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Outgoing Letters and Public Statements

September 10, 2010
Re: An Open Letter to the Ontario Ministry of Education in Regard to Health and Physical Education Curriculum
Letter submitted to the Hon. Leona Dombrowsky, Ontario Minister of Education, Sept. 10, 2010

Dear Minister, 

In April 2010, the Ministry of Education in Ontario withdrew its revised Health and Physical Education curriculum for grades 1-8 following parents’ negative reaction to some of the content.

Parents’ response at that time highlights the fact that while curriculum is theoretically developed in consultation with the public, often the process is inaccessible and only allows for feedback after the curriculum has already been developed. This ad hoc approach contributed to and resulted in the Ministry of Education’s retraction of the “Human Development and Sexual Health” component of the curriculum. The Premier noted this retraction was for a ‘rethink’ and the Ministry of Education has confirmed that the review process for the curriculum is continuing.

To our knowledge, there have not been any details released outlining how parents may contribute to the development of this curriculum or participate in the review process. While the current interim version does not contain the controversial elements, parents have not been made aware of the plans or process for its review.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (the EFC) understands that the summer months are likely not the best time to engage in parental consultation. However, we wonder why plans have not been made and announced over the summer for consultation to take place in the fall since the review process is moving forward (this is the information we obtained following several calls to various ministry and school board representatives)?

This approach appears to run contrary to the third goal of the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy, that of “accountability and transparency”.

The EFC is concerned that classroom instruction in the reintroduced curriculum may be contrary to what a large number of Ontario parents deem as age appropriate or consistent with their values. In keeping with both The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” and the state should have respect for the liberty of parents and “ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions”. Given these international agreements, of which Canada is either a party or has acceded to including provincial agreement, it is essential that parents have a full and complete opportunity to participate in the development of curriculum generally, including the Health and Physical Education curriculum.

We are also concerned that, contrary to the spirit and ethos of Reach Every Student, Energizing Education in Ontario and the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy, an identifiable subgroup of the student population will be excluded, face barriers and not see themselves reflected in the materials being taught – that is children from social conservative homes. In a letter written to a parent in 2008 by then Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne (which is available on our website), the Minister states that the “curriculum is designed to reflect the diversity of Canada” and should be implemented in order “that students can see the variety of their own backgrounds, interests, and experiences reflected in it.”

She then goes on to state that,

Should a component of any course conflict with a religious belief held by a parent or a student aged eighteen or older, the right to withdraw from that component of the course shall be granted on the written request of the parent or student.

This position was re-affirmed in April 20, 2010 by Gary Wheeler, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Education,

If there is a component of any course, in conflict with the personal beliefs of the parents, something they don’t believe in, the parents can withdraw the student from that component of the course.

While recognition of religious values is appreciated, the means of accommodation is neither in spirit nor in compliance with the Strategy itself.  It may appear prima facie that the Ministry of Education is making an accommodation for a religious perspective by providing withdrawal as an option for those who disagree with the subject matter, however, in reality the Ministry has removed any discussion that allows for a religious perspective at all.

Rather than creating an environment of tolerance, respect and acceptance, this policy creates one of polarization and segregation of religious perspectives. It is alienating to religious and social conservative groups by pointing out differences and providing for their exclusion from the classroom rather than considering how those differences may be beneficial to the accommodation and discussion of various perspectives in the classroom.

If a child has to leave the classroom because the curriculum does not respect the individual differences represented by that student’s or that student’s parents’ beliefs, then the whole purpose of the revision of the curriculum defeats itself. In short it is exclusionary, rather than inclusive.

Student withdrawal from the classroom has been recognized by the courts as being an unsatisfactory means of accommodation. In the Ontario Court of Appeal decision, Zylberberg v. Ontario, the court found that the policy allowing parents to have their children excused from the classroom during the then Ministry policy of opening the day with the Lord’s Prayer could expose children to ridicule.

The peer pressure and the classroom norms to which children are acutely sensitive, in our opinion, are real and pervasive and operate to compel members of religious minorities to conform…

That same principle applies in the circumstances at hand. A student who feels marginalized in his or her beliefs may feel pressure to conform or espouse the beliefs of the majority or, alternatively, they may feel marginalized and excluded – ostracized not only by their peers but by the policy of the Ministry.

