Open letter from NDP MPP Peter Tabuns to the Minister of Education on upholding students’ rights

Dear Minister Sandals:

I am writing today to urge you to stand up and protect the right of all Ontario students to promote awareness and respect for people of all sexual orientations.

Recently, two Grade 6 students in Ottawa, who were assigned a class project on social justice, chose to focus on the topic of gay rights. Their decision was based on a desire to raise awareness and tackle derogatory comments amongst their peers. In so doing, they demonstrated remarkable maturity and leadership.

When they witnessed injustice, these smart, courageous young women chose to do something about it. If only all of us followed their example, we would live in a much better world.

Unfortunately, as you are aware, these young women were barred from completing this project on gay rights, despite the support of their parents and teacher. In response, these young women – and many of their classmates – wore rainbow colours to school to demonstrate their solidarity and to show that they would not be silenced.

Yet, despite their efforts and the support of their classmates, these students continue to be denied their right to undertake this project.

I believe it is time for all of us to stand up with these young women, who only wish to stand up for others. Thankfully, Ontario law protects their right to do so.

Subsection 303.1(1) of the Education Act mandates that every school board support students who want to engage in activities that promote awareness, understanding, and respect for people of all sexual orientations.

This legal right of all students could not be more clear: Ontario students of all sexual orientations and their allies can no longer be silenced by other individuals who do not share a belief in social justice and equality, or who fear the consequences of standing up for those beliefs. 

That’s why I was disappointed to hear that you, when asked about this case, failed to clearly state that these students’ rights must be respected. In choosing to defer to others, you failed to assert the right of these students, under the Education Act, to undertake this important project.

I believe, as do all New Democrats, that we all share a responsibility to protect human rights – and to support the efforts of students who wish to do the same. But as Minister of Education, it is your additional responsibility to ensure all school boards, without exception, uphold the right of all students to raise awareness and respect for people of all sexual orientations. 

I am heartened and inspired by the leadership of these young students. I urge you, in your role as Minister, to ensure that their own rights are fully respected and that they are able to undertake and complete this project on gay rights, as they have chosen to do.

Sincerely,

Peter Tabuns, MPP Toronto-Danforth
Ontario NDP Education Critic