Ontario education minister accused of scrubbing social media of critical comments

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Ontario education minister accused of scrubbing social media
WATCH ABOVE: Education Minister Stephen Lecce is under fire for allegedly scrubbing his social media accounts of critical comments. As Travis Dhanraj reports, it’s not the first time the minister has been accused of the practice, leaving students and educators frustrated. – Feb 16, 2021

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce is again under fire for allegedly scrubbing his social media accounts of critical comments related to government policy and his performance as a cabinet minister.

The story comes just shy of a year after Global News first published a similar report. At the time, Lecce’s office defended restricting comments by stating the remarks contained abusive, offensive and threatening language.

Since Lecce recently announced a postponement of the March break to April, social media sites like Twitter and Instagram have had hundreds of users allege their comments have been scrubbed.

READ MORE: Ontario government announces postponement of March Break

Global News has been directly in touch with several social media users that claim they are amongst those that had comments disappear.

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Caleb Smolenaars, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Nelson High School in Burlington, said his Instagram comment was restricted after posting on Minister’s page.

“It was not at all abusive or threatening,” he said.

Smolenaars asserted his post addressed the mental health of students and educators and the fact they needed to be considerations regarding decisions like the postponement of March break.

“It’s definitely censorship. He’s silencing the voices of the people he is supposed to serve and represent in government. It’s not OK,” he said.

Smolenaars said if he were able to speak directly to Lecce, he would tell him to “start taking into consideration the opinions and mental health of students.”

A Vaughan teacher, who contacted Global News but asked for their name to be withheld since they aren’t authorized to speak publicly, raised similar concerns.

“I’ve been restricted on Lecce’s Instagram. No profanity… no hate speech… just concerns and questions. Of course, restricting accounts is extra shady because the account restricted probably isn’t aware they’re being limited,” the educator said.

Parent advocate Rachel Huot told Global News she is very concerned by the allegations.

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“What kind of lesson does it teach our children and our youth that if they express themselves they are shut down? I don’t think that is a lesson that I want to teach my kids about how government works,” she said.

“We should be listening carefully to our youth, talking about how they are feeling and how they are feeling about government decisions and learning from that, and I hope Mr. Lecce can do that.”

Ontario NDP education critic Marit Stiles said the alleged behaviour seems to be a recurring theme.

“We have seen a pattern of this government shutting out critics, shutting out opposition, shutting out anyone who disagrees with them,” she told Global News.

“You’re actually elected to represent everyone and to listen, so if you are constantly just shutting out opposing perspectives as opposed to opening your ears and listening and being open to criticism and trying to understand where that is coming from I think you are shutting out a really important part of what makes our democracy work.

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“I think if there is someone being racist, abusive, et cetera we have to draw a line absolutely 100 per cent. A lot of what I see people complaining about doesn’t seem to meet that standard to me.”

Despite repeated requests for comment, Lecce’s office did not respond to Global News by the time of publication of this story.

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