Chris Selley: If the Ontario sex ed protests are going to fizzle, they haven’t yet

The anti-sex-ed protest centred on ’s Muslim community may be fizzling. On Tuesday there were roughly 700 absentees at Public School, or about half of projected enrolment; on Wednesday that was down to “only” 432, or about 30 per cent.

Parents made quite a spectacle of their protest, mass-homeschooling youngsters in a nearby park, and the Thorncliffe Parents Association (TPA) Facebook page exhorts parents to stay the course. But one post seems to give the game away: “We are not sending our children in public school for the whole month of September until the curriculum is taken back and parental rights are respected.”

A District School Board spokesman says there has been no decline in enrolment at Thorncliffe Park, suggesting there has been no mass principled exodus. The same is true at boards province-wide, the National Post reported this week. Still, the community has certainly demonstrated this is no fleeting tantrum. This is genuine conscientious objection, and it isn’t just limited to those who haven’t a clue what’s in the curriculum.

A list of objections on the website of the Canadian Families Alliance, of which the TPA is a member, quotes directly from the document. Among other things, it thinks teaching about gender fluidity causes gender fluidity; it doesn’t think teachers should be telling students that masturbation is “something that many people do and find pleasurable”; and it thinks telling students that “some (families) have two mothers or two fathers” “normalize(s) homosexual family structures and homosexual ‘marriage’,” which it does. That’s the point.

Peter J. Thompson/National PostPeter J. Thompson/National PostA file photo of Thorncliffe Park Public School, the epicentre of the anti-sex ed debate in Ontario.

The question of “opting out” of some or all of this material ought to be a simple one, policy-wise. Instead the messages are decidedly mixed. The TDSB refers reporters’ questions on the matter to the Ministry of Education. Minister Liz Sandals says parents should talk to their children’s teachers. Five days before school started, Peel District School Board director of education Tony Pontes vowed there would be no exemptions on any matter related to gender or sexuality. If parents yanked their kids out for good, he said, “that is a price we must be willing to pay.”

In any event, some parents are demanding that overreaching sex-ed be abandoned tout court, just as social conservatives have done down through the generations. They’re not trying to fit their kid into modern society’s public schools. They’re trying to change modern society. That’s every citizen’s right, even if social conservatism has become the Washington Generals of Canadian political movements.

Opposition to the new curriculum is not marginal — perhaps 40 per cent, if polls are to be believed. Little of it would likely be as fervent as it is in Thorncliffe Park. But it remains a fascinating question whether this could be a moment in the history of something. In last year’s provincial election, Kathleen Wynne won 66 per cent of the vote in and around Thorncliffe Park. The Tory candidate drew a pathetic 12 per cent. That’s nine points better and 18 points worse, respectively, than they did across Don Valley West. It would sure be intriguing to rerun that election today.

The new Conservative leader, Patrick Brown, is a staunch opponent of the new curriculum, and he won in large part due to a barn-burning brand of ethnic outreach. If his right-leaning brand of Toryism has any hope of success in the land of Bill Davis and Dalton McGuinty, it is going to need to diversify its notoriously white voter base. Places like Thorncliffe Park must be high on the list.

And wouldn’t it be interesting to see what a Premier Patrick Brown would do on the education file? Public Catholic boards have assured parents that the new curriculum will be taught “through a Catholic lens,” which is some neat trick on questions of masturbation and homosexuality (“grave sins against chastity,” according to religious texts footnoted in the Catholic Family Life Education curriculum), gender fluidity (“everyone should accept his or her identity as male or female”), abortion (“an unspeakable crime”) and same sex marriage (not marriage).

None of your business, you might say: they’re Catholic schools. And you would be right. The question is why Catholic parents get a “Catholic lens” and reassurances from men in mitres, while Muslims must hold their noses, opt out or get lost.

About Chris Selley