Upcoming municipal elections across Canada are the frontline of the culture war. It’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure trustee candidates are held accountable for their intentions for school communities.
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Much of the discourse surrounding schools and education, by the far-right and other anti-equity figures, frames the issues within school communities as a matter of “parental rights.”
This is a trend in multiple spaces during the education culture war: in the campaign platforms of numerous anti-equity candidates across Canada; “questionnaires” issued to candidates by far-right groups, such as Campaign Life Coalition; and in American legislation couched in “parental rights” language.
The concept of “parental rights” is not grounded in the Charter: “in Canada, the approach has been guided by the common law and various statutes in which the guiding principle is the best interests of the child.”
“There is no basis for this Court to interpret parental wishes as having priority. Ultimately, the best interests of the child are paramount.”
Human rights frameworks are not an infallible method of achieving equity and justice. At the same time, we think it is useful to provide caring adults with some questions to ask trustee candidates, which are grounded in an actual human rights framework, applying the Canada-ratified United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- Children have the right to protection from harm, including “all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.”
As Robyn Maynard wrote, “For many Black youth, schools can be places of degradation, harm, and psychological violence.” Research has shown that Black youth are subject to harsher punishment in schools than white youth. There have been numerous instances of hateful anti-Black violence and intimidation perpetrated by students against their peers.
Question: If elected, how will you defend the right of children to protection from harm, particularly for Black and other racialized students?
- Children have the right to free expression, including the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.”
Question: How will you ensure that this right is protected, particularly in cases of children seeking information about “controversial” subjects?
- Children have the right to an education that is “child-centred, child-friendly and empowering.”
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child further highlighted the link between the right to education, and the struggle against racism and related intolerances. Specifically, they write “Education should thus be accorded one of the highest priorities in all campaigns against the evils of racism and related phenomena.”
Question: With attacks on anti-racist education rising, how will you protect the rights of children to an education that emphasizes teaching about racism as both a historic and contemporary phenomenon?
In recent years, this right has been challenged by groups and individuals who demand that parents and guardians are informed of a child’s involvement in 2SLGBTQ+ clubs.
Question: If elected, how will you defend the rights of children — including 2SLGBTQ+ children — to privacy?
Repeated studies have indicated that non-affirming home and school environments — those which deny or invalidate young people’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity, including purposefully misgendering youth (i.e. using their dead name, or incorrect pronouns) — are linked to extremely negative mental health consequences, including increased risk of suicidality.
Question: Understanding that such school environments directly harm the health of children and youth, if elected, how will you defend the right to health of 2SLGBTQ+ students?
Children who belong to religious or linguistic minority groups, or who are Indigenous, have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, and to use their own language, in community with other members of their group.
Over the last several years, this right has been threatened by overtly hateful attempts to that prohibit, for example, Muslim students from gathering on school grounds to perform Friday prayers.
Question: If elected, how will you defend the rights of religious and linguistic minoritized students, as well as Indigenous students?
Bonus Round: Rapid Fire Questions
- Will you support the raising of the rainbow flag during Pride month?
- Will you support the renaming of schools, in the case of schools that bear the name of individuals associated with historical atrocities, such as the residential school system and transatlantic slavery?
- Will you support the formation of 2SLGBTQ+ clubs in schools?