In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that school boards (and by implication the policies imposed upon them by the Ministry of Education) have a duty to ensure that the public education system is a welcoming and positive school environment for all students. The court went on to require that school boards (and by implication the policies of the Ministry) be ‘ever vigilant’ of anything that might interfere with that duty (Ross v. New Brunswick School District No. 15).

The constitutional guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion extends to all students and parents – and teachers – regardless of their ideological or religious beliefs. The Ministry is responsible for ensuring that all are respected.

In addition, discrimination on the basis of religion (creed) is also one of the grounds expressly forbidden under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Excluding someone from the classroom rather than developing appropriate and welcoming curriculum is discriminatory.

Given that we have had some measure of difficulty obtaining information to provide to our constituents, can you please provide us with the following information,

  • Is the current Health and Physical Education Interim Edition which is scheduled for the fall of 2010 the final edition?
  • If this is not the final edition, when will further reviews or revisions take place?
  • What is the best way that parents can pro-actively participate in choosing what kind of education their children receive in Ontario’s public education system?
  • Can parents expect a change in the process of curriculum development in light of the events of April 2010?
  • Will parents be involved with the creation of a draft prior to the curriculum’s release or should they expect a mostly complete draft upon which they can provide feedback?
  • How will the curriculum development process deal with parental consultation, inclusion and concerns?
  • What consideration has the Ministry given to means of accommodation other than withdrawal from the classroom?

We anticipate your early reply.

Sincerely,

Don Hutchinson, Vice-President, General Legal Counsel
Director, Centre for Faith and Public Life, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

cc: Hon Dalton McGuinty, Premier
Rosario Marchese, Critic, Education
Kevin Costante, Deputy Minister of Education


July 13, 2010
Re: Change in the Census Long Form
Letter submitted to the Hon. Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, July 13, 2010

Related Items About Census Changes

EFC video interview on why the census is important

EFC cited in newspapers

July 27 Blog by the EFC's Rick Hiemstra

July 2 Blog by the EFC's Rick Hiemstra

Dear Mr. Clement,

On behalf of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), I write to express concern about the announcement that the 2011 census will be dropping the long form, and particularly the religious affiliation question.

The EFC's Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism participated in both the 2011 Census Content Consultation and the 2011 Census and Geography Dissemination Consultation. At no time was there any indication that the long form might be eliminated. The EFC, in good faith, made several recommendations on how the religious affiliation question and the dissemination of these data might be improved. The most important of these recommendations was that Statistics Canada should strengthen the census religious affiliation question by adding an additional question about religious participation.

The voluntary National Household Survey is not an adequate substitute for a mandatory census. The historical comparability of data – which is essential to gaining an understanding of social and religious trends in Canada – will be compromised as recent immigrants and minority groups, including religious minority groups, will be under represented. Demographic portraits of Canada will become less reliable, and the many charities, churches, governments, and ministry organizations that rely on these data will all be less effective in their efforts to serve Canadians.

Further, our ability to assess the evolution of the Canadian religious landscape – not to mention immigration, ethnicity and the like – will be compromised. Without this ability various levels of governments will have inadequate responses to the needs of Canada’s religious communities. Further, religious communities, and those without any religious affiliation, will lack the basic information they need to appreciate and accommodate the diversity in Canadian society.

Dropping the census long form and replacing it with a voluntary National Household Survey is a retrograde step, and we urge you and your colleagues to restore the 2011 census long form. Further, we urge Statistics Canada to avail itself of some of the recommendations made by the many Canadians who participated in Statistics Canada’s consultations on how the census and its dissemination could be improved. Specifically, we recommend:

· That a question on religious participation be added to the 2011 census long form;
· That the religious affiliation question be split into two parts. The first identifying a person’s world religion, such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc., and the second identifying the denomination or subdivision within that world religion;
· That Statistics Canada publish a comprehensive religion codebook along with its census results so that Canadians can better understand the data being presented;
· That Statistics Canada provide a clear and consistent rationale for which religious groups’ data get published in census documents.

What steps will Industry Canada take to ensure that Statistics Canada is able to present a full and accurate picture of Canadians and their participation in religiously-defined communities?

Sincerely,
Rick Hiemstra, Director, Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

CC: Right Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
   Hon. Michael Ignatieff, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada
   Marc Garneau, Liberal Party of Canada Industry Critic
   Hon. Jack Layton, Leader of the New Democratic Party
   Brian Masse, New Democratic Party Industry Critic
   Gilles Duceppe, Leader of the Bloc Québécois
   Robert Bouchard, Bloc Québécois Industry Critic.


