'We did it!' Student activist celebrates Doug Ford's backtrack on sex ed
Thousands of Ontario students who walked out of class to show support for the province’s progressive sex-ed curriculum should feel proud that Premier Doug Ford’s government decided to keep many major parts of the curriculum, a student activist says.
“I think it just goes to show that protest does work,” Indygo Arscott, who helped launch the movement with the hashtag #WeTheStudentsDoNotConsent, told CTV News Channel. “We did it!”
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government revealed the new sex-ed curriculum on Wednesday. Despite campaigning on a promise to scrap the Liberal government’s sex-ed curriculum, Ford -- who accused Kathleen Wynne of ignoring parents’ concerns in favour of an ideological plan -- ended up making minor tweaks to the original curriculum.
Conversations about gender identity will now happen in Grade 8, pushed back two years from Grade 6. Sexual orientation will be taught in Grade 5, one earlier than before. The PC curriculum also introduces conversations on vaping and opioids and puts a greater emphasis on mental health.
The announcement left some social conservatives feeling betrayed. Tanya Granic Allen, who ran for the Ontario PC leadership in hopes of abolishing the curriculum, accused Ford of lying to voters.
“Doug Ford’s curriculum is the same thing as the Kathleen Wynne sex-ed curriculum. Nothing has been repealed. Doug Ford has lied to Ontarians,” she said.
For Arscott, who identifies as two-spirited, the new curriculum includes “a lot of good changes,” particularly the focus on vaping and opioids. But they say Grade 8 is still too late for students to be taught gender identity because many students are already having those conversations.
“I think that transphobia is so rampant and present in 2019, especially with young people having such access to the Internet … I think it should be brought up sooner. They’re bringing up concussions, which most people will never have to deal with in their life, a lot earlier than they’re bringing up gender identity, which many kids in the classroom could be questioning amongst themselves,” they said.
Where the government failed, Arscott said, is that consultations focused too heavily on what parents wanted and didn’t spend enough time considering the needs of students. They also criticized the option available to parents to pull their children out of certain teaching blocks.
Overall, Arscott accused the premier of wasting people’s time.
“I think he’s wasted a lot of resources, whether it be taxpayers’ money and $1-million worth of consultations, or whether it be wasting time of teachers and students,” they said.
Under the new curriculum, consent will be taught in Grade 1. In Grade 5, students will learn about homophobia. By Grade 6, students will begin learning about the negative impacts of pornography. Students in Grade 7 will be taught about contraception and the online dangers of sexting, explicit images and sex trafficking.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce described the new curriculum as “modernized” with a focus on safety.
"With great respect, in process and in substance, this is a dramatically better product," he said.
Political analyst Jim Warren said the decision to make only mild changes to the sex-ed curriculum is a notable shift for Ford’s government.
“I think we saw the government pivot from campaigning in elections to actually governing,” Warren told CTV Toronto.
For students, the announcement proves that young people can make a difference when they make their voices heard, Arscott said.
“I think a lot of good changes have been made. I think it’s definitely progress.”
With files from CTV Toronto and The Canadian Press