Tribunal rejects parent’s attempt to challenge school lesson on gender ideology

October 31, 2022 | Renata Antoniuk

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in N.B. v. Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, 2022 HRTO 1044 (CanLII) recently confirmed that including gender identity in lessons taught to grade one students is not discriminatory. To the contrary, existing legislative provisions serve to protect people of all gender identities and gender expressions.

A student’s parent brought an application against the respondent school board alleging discrimination in the provision of educational services in violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”). Specifically, the student’s parent alleged that the student, who was six years old at the time, was subjected to ongoing discrimination by a series of lessons that denied the existence of the female gender and biological sex, and undermined the value of identifying as female. The parent argued that the purpose of the application was to reasonably curtail the “excesses of gender ideology.” The parent described the lessons taught as containing a “controversial and ideological approach” to gender issues, and the parent claimed that the student returned from school indicating that she did not want to be a “mommy” when she grew up, but wanted to be a dog instead.

The student’s teacher acknowledged that she had read the class a book and had shown the class a video which addressed gender identity. Subsequent classroom discussions further discussed gender identity and related issues, and when answering a question, the teacher said that people can go to the hospital to change their bodies. The teacher acknowledged that when students were arguing about arranging themselves into two gender-specific groups, she told them that there was no such thing as boys and girls. However, the teacher corrected herself, acknowledged that she misspoke, and drew a linear gender spectrum on the board, showing girls at one end and boys at the other, with other potential options of gender being in-between.

In response to complaints about the foregoing events, the school board provided a copy of the board’s policy document on gender identity and gender expression.

Ultimately the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario dismissed the application finding that the student did not experience any discrimination in the provision of educational services arising from differential treatment on the basis of the student’s sex or gender identity, as alleged in the application.

The Tribunal held that the school board did not breach the student’s Code protected rights by exposing the student and the student’s class to lessons involving gender identity and the school board’s policy document on gender identity and gender expression. The Tribunal found that the policy document was in accordance with both the Code, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s “Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression.”

The decision of the Tribunal confirms that early exposure to lessons about gender expression may be part of an approach to creating safe learning environments for students in accordance with Ontario’s Education Act and the Code, even when faced with complaints and pressure from parents to do otherwise.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to a member of Miller Thomson’s Education Law group.

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