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Good morning and thank you for coming on the first day of the new school year, 2018-2019
school year. Normally this is an opportunity for positive back to school stories --a new
school year full of hope and promise for the students and the educators who work with them.
Unfortunately, this year is starting differently as the Ford government has thrown the system
into uncertainty with poorly thought out announcements and confusing communications.
As you are aware, the Ontario government issued a directive that elementary educators would
use a revised Health and Physical Education Curriculum starting today.
The older curriculum that the government has re-issued minimizes information and, in some
cases, it has removed completely key topics that are vital for children in 2018.
Teaching issues like consent, LGBTQ relationships, gender identities and many other human development
issues related to today's realities are not only necessary, but vital for student safety,
well-being and inclusivity. The actions of the government to rescind the
2015 curriculum undermines the very safety and well-being of Ontario's students and families.
The world our students live in today is very different than it was in 1998.
The government has taken another action that undermines the professionalism, integrity
and professional judgement of teachers. It has set up a complaint or a "snitch line"
inviting parents to anonymously report any concerns regarding teachers and the curriculum.
In a worse case scenario, this "snitch line" would allow anonymous parents, or anyone as
a matter of fact, to target any teacher for any reason. The potential for abuse is enormous.
But this snitch line is also about creating a culture of fear for Ontario workers where
our professionalism and years of teaching and being educators to thousands of students
is directly being attacked. It is unprecedented and absolutely not necessary. Not in any way.
Educators work every day to foster a positive, safe and inclusive environment for students
and our members deserve the same kind of working environment.
Both actions, on the part of the government, are unreasonable and an infringement on the
rights and freedoms that are guaranteed to teachers by the Canadian Charter of Rights
and Freedoms. The creation of this "snitch line", ignores
the systems already in place for parents and educators to deal constructively with issues
at the school level. Of equal concern with this snitch line, is
that it is based on the premise that there is a problem with teachers. This fundamentally
undermines parents' confidence in the high quality public education system that elementary
educators deliver. It is the role of government to build the system in a positive way -- not
to toss it into chaos. This morning, I am announcing that ETFO has
just filed an application for judicial review of the Minister of Education's directive on
the 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum and the parent "snitch line".
ETFO's application seeks an injunction to direct the government to leave the 2015 Health
and Physical Education Curriculum in place. This is vital to ensure that educators and
school boards can continue to protect the safety and health of students. It also seeks
to stop the operation of this unnecessary and counterproductive complaint or snitch
line. ETFO was forced to take this action because
students need information and answers to their questions to deal with the realities of 2018.
Our union, ETFO, along with community groups and thousands of Ontario residents and parents,
have raised this issue of concern with the government publicly, and through a variety
of advocacy mechanisms. But despite our efforts, our voices as professional educators are not
being heard or respected. As the school year officially begins today our union has no other
choice but to pursue this legal action to ensure that the safety and health of kids,
families and educators are not put at risk. Quite simply, ETFO believes that the government's
actions are an abuse of power and are in direct conflict with teachers' professional obligations
enshrined within the Education Act and the Standards of Practice of the Ontario College
of Teachers. ETFO also believes that the actions of the government are also in conflict with
the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the professional
obligations on teachers as set out in the Education Act and the Standards of Practice
of the Ontario College of Teachers. This is why ETFO is taking legal action on
these issues. In addition, ETFO has also applied to seek
intervenor status in a case that was filed in August by parents and students and is currently
before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal regarding changes to Ontario's curriculum.
I want to end by saying that Ontario has an internationally recognized education system.
One of the best in the world. However, this government is abusing its legislative power
and using students for political gain. The human development of students should not be
used as a pawn to appease some voters and deflect the real issues that are needed to
build better schools. Chronic underfunding caused by an out-dated
education funding formula, violence in schools, a lack of support for students with special
needs and mental health issues, and schools that need extensive repairs. These are the
real issues affecting the learning conditions of students across this province.
ETFO members have always and will continue to act in a professional way that puts students'
needs first and I am proud of that. Now, I would like to, at this point, turn it over
to Howard Goldblatt from Goldblatt Partners LLP who will represent ETFO in this matter.
Howard will explain the application filed this morning on ETFO's behalf to seek a review
and an injunction against this government. When Howard is done we would be happy to take
question. Howard. Thank you Sam and thank you everyone for attending
this morning. I want to try and synthesize what it is that has been filed by ETFO today
and what actually ETFO filed on Friday. So our challenge today, and you'll be provided
copies with it or access to it, is to outline the factual background of this application
and the legal basis for the challenge which in our view, clearly stablishes significant
violations of Charter Rights and professional and ethical standards of teachers.
