TORONTO – The Toronto District School Board plans to step up its efforts to have the Progressive Conservatives apologize for a controversial election flyer on sex education, which it says has stoked homophobia and harassment in school communities.
Board chairman Chris Bolton requested the apology two weeks ago in a letter that was sent to Opposition Leader Tim Hudak and party president Ken Zeise, but both have remained silent.
Since his initial attempt to reach the party has failed, Bolton said he plans to go public with an open letter next week in an effort to get the Tories to say they’re sorry.
“Up until now, we’ve tried to convey to the PC Party that we think they stepped over the line, that they were insensitive towards communities and misrepresenting materials from the Toronto District School Board and we would have appreciated a response from them,” he said.
“We’re now feeling that maybe we have to go public with this.”
In the Oct. 24 letter, Bolton writes that he’s “deeply concerned” with the “inaccurate” Tory campaign literature about a resource guide called “Challenging Homophobia and Heterosexism,” which helps teachers promote equity in the classroom.
He takes issue with claims made by the party, including that six-year-olds would be taught cross-dressing and that kissing booths would be introduced for Grade 3 students.
“These comments are complete fabrication,” Bolton wrote.
Both Hudak and Zeise have also suggested in the media that the guide was a preview of the province’s new sex-ed curriculum, and that it directed teachers to keep anti-homophobia education a secret from parents, he wrote.
Many Tory candidates circulated posters and flyers echoing the same message, but using “offensive and inflammatory language,” he added.
“These inaccurate and misleading comments attributed to you and your party has served to increase confusion and encourage an atmosphere of added homophobia and harassment among many of our school communities,” Bolton wrote.
Also copied on the letter were Education Minister Laurel Broten, Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin and Barbara Hall of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Hudak couldn’t be reached for comment, but a party spokesman said the Tories don’t feel they should apologize for the flyer.
“Our issue with the curriculum is that it specifically told teachers not to consult with parents,” said spokesman Alan Sakach. “We’re standing by that.”
But Bolton said the guide was first published in 2006 and isn’t “remotely related” to the sex-ed curriculum.
“It’s actually beyond just being mischievous,” he said. “It’s actually being inappropriate to inclusiveness, which is what the Toronto District School Board tries to represent of all people in the city.”
During the campaign, Hudak defended the flyer even though some groups – including the Liberals – branded it as homophobic.
Some observers believe the Tories failed to win the Oct. 6 election because they focused too much on wedge issues, such as branding a Liberal tax credit for hiring immigrants as an “affirmative action” program for “foreign workers.”
It appears that Hudak hasn’t learned from his campaign mistakes, said Broten.
“Tim Hudak should apologize,” she said. “He, as leader of a party, made a decision to seek to pit Ontarians against each other, and chose to create a document that was full of lies in order to do so.”
The flyer appeared to be an attempt to resurrect a controversy that dogged the governing Liberals last year.
Premier Dalton McGuinty had to withdraw a new sex-ed curriculum after some religious and conservative groups said they were uncomfortable with kids in Grade 3 being taught about same-sex families and sexual orientation.
It hasn’t yet been re-introduced, but the Tories have long claimed McGuinty is secretly plotting to bring in more controversial changes.
Broten said parents will be consulted on the revamped curriculum, but couldn’t provide a date for its release.