The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board had to contend with two separate protests and counter protests in less than a week over the board’s policy of integrating 2SLGBTQ+ content into course materials.
On Tuesday, June 12, a protest was organized by Muslim students from Sir Robert Borden High School, which is adjacent to the OCDSB headquarters on Greenbank Road. The protest centered around the board’s policy on issues like gender ideology policies and the use of washrooms, and how they are in conflict with the religious beliefs of many students. The organizing students also cited having biological males being able to enter women’s washrooms while female students had their hijabs off. They said the protest was also a chance to speak out against discriminatory remarks made by OCDSB employees about Islam.
Hundreds of Muslim students and families, as well as supporting Catholic, Christian and Jewish families joined together in the protest against the board. Counter protestors in support of 2SLGBTQ+ rights also showed up. The Manotick Messenger/RichmondHub was alerted that some students and families from South Carleton High School were at the protest.
The protest, which was the second large protest against the board in less than a week, was triggered by a memo that went out to all ODCSB staff and students May 31. While it was mostly peaceful, there was tension between protestors and counter protestors. Video showed up on social media of a student stomping on a Pride flag.
While some were praising the students for bringing the Muslim, Catholic, Christian and Jewish communities together for the event, many also condemned the protest. Among them were Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod.
“Earlier today there was a vile demonstration on the property of Sir Robert Borden High School protesting LGBTQ+ teachings in our schools. At first this saddened me, but as I witnessed the protest both as the local MPP and as a parent of a student there, I became more angry,” wrote MacLeod on Twitter.
“This so called ‘peaceful protest’ targeted the sexual orientation rights of my constituents’ children and also took aim at minors who are out, transitioning or contemplating sharing who they are with their family, friends and classmates. So, it was not peaceful at all.
“While I was grateful to see and speak with the @OttawaPolice who maintained order, I am concerned about the LGBTQ+ population at the school who no doubt felt under attack today. Many of these students are my daughter’s friends, kids I have known since Junior Kindergarten.”
MacLeod added that she has reached out to Education Minister Stephen Lecce to brief him on this protest and seek protections can be provided in the future to students who may be the target of such protests in their school environment.
“I will not let up on this,” she added.
The memo that triggered the protest was sent out May 31 to all staff from Mary Jane Farrish, Superintendent of Instruction, Equity; Shannon Smith, Super Intendent of Instruction, Indigenous Education; and Brent Smith, Acting Superintended of Programing and Learning.
The title of the memo was Supporting Inclusivity: Actions for Pride Month and Beyond. The memo provided a list of actions that can be taken during Pride Month and beyond to promote inclusivity and belonging.
The paragraph in the memo triggering much of the controversy is about pronouns and names.
“Educators can foster inclusivity in the classroom by openly sharing their pronouns. They can also consider adding their pronouns to their email signature. As well, educators can begin the school year using they/them pronouns for all, until students share their preferred pronoun. Using students’ preferred names and pronouns it an important part of our duty as educators to acknowledge and affirm 2SLGBTQ+ identities.”
The following day, there were protests in front of schools which pitted extremist groups from the left and right clashing. The protests were planned before the memo was released.
“The OCDSB has not put in place a mandatory requirement on the use of any particular pronouns for students,” stated Darcy Knoll, OCDSB Communications Advisor, in an email to the Barrhaven Independent. “However, we ask that staff members respect and use a student’s pronouns and suggest the use of they/them if unsure.”
Former OCDSB teacher and ODCSB trustee candidate Chanel Pfahl posted the memo on Twitter June 5. The post went viral and had more than a half million views after one week. Reaction in the long thread of replies was overwhelmingly critical of the memo. Many said the memo was a further step toward indoctrination. Comparisons were made to the Bolsheviks of 1922 and to George Orwell’s 1984. Pfahl, who is a lesbian, has been vocal on social media against what she calls gender ideology.
Many of the commentors to Pfahl’s post pointed out that if the policy is part of human rights, then why do people not have the human right to opt out for religious reasons?
“Learning in our schools does reflect diversity and is inclusive and welcoming for all students,” the memo reads. “Throughout the year we celebrate, honour, reflect and include learning about multiple traditions, beliefs, customs and cultures and identities… 2SLGBTQ+ learnings should be offered to the school community without the option to opt out. It is essential to understand that human rights are not open to debate or selective participation.”
The memo goes on to read that “Families may choose to keep their child home during Pride Month learning activities, but schools should not offer the option to approve requests to opt out while in school.”
While the result of the memo was polarizing on social media, the intent was to provide an environment in schools where all were welcome and that differences were tolerated.
“As a learning organization, we work to teach and promote kindness and combat hate and discrimination,” Knoll said in an email sent to Epoch Times. “When providing learning experiences, we do not offer proactive exemptions or excuse students from the learning on the basis that we may be highlighting a particular group of people defined by their race, religion/creed, ability, sexual orientation or gender identity. This would result in sending a message that a group of people in our community is not valued and do not belong.”
Protests at Schools
Five people were arrested Friday, June 9 at a protest organized by “Billboard Chris” Elston. The rally was called “Education over Indoctrination.” Elston organized the protest against the use of puberty blockers for children who identify as transgender. Elston says gender ideology does not belong in the public school system.
“We have all these kids being taught far-left politicial ideology in schools and that there’s such a thing as being born in the wrong body,” Elston said in an interview with CTV Ottawa. “There’s no such thing as being born wrong.”
While the OCDSB asked people to stay away from schools during the protests, NDP MPP Joel Harden called for people on social media to come out and peacefully counter protest.
Harden became a sidebar to the spectacle. He posted a picture of his face with a cut, and then tweeted “I’ll take a punch for queer and transgender rights any day.” A video was later posted of Harden being cut by his own megaphone as it hit his face when he was bumped. The counter protestors accused the protestors of hate.
“It’s important for the community to send a clear message that hate has no place in our community here in Ottawa,” Toby Whitfield, Capital Pride executive director, told CTV. “This transphobic, homophobic message that folks are trying to show today, they have absolutely no place.”
A protest organized by Muslim students at Sir Robert Borden drew a crowd of several hundred people Tues., June 12. Christian, Catholic and Jewish families also showed up to protest the board. (Twitter photo)