We're developing and completing a record which will be filed in the court and will include
evidence from teachers and experts on curriculum development and the development and implementation
of the curriculum which is now been reverted to or revoked by this government.
What we are seeking is the following: Both in respect of the directive to return
to the what I would call the 1998 curriculum or the 2010 curriculum, as well as what Sam
has described as a snitch line or others might call it the reporting line.
We are trying to quash the directives issued by the minister in both respects. We are seeking
an order declaring a requirement to return to the old curriculum is being contrary to
the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in particular sections 2b which protects
freedom of expression, section 7 which protects personal security and the equality rights
under section 15. We are also seeking an order declaring that
the return to the old curriculum violates the principals of natural justice and procedural
fairness. Just to follow up on what Sam has said, on
Friday ETFO formally intervened in the human rights case that has been brought by a number
of parents and students who claim their human rights have been violated by the introduction
or the reversion to the old curriculum. And more specifically ETFO provided a declaration
which is evidence in support of the request by these applicants to seek an expedited hearing
and to stay of their proceedings. Let me be a little bit focused on some of
the law. The Supreme Court has expressly identified that teachers are the medium for the transmission
of values in our society and key actors in developing civic virtue and responsible citizenship
in an environment free of bias, prejudice and intolerance.
The directive, and the reporting line, fly squarely in the face of these fundamental
freedoms and values. The government has intentionally restricted
the expressive freedom of teachers, prohibiting them from fulfilling their role as educators
and preventing them from communicating accurate information critical to student health, safety,
development and participation in a modern, diverse and pluralistic society.
Their actions increase the risk of physical and sexual violence, transmission of sexually
transmitted infections, cyber bullying and online child exploitation, all of which engage
the protection required by section 7. Lastly, their actions perpetuates substantive
discrimination against diverse and minority students, parents, and members of society
by excluding topics related to sexual identity, sexuality, same-sex marriage, and a merit
of other modern, necessary matters that should be communicated in accordance with the professional
judgement of the teachers. Lastly, the actions, including the reporting
line, unreasonably require and/or coarse teachers into violating their legal, ethical, moral
and professional obligations under the education act, the standards of practice, the ethical
standards of practice, all of which were promocated by the Ontario College of Teachers as well
as the Human Rights Code. So, we are happy to take some questions.
Yeah, well we have said from the very beginning that our members, teachers, need to continue,
should continue to use their professional judgement as Howard has outlined in terms
of their obligations in their professional responsibilities.
They should continue to exercise their professional judgment to ensure that the students that
are in their care are getting the education that they need for 2018 environment in this
You are aware that the CCLA has also field an application and they have sought to have
it heard on an expedited basis. So, we're discussing this matter with them. It is likely
that there will be a coordination with respect to their application, because the courts don't
want to hear things more than once. We are bringing forward, as I have already
indicated, a pretty fulsome record and we are hoping that it can be heard as quickly
as possible. But, you know, the actual timing of it will depend upon the coordination with
the courts, the CCLA and any other potential interveners because I can tell you that there
are a lot of organizations and groups that are very much interested in participating
in this challenge.
Wonderful. Take the snitch like down. It's that simple. It's not necessary. It's not
needed. As I eluded to and Howard has spoken to, there are a number of different avenues
from the school level right up to the root of the college that are in place now and we
don't need an additional snitch line. Let me be clear, that snitch line is not just
for parents, anyone can go on there, from anywhere, and report on a teacher if they
wanted to.
All of the access to the college of teachers, to school administrators, to school boards
is already currently there and it is easily accessible by any parent in any part of the
province. There is absolutely no need for a snitch line
that in my opinion and ETFO's opinion attacks the professional integrity and professional
judgement of our members. So, can I just add this point if I may to
the extent that you're right and there already is a series of ways in which parents and other
individuals can report this to the college then Sam's quite correct take it down, but
as we say in our material the purpose and intent of this is actually to not for the
people who might want to make a report but to act as an intimidating and coercive factor
in respect of the teachers to create a chilling atmosphere with respect to the teachers and
interfere with their expressive rights and so that's really what it's all about there
is a way in which parents can complain and it's always been there it's very clear in
the College of Teachers legislation, but that to the extent that it's now very public it
is intended to have an impact upon educators which is what we think is fundamentally improper.
From a legal perspective yes it's not it's the purpose and effect and the effect of it
is manifest it's clear no doubt about that. And in addition to that just talk to some
of our members across the province we're starting back at school today and the effect that that
snitch line is Howard as outline has had on them.