May 12, 2010
Re: Is the Christian Right Changing Canada?
Letter submitted to CBC Television, May 13, 2010

We appreciate the balance that Wendy Mesley displayed in her interview with Marci McDonald in “Is the Christian Right Changing Canada?” The piece notes that several organizations have “sprung up” in recent years. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, whose faceplate was shown, has 39 denominational affiliates and has been in existence since 1964. Active on public policy issues since the 1980s, the EFC established the Centre for Faith and Public Life in Ottawa in 1996. We have worked on public policy initiatives with Conservative, Liberal and NDP Members of Parliament because promoting public policy based on biblical principles is not possible from only one political perspective if one is equally concerned, as we are, for the unborn as well as for those living on the street. We know, and accept, that there are different perspectives required in the development of good public policy and ours is only one voice in the Canadian public square where all are constitutionally welcomed in our free and democratic society.

Don Hutchinson, Vice-President
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada


April 1, 2010
Re:  Funding Cuts to Kairos
Letter sent to the Honourable Bev Oda on April 1, 2010 and available at KairosCanada.org


February 10, 2010
Re:  Anglican Church Facing the Threat of Extinction, by Michael Valpy
Letter published in the Globe and Mail, February 11, 2010

Michael Valpy says “regular attendance is declining at all Canadian Christian churches, except for the Roman Catholic Church.” This is not true. Our religious landscape is far more complex than Mr. Valpy paints it. Reliable denominational data on attendance is notoriously difficult to come by. The most comprehensive and recent figures that I’m aware of were compiled by Bruce Guenther and Outreach Canada for 2001. The Guenther survey identified 167 denominations. Of these, 101 grew in attendance between 1991 and 2001 – and 73 of them were evangelical.

Rick Hiemstra, Director, Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada


January 11, 2010
Re:  'Aye, Those Be Slighting Words Against the Lord', by Stephen Marche
Letter submitted to the National Post, January 11, 2010

In his article, Stephen Marche states that “religion is trying to make a comeback into the public sphere through the back door.” I’m not exactly sure what reality he is referring to – religion and religious inspired-thought exist in the public square and always will. The ‘public sphere’ is made up of individuals, and most of those individuals, in Canada anyways, have some type of religious or spiritual beliefs (84% of Canadians do according to the 2001 Census). And the beliefs of these Canadians (as well as the ‘non-religious’ who carry their own sets of beliefs, i.e. agnosticism, atheism, secularism) influence their actions, which shape this sphere.

To live together in a vibrant, pluralistic and multicultural society, we need to let go of the condescending notion that religion is some fad that is on its way out. What we need to do is make the effort to respect and accommodate each other. The notion that we can achieve some utopian, non-religious society where no one citizen expresses religious beliefs (or cultural differences, for that matter) thus enabling us all to happily get along is false and fully unrealistic. Living in a truly diverse society might not be easy, but it’s well worth the effort.

Faye Sonier, Legal Counsel
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada


December 22, 2009
Re:  Is the Harper Government Playing the Anti-Semitic Card? by Gerald Caplan
Letter submitted to the Globe and Mail, December 24, 2009

Mr. Caplan asks good questions about KAIROS and how the federal government has handled the file. However, in the course of his defense of some churches from the charge of anti-Semitism, he takes a broad swipe at Evangelicals and alleges they are anti-Semitic. This is a complete distortion of evangelical theology and belief. Such allegations serve only to promote contempt and misunderstanding towards a diverse evangelical community in Canada.

A careful study of KAIROS and its partners will show that some of the churches Caplan defends actually identify with the Canadian evangelicalism. Canadian Evangelicals work with Palestinians and have a good relationship with Israelis. The Government of Israel itself works hard to foster and strengthen its relations with Evangelicals. Meanwhile Christians around the world are celebrating the birth of their Lord and Savior, a Jew born in Bethlehem.

Bruce J. Clemenger, President
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada


More letters (from 2009)

Outgoing Letters

2011-present
2010
2009
2008
2007
2006
2005

EFC President Bruce J. Clemenger writes regular commentaries about public policy issues. The EFC magazine Faith Today often publishes articles and essays that examine such issues.

   
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