In part two of NCM’s coverage of the reactions amongst the ethnic/immigrant communities to Ontario’s sex education curriculum changes, our reporters focus on South Asian and Arab Canadians. To read part one, click here.
Most South Asians are uncomfortable talking about sex. That’s it plain and simple. And living in another part of the world hasn’t changed that, especially for Generation X. There might be a few that are somewhat open-minded, but even those hesitate when the time comes to have ‘that talk’ with their children. No surprise, therefore, that many in the community have added their voices to the growing group that is protesting the new sex-ed curriculum being implemented in Ontario schools this September.
Too Much Too Soon
It’s too much too soon say some of the protestors. Seven is a “sensitive age” and “too early” to be discussing concepts like homosexuality with their kids. In a recent article in the Weekly Voice, Jotvinder Sodi (founder of the Home Owners Welfare Association in Peel Region) spoke out on behalf of a group of “concerned” Brampton parents who organized a meeting to gather support against the curriculum.
What many may not readily admit though is that, generally amongst South Asians, this discussion is not welcome at any age.
“We fear that the proposed subjects could be about homosexuality and anal sex and discussions about puberty and masturbation. We believe that these are age sensitive material, age five to seven is too young to be exposed with this type of knowledge,” wrote Sodi.
Discussion is Permission
What many may not readily admit though is that, generally amongst South Asians, this discussion is not welcome at any age. Shazia Malik captured this sentiment in her article in the South Asian Daily. She referred to a caller on the South Asian PULSE Radio who said that, “He, as a father cannot dare talk to his young son about these matters openly, how will those be discussed in the class?”
“Teaching small kids about sex means putting something in innocent minds which could backfire… it could have exactly the opposite effect than that it purportedly hopes to prevent.” – Surjit Singh Flora
Surjit Singh Flora, whose protests are written in a number of community publications, made his feelings clear in a Can-India News article. “Teaching small kids about sex means putting something in innocent minds which could backfire. They might take it the other way around… and it could have exactly the opposite effect than that it purportedly hopes to prevent — more rape crimes and sex abuse on the streets, at home, clubs, schools, bars, etc.,” he wrote.
“We don’t want our kids to get the idea that we are giving them permission to go ahead,” one mother said, on condition of anonymity.
Angst Amongst Liberals and Conservatives
Within the Arab community, much like amongst South Asians, there is overwhelming disdain for the new curriculum, which hasn’t been updated since 1998. In fact, both Liberal and Conservative minded Coptic-Canadians teamed up this week to voice their opposition at a protest outside of Queen’s Park, initiated by various community organizations.
“Mississauga’s Coptic churches had a strong presence in the event,” reported Good News, a Canadian–Coptic newspaper, on its online platform. A number of buses transported protesters from Mississauga under the auspices of Father Maximos Rizkalla, the pastor of the Church of St. Mary And St. Athanasius, the paper added.
“It is utterly unacceptable to see the government overstep their boundaries to take on the parental role while failing to deliver to their mandate.” – Ghada Melek
Protesters held banners reading: “It’s a parent right to teach their children about sex,” “Math, not masturbation; science, not sex,” and “What’s next? Safe animal sex?”
“It is utterly unacceptable to see the government overstep their boundaries to take on the parental role while failing to deliver to their mandate,” Ghada Melek, one of many activists who called for the protest, wrote on her Facebook page on Feb. 24.
“Today’s rally sent a loud and clear message to the Wynne government that we oppose her proposed sex education to our children,” added Melek, a Copt, who debuted her political career last year when ran (and didn’t win) for Mississauga Ward 6 councillor.
Political Leaders Speak Out
Sheref Sabawy, an influential Coptic activist from the Federal Liberal party, did not abstain from joining the consensus of his community and supporting his rivals, the Conservative party.
“I am adding my voice and efforts to all Ontario parents who are concerned with the new sex ed curriculum,” Sabawy wrote on his Facebook page. “There will be no new curriculum before full consultation with parents.”
Sabawy says he believes parents should be consulted through town hall meetings, questionnaires, or, if needed, written consent of parents. “Liberal values are clear to me and do not mean immorality,” he says.
Politicians in the South Asian community also spoke out against the curriculum. The Weekly Voice and South Asia Mail reported former MPP Harinder Takhar (who served under Premier Dalton McGuinty) as saying that he had advised McGuinty against implementing the curriculum in 2010. He maintains this view stating that, “a serious debate is required in the community on this issue.” The same report also states Conservative MP Parm Gill’s apprehensions. Gill said that being the father of three children, the new syllabus is a cause of concern for him. He was of the opinion that the Liberal party had, “destroyed the institution of marriage and now it is (sic) on its way to put our children on the wrong track.”
Not All Opposed
There are some who support the provincial governments move, though their voices may be barely audible amongst the loud clatter of all the protestors. Two of the five parents interviewed by Can-India News thought it was, “about time.”
“Parents opposing the new sex-ed curriculum are living in denial. Schools should be discussing these issues and giving students the information they need,” said one parent, identified only as Parineet. “They should know about these things because everyone talks about it in schools and it is easy for them to get the wrong idea or information from friends or the Internet. The school would do it scientifically and professionally.”
Irrespective of how parents feel, Premier Kathleen Wynne is determined that the new sex-ed curriculum will be implemented this time. How much of a difference it will make is another matter though, as parents will have the option of pulling their children out of sex-ed classes.
Maryann D’Souza & Mourad Haroutunian (@MHaroutunianTO) in Toronto