With protestors shouting for him to give back the Greenbelt at Ford Fest in Kitchener, Ont., Premier Doug Ford took aim at school boards and educators who withhold information from parents about their children’s sexuality and gender.
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“It is not up to the teachers. It’s not up to the school boards to indoctrinate our children,” said Ford on Friday night while speaking a crowd of hundreds of supporters.
Ford’s comments on the issue of LGBTQ+ youth and the safeguards of schools make him the third premier in the country to tackle the issues, but the others, Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick and Scott Moe of Saskatchewan, were not embroiled in their biggest scandals to date when they enacted the policies.
“It was disheartening, disappointing, and hurtful, especially when we have seen the hate directed toward the LGBTQ+ community,” said Kojo Modeste, executive director of Pride Toronto. “I strongly believe this is just another way of the premier and his ministers deflecting and trying to move away from some of the real issues we’re facing in this province.”
Ford has been under fire since a report from the Auditor General of Ontario and Integrity Commissioner of Ontario outlined that his government, especially his housing minister, lacked due process when swapping out Greenbelt land, leading to large profits for major developers. The scandal led to the resignations of Housing Minister Steve Clark and Chief of Staff Ryan Amato, a cabinet shuffle and an admission from the premier that the process was flawed.
A month later the pressure is still on, with hundreds attending the Ford Fest event in Kitchener to protest. Regardless of the reason to talk about the issue, Modeste thinks Ford’s rhetoric on Friday night was harmful to the LGBTQ+ community
The argument for parents’ right to know about their kids’ sexuality and gender, and if there are changes,is a potentially dangerous policy, according to Modeste. He noted that teachers and counsellors are some of the few people that students can turn to without fear, and if that safeguard is removed from schools and youth are outed to their parents, it could spell harm.
“School is the only place that they feel safe, and saying that safety, that confidence that we have placed within our teachers, within our school system is no longer there. It is scary,” he said. “We’re at the point where we have to worry about our safety in general.”
Ford’s comments follow his education minister Stephen Lecce’s comments on the topic just a few weeks ago, which were along the same line. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Premier Ford said that “the premier and minister have both been clear they believe parents must be involved and informed of what is happening in their children’s lives.”
They add that there are protocols to ensure safety, but they “are not currently exploring any legislative changes,” adding that school boards need to be transparent with parents if their kids make life-changing decisions.
Since the Greenbelt scandal broke, Ford has participated in several press conferences with different ministers, and critics say he is trying to keep attention away from the Greenbelt.
Anne Marie Aikins, a Toronto-based media and issues management specialist, said that when trying to change the topic of a scandal about the nature of the Greenbelt, governments and organizations often shift to a more explosive topic.
“If you want to change the channel or to give people something else to chew on, then often you pick a polarizing issue, one that has a lot of different opinions and thoughts and feelings about it. This is one of those issues,” she said.
But, despite their attempts to take heat away from the Greenbelt, Aikins noted it’s a challenge considering how deeply Ontarians feel, and more information continues to emerge.
“The Greenbelt issue has shown us that it has legs. It is a sustaining issue, and it is not going away,” she said.