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Muslims, Christians challenge Ontario's more explicit sex ed

Suad Aimad, right, with her youngest daughter Amal Mohammed, 11, at their Toronto apartment. Ms. Aimad is president of a Muslim education activist group that weighs in on standards of education and opposes liberalizing the teaching of sex education.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail

Christians and Muslims in Ontario are united in their objections to the province's new sex education curriculum.

Mentions of homosexuality as early as Grade 3 have raised objections from diverse groups and the participants in a school boycott on May 10 - aimed at putting pressure on Premier Dalton McGuinty to pull the new curriculum - will likely represent a cultural cross-section of the city.

"There's a big reaction in Muslim community," said Suad Aimad, president of Somali Parents for Education. "We believe basically that sex education may be taught by the parents to their children. It's not public, it's a private matter and that's why I don't think [sex]should be part of education, especially at such a young age."

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The new curriculum, outlined in 208 pages that were quietly posted on the Ministry of Education's website in January, will for the first time teach Grade 3 pupils about such topics as sexual identity and orientation, and introduce terms like "anal intercourse" and "vaginal lubrication" to children in Grades 6 and 7. The new curriculum begins in Grade 1 with lessons about the proper names of body parts.

A six-year-old should be learning how to tie their shoes and playing with Barbies. Lisa MacLeod, Tory MPP

The changes are part of a regular review of Ontario's physical education and health curriculum, which hasn't been updated since 1998. They went nearly unnoticed until a Christian group, led by evangelist Charles McVety, threatened to pull its children from school.

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak plans to use the new sex education curriculum as an opportunity to attract advocates for family values, party insiders say.

The Tories began staking out their position Wednesday, arguing that it is the responsibility of parents to teach children in Grade 1 about body parts.

"A six-year-old should be learning how to tie their shoes and playing with Barbies," said Lisa MacLeod, a Tory MPP and mother of a five-year-old daughter.

The Tories already have the support of conservative and religious groups. But Mr. Hudak also has an opportunity to characterize himself as a moderate, and Premier McGuinty as a leader who has gone too far, said David Docherty, a political scientist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

This will involve walking a political tightrope, Prof. Docherty said, where Mr. Hudak and his caucus colleagues will have to stick to their message that children in Grade 1 are too young to be taught such words as penis and vagina.

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"It's going to allow Tim Hudak to talk about family values," he said. "If he goes any further, it does risk becoming a faith-based education argument where he risks losing ground."

A party insider said the Tories plan to seize on the new curriculum, because it is such a sensitive issue that speaks to many families' values and beliefs. Mr. Hudak echoed Ms. MacLeod on Wednesday, saying children in Grade 1 are too young to learn about genitalia.

"The notion of teaching sex ed to kids as young as six years of age just doesn't sit right," Mr. Hudak told reporters. "I don't think it sits right with the vast majority of moms and dads in our province."

Murielle Boudreau, of the Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network, said Catholic parents aren't happy that Mr. McGuinty is condoning such an explicit approach to sex education and she expected many would keep their children at home in protest.

"I don't understand how the business of sensual behaviour between consenting adults has anything to do with Grade 3," she said. "Grade 6? Getting them ready for masturbation and vaginal lubrication? Give me a break. They're going to traumatize these children - they're going to be doing everything out in the schoolyard."

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About the Authors
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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