TORONTO — A Tory MP’s suggestions that Ontario’s updated sex-education curriculum was drafted by a man charged with child pornography and puts children at risk are “disgusting,” the province’s education minister said Monday.
Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant criticized the curriculum in Parliament last week, repeating claims that Benjamin Levin, a former deputy minister of education who is facing seven child pornography-related charges, may have had a hand in developing the document.
“The curriculum was written by someone charged with two counts of distribution of child pornography … and arranging for a sexual offence against a child under 16,” Gallant said last Thursday. “If withdrawal of this Liberal policy can prevent one child from being groomed for exploitation, it really must be withdrawn.”
Education Minister Liz Sandals fired back on Monday.
“The claims she is making are absolutely outrageous and quite frankly disgusting,” Sandals told reporters. “How could anybody be so badly informed about the real world?”
The first revisions to the province’s sex-ed curriculum since 1998 were released last week, immediately drawing fire from some parents and religious groups concerned that concepts such as masturbation and same-sex relationships were being introduced to kids who were too young.
The Liberals have denied that Levin, who was also on Premier Kathleen Wynne’s transition team when she took office, was involved in the new sex-ed curriculum.
“Mr. Levin had absolutely nothing to do with the development of the content of the curriculum,” insisted Sandals. “So it’s certainly a red herring that people are trying to feed parents.”
Levin’s lawyer, Clayton Ruby, has said his client plans to plead guilty Tuesday to some of the seven child pornography-related charges against him while other charges are expected to be withdrawn.
Gallant urged Parliament to pass legislation with tougher penalties for child predators, saying the need was demonstrated by sweeping changes to the sex-ed curriculum “by the Liberal party in Toronto.” She also demanded Justin Trudeau tell his provincial colleagues to scrap it.
“On behalf of all the parents, grandparents and the vulnerable children of Ontario, we demand that the federal party leader order this outrageous policy to be withdrawn now,” Gallant said.
Sandals said she doubted Prime Minister Stephen Harper would listen to suggestions from her about reining in Gallant, so she urged Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives to distance themselves from the Tory MP’s “off the wall” remarks.
“That’s not an acceptable way to portray what’s going on,” said Sandals. “What I would really hope would happen would be that the Conservatives at the Ontario level would disown that sort of conduct.”
All three candidates for the Progressive Conservative leadership have complained the Liberals did not consult enough parents before releasing the new curriculum and announcing it would be implemented this fall without any more changes.
“I think that we need to be rational in our discussions in this and I think we’ve heard a lot of extreme rhetoric,” said deputy PC leader Christine Elliott. “We should be speaking to parents about this … and for other people to opine on it, one way or the other, in very extreme terms, doesn’t serve anybody.”