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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 Rogers

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

When a bold new sex education plan was rolled out in Ontario last month, it lasted two days. The province's normally cautious Government initially defended the programme against conservative Christians, but was forced to beat a hasty retreat.

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; 10-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 . oral intercourse and anal intercourse".

But Dalton McGuinty, premier of Ontario, argued that children were going to get their information from somewhere and that it was the province's 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, who have a parallel, publicly-funded system of state schools. Gord Butler, chairperson of the Ottawa Catholic School Board, said: "What we will be teaching has been fully endorsed by the Catholic Church in Canada."

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

The opposition Tories took up the cause. Lisa MacLeod, a member of the Ontario legislature, 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).

Although the Toronto Globe and Mail pointed out that many of the curriculum's elements - including the frank discussion of anal and vaginal intercourse - were already in place in other provinces, the prospect of political and religious protest, alongside threats by parents' groups to pull their children out of sex-ed classes, forced the province to cave in and withdraw the curriculum.

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