More recently, the Minister of Education has said that the consultation process showed a concern that the sex ed curriculum did not do an adequate job of teaching about consent. Of course, the 2015 curriculum contained a great deal more content on consent than the 1998 curriculum, but it appears even the 2015 curriculum was considered inadequate by many participants. This is useful information – and apparently, we can look forward to “further updates” on the findings from the consultation by the Minister. But we can only see what the government chooses to tell us, not a summary of what all participants had to say. We are not allowed to see the whole picture, probably because it may show us something that the government prefers we don’t see. We will be left to wonder what the government isn’t telling us, and which people this government is really for. If the point of the consultation was to increase public confidence, shielding the consultation results from public scrutiny directly and fatally undermines this goal.

We’ll be appealing the Ministry’s decision to shield the consultation summaries from disclosure, and will keep you posted on our progress.

News and Analysis

March For Our Education

On Saturday July 21st, hundreds of people gathered at the March For Our Education event at Queen’s Park in Toronto in opposition of Premier Doug Ford’s repeal of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum.

There was overwhelming condemnation of the government’s repeal of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum. A myriad of voices provided a comprehensive look at the negative effects of the repeal: the individual experiences of students; educators; experts in the field of sexual health; and LGBTQ2S+ activists.

Even if the government wishes to conduct a curriculum review, there is no need to repeal the existing on in the meantime. CCLA emphasized that the repeal is a dangerous and discriminatory act of government and that we would not hesitate to take the fight to the courts.

 

Highlights from the event

Watch CCLA’s summer student Erica McLachlan speaking out against the sex-ed repeal: 

Watch CCLA’s summer student Lea De Santis address the rally in French:

Watch the head organizer of March for Our Education Rayne Fisher-Quann’s speech:

Watch the Toronto Sun’s interview with speaker Li Koo:

 

in the news

Toronto Sun: Withdrawal of sex ed curriculum leaves students unprotected: protesters

“Erica McLachlan, a summer legal student with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association who spoke at Saturday’s rally, said the 2015 curriculum reflects the fact that the Human Rights Code prevents discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation, while the 1998 curriculum predates legalized gay marriage.”

Photos


Lots of people gathering at the March For Our Education rally!


Student organizers welcoming the first speaker, Larissa Crawford


One of the organizers for March For Our Education: “To put things into perspective, this curriculum is older than me.”


Roza Nozari from The 519 speaking: LGBTQ+ students need to know they are worthy of belonging NOW.


Student organizer Frank Hong “we couldn’t find a protest online, so we created one!”


Farrah Khan: Sex-Ed saves lives, because people need to know they can say no when they do not want to do something. But, more importantly, people need to listen to “no.”


Carly Basian, Founder of My Sex Ed says telling the public that teachers will be teaching the 2014 curriculum is a roundabout way of saying it’s the 1998 curriculum.


T. Dot BANGERZ Brass Band bringing some musical advocacy to Queen’s Park!


Glen Canning emphasizes the difference the 2015 sex-ed curriculum, and its focus on consent, would’ve made for his daughter, Rehtaeh Parsons.


Andrea Horwath says the repeal of sex-ed takes us back to the previous century. To a time before texting.


CCLA’s summer student Erica McLachlan “the repeal is not only an erasures of LGBTQ+ lives, voices and experiences. It is a dangerous and discriminatory act of government.”


Rayne Fisher-Quann, a 16 year old student, reading an open letter to our government: “the first time I was sexually harassed was in grade 7. Those boys needed the new curriculum… Every single person in this province, whether they know it or not, needs that 2015 curriculum.”


Li Koo “when you roll back education back to 1998…you don’t know what is happening”


Joy Lachica “educators stand in solidarity to teach consent circa 2015.”


Rachel Nelems from LeadNow “the response to ignorance is education.”

News and Analysis

CCLA joins coalition calling for Ontario government to reinstate…

TORONTO, ON (July 16, 2018) — March for Our Education, Leadnow and the undersigned are unswayed by the Minister of Education’s response to the groundswell of Ontarians who are outraged that this government would deprive students of the fact-based 2015 sex-education curriculum. The groups, who are calling for the Ontario government to reinstate the newer sex education, claim the minister’s minimal comments claiming the curriculum will teach “consent, cyberbullying and gender” disregards Ontario students and concerned citizens because they have not explained where this information will come from, since they still plan to use the 1998 pre-texting-era curriculum.

The 2015 sex-education curriculum was developed over four years by experts in child development and internet safety, police, and social workers, in consultation with parents, to provide students with thorough information to make safe choices and learn about consent, acceptance of difference and more.

“We the students don’t accept Minister Thompson’s comments. They are confusing because without showing any real plan, her words don’t mean anything,” said Toronto high school student and March for Our Education organizer Frank Hong. “If they’re still using the 1998 curriculum, how will the Ontario government whip something up that appropriately teaches us these important topics before we go back to school in six weeks? Until the 2015 sex-ed curriculum is put back, we’re not backing down.”

March for Our Education is a rally and march organized by high school students and supported by advocacy groups to protest the Ontario government repealing the 2015 fact-based sex-ed curriculum and is happening at 11 AM on Saturday, July 21 at Queen’s Park.

“The Doug Ford government just blinked,” said Leadnow campaigner Rachel Nelems. “They’ve shown Ontarians that if enough of us speak up, they’ll listen — but the minister’s comments only light a fire. We’re not stopping until the Ontario government provides students with a lesson plan that treats these essential issues with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association also indicated that any effort by the Ontario Government to censor sex-education content on the basis of gender or sexual orientation will attract a legal challenge and it would send lawyers to prevent it, if needed, as the organization has done to protect civil liberties in Canada for over 50 years.

March for Our Education, Leadnow and the undersigned are calling on the Ontario government to immediately reinstate the 2015 sex-education curriculum, so no student is left unsafe. Until that is done, the coalition of groups will continue to advocate for the fact-based education Ontario’s students deserve.

Signed by:

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
CUPE Ontario
Leadnow
March for Our Education
Women’s March Canada

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Media contacts:

Frank Hong
Student organizer, March for Our Education
647-980-9208
frankjhong2001@gmail.com

Rachel Nelems
Campaigner at Leadnow
647-294-5624
racheln@leadnow.ca