They're essentially the same arguments as we have with respect to the directive they
interfere with the ability of teachers to express themselves to exercise their fundamental
charter rights under section 2b and they act as a as I say it's a chilling effect so they
contravene section 2b, they contravene the teachers ethical and professional responsibilities
and they also contravene in the terms of which they have an impact at both in the classroom
and frankly beyond the classroom because teachers reach way beyond just the classroom in terms
of the you know the fundamental protection under section 7 and without any question they
have an impact on rights under section 15 equality rights.
A significant impact upon those rights and you know I would ask that you just take a
look at our application we've laid that out very clearly we have some significant facts
in that and the in the argument to the extent that we have in brief form it spelled out
in that.
Well I mean I'm gonna defer to Sam, but let me just say that it has always been the case
that teachers have been able to exercise their professional judgment in expanding upon and
tailoring the curriculum to meet the needs of their students and to meet the needs of
a modern and diverse society and what the entirety of what we have here is to put a
significant constraint and then we say an impermissive constraint on their ability to
do that. And just two other points if I may, one is
the curriculum that the ministry has made available is available online and online only.
There are no professional development sessions set up for our members to proceed on a go-forward
basis. And a simple issue you know a very practical example of the confusion that this
has caused and where teachers are now is let's just take a kindergarten class or a grade
1 class and they're talking about families moms and dads and one of the students in that
classroom puts their hand up and says I don't have a mom and a dad I have two moms.
That's not included in the curriculum that this government released in terms of LGBTQ
relationships same-sex marriage what does that teacher supposed to do? and what does
that child and if that teacher decides to take that as a teachable moment to talk about
same-sex couples is this government going to act and punish that teacher for doing that
in 2018? And I would add one other point, as our application
shows the curriculum that was in place until a couple of weeks ago was the result of probably
one of the most extensive consultation exercises that the ministry is undertaken and you know
with a staff of fingers or you know a flash of a pen that's all been undone. And that's
one of the reasons why we're arguing with respect to not just the Charter violations
but the entire natural justice and procedural fairness which has a direct impact on students,
parents, as well as teachers.
Well, we have said from, use that teachable moment that I just talked about and if the
teacher responds using their professional judgment to act on that teachable moment and
the government acts to punish them we have said that we will do whatever is necessary
to defend our members in that situation and all members across the province on go-forward
basis. Whatever we have to do to protect them. It's that important.
Actually, we've been so very pleased with the reaction of some 30 boards and boards
who have recently like the Toronto District School Board and the Waterloo District School
Board who have actually sat down and in support of the content for example of the 2015 curriculum,
and in support of teachers and educators have been very clear about the society we live
in and that education needs to be inclusive on a go-forward basis.
We shall see. I, off the top of my head I think every union leader in this province
including the leader of the Ontario Federation of Labour are on the same page as we are in
terms of the need for that 2015 curriculum to be in place and I want to be very clear
that what we have said from the beginning is the simple solution here to get rid of
the chaos the uncertainty and the attacks is just to leave the 2015 curriculum in place
until the government does what they've promised in terms of consultations. That's how it's
worked for decades in terms of implementing a new curriculum.
Yeah, I'm not going to comment on a poll that you've done. I haven't seen the poll. I haven't
seen how it was implemented. So I apologize.
No, absolutely not. I would suggest to you that the vast majority of parents, the parents
that I've spoken to, the parents who have contacted me and not our members have been
very supportive in fact of the 2015 curriculum being left in place and our position as we
we've stated for over a couple of month now.
Well, I mean clearly I think it indicates that there are some very significant challenges
that are being bought forward by, it's not just the case on Friday, it was the Tesla
case that for which there was a positive decision in favour of the Tesla people.
There is the case that we argued, I think extensively, on Friday that engaged provisions
of the Charter. There's this case today that engages provision of the Charter. I think
what it simply says is that this government has to be respectful and mindful of fundamental
rights and freedoms. And in the same way, as this union was the
leader in attacking Bill 115 which impose collective agreements on teachers under the
prior government as successfully this union will continue to assert that at the end of
the day fundamental rights and freedoms must be given primacy. And that the Charter is
the supreme law of the land. So, if we believe, and we believe in very
strongly, that the government has violated those fundamental rights this union will be
there arguing that point.
No, no reaction thus far. I can say to you honestly that the Minister of Education, the
premier of this province have not been in touch with education stakeholders or partners
if you will including ETFO since they were sworn in. We find that, as do other education
stakeholders, disturbing.
I think the approach that's been taken by this government for me and as far as ETFO
is concerned is yes, it seems homophobic in a way. Yes, it's trying to eliminate key aspects
of the society that we live in. Gender identities, transgender individuals, same-sex marriage.
I don't know what else you would call it. We're simply saying you know what it's 2018
and you can't push all of that back into a closet, back to 1998 and we're not gonna stand
by and allow that to happen.


ETFO Media Conference - September 4, 2018

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