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View from here - No sex ed, please, we're Canadian

Curriculum wanting to teach six-year-olds about genitalia? Not on the watch of Ontario's religious elite, finds Nathan Greenfield

Curriculum wanting to teach six-year-olds about genitalia? Not on the watch of Ontario's religious elite, finds Nathan Greenfield

When a bold new sex education plan was rolled out in Ontario last month, it only lasted two days. The Canadian province's normally cautious government initially defended the programme against conservative Christians, but was forced to beat a hasty retreat as opposition to the plan grew to include parents' organisations, Muslim groups and the Roman Catholic Church.

The curriculum had been two years in the making and mandated that six- year-olds be taught the proper names for genitalia, eight-year-olds about gender identity and sexual orientation, ten-year-olds about the birds and the bees, and 12-year-olds about contraception and how to prevent contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Evangelical organisations were among the first to come out swinging against it.

"It is unconscionable to teach eight-year-old children same-sex marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity," said Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College. He also objected to teaching students about the "pleasures of masturbation, vaginal lubrication . and anal intercourse".

Dalton McGuinty, premier of Ontario, argued that children were going to get their information from somewhere and that the province had a responsibility to ensure it was correct. At first it looked like this view was shared by the province's largest religious group, the Roman Catholics, which has a parallel, publicly funded system of schools.

Gord Butler, chair of the Ottawa Catholic School Board, said: "What we will be teaching has been fully endorsed by the Catholic Church here in Canada."

But within hours the phone lines to the ministry and talk radio were on fire, and the comments sections of newspaper websites were filled with angry missives. Then senior Catholic leaders started attacking the curriculum and, in particular, the way it deviated from the Catholic teaching that homosexuality is "disordered."

Terrance Prendergast, Ottawa's Archbishop (and, coincidentally, Premier McGuinty's bishop), said: "When we discussed these matters at the bishops' meeting, it was clear that whatever was prescribed by the government on issues of sexuality, life and faith is understood, in the rights that Catholics have by the denominational school system, to be interpreted in their own way."

The Tory opposition took up the cause. Lisa MacLeod, representing the electoral district adjacent to the premier's, said: "A six-year-old should be learning how to tie their shoes and playing with Barbies." And not, presumably, asking questions about what this part of Barbie does to that part of Ken.

Supporters for the curriculum were hard to find, aside from a few columnists who noted that studies showed that Ontario's kids were shockingly ignorant of the facts of life, despite the ease of accessing factual information on the web.

The Toronto Globe and Mail, the province's paper of record, published a chart that showed that many of the curriculum's elements - including the frank discussion of anal and vaginal intercourse - were already in place in other provinces.

But faced with this firestorm, the threat of a protest at the provincial legislature and of parents' groups pulling their children out of sex-ed classes, the province simply caved in and withdrew the curriculum.

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