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Ford government defends sex-ed rollback, argues teachers retain ‘substantial discretion’

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Teachers have “substantial discretion” when it comes to the interim sex-ed curriculum and are “required” to teach it “in a way that is inclusive and that reflects the diversity of the student population, including LGBTQ2S+ diversity,” says the province.

That’s according to court documents filed this week by the Minister of Education in response to legal challenges that argue the Progressive Conservatives’ controversial rollback of the Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum for elementary students is discriminatory and not inclusive.

Student across Ontario staged a walkout on Sept. 21 to protest Premier Doug Ford’s rollback of the sex-ed curriculum. Students at Western Technical Commercial School are shown during a rally outside their school.
Student across Ontario staged a walkout on Sept. 21 to protest Premier Doug Ford’s rollback of the sex-ed curriculum. Students at Western Technical Commercial School are shown during a rally outside their school.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star File Photo)

The documents also provide insight into the popularity of a government website ForTheParents.ca that was created for parents to share concerns about the curriculum taught in their child’s classroom, which garnered intense backlash when it was launched and was lambasted by critics as being a “snitch line.”

In an affidavit, filed Monday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Martyn Beckett of the Ministry of Education says learning expectations are designed so that “teachers have substantial discretion in deciding how to teach them.”

“No particular script or list of prohibited or mandatory words is provided,” says Beckett, assistant deputy minister of the student achievement division. “Teachers can choose, in the exercise of their professional judgment, how to design classroom programs to achieve the learning expectations in each grade set out in the HPE Curriculum, and how to implement those classroom programs for a diverse and heterogeneous class of individual students.”

For instance, he notes, teachers can talk about sexual orientation and gender identity, as part of a Grade 5 learning expectation that students “describe physical, emotional, and interpersonal changes associated with puberty.” And in Grade 7, when students are expected to “identify sources of support with regard to issues related to healthy sexuality (e.g., parents/guardians, doctors),” teachers can discuss sources of support that may focus on LGBTQ2S+ students.

Similarly, in Grade 1, students are expected to identify “major parts of the body by their proper names,” and nothing prohibits teaching students “the proper names for genitalia (including penis and vagina).”

His affidavit was among the documents submitted by the province in its response to legal challenges by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

Those challenges were launched after Premier Doug Ford in August repealed the modernized Health and Physical Education curriculum introduced in 2015, which addressed issues such as same-sex relationships, consent, sexual orientation and gender identity. It was replaced by an interim curriculum from 2010, which includes sex-ed material from 1998.

The CCLA and Becky McFarlane — the queer parent of a 10-year-old girl in Grade 6 — filed a joint application in late August seeking an injunction to stop what it called a “discriminatory” curriculum. They argue the outdated curriculum does not foster a safe and inclusive environment for those who are LGBTQ+ and that the province is violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees equality and security; the Ontario Human Rights Code that outlaws discrimination; and the Education Act that requires schools be an inclusive environment.

In early September, ETFO launched another legal challenge which argues the province is violating teachers’ Charter rights, and their professional and ethical obligations enshrined within the Education Act and the Standards of Practice of the Ontario College of Teachers. The union, which represents 83,000 educators, is also demanding an end to the so-called snitch line, calling it an abuse of power.

In his affidavit, Beckett says that when ForTheParents.ca was introduced Aug. 22, it was for parents to weigh in on the sex-ed curriculum taught to their kids. During the first month, the government received about 25,000 submissions — of these, “very few included allegations of professional misconduct against a teacher, and only 13 of these included the contact information of the person making the submission.” The ministry contacted those 13 people and told them to notify the Ontario College of Teachers.

On Sept. 28, the website was broadened to solicit input on a range of education issues, including improving math and science grades and banning cellphone use in the classroom, as part of a province-wide consultation. By Oct. 29, the government had received 9,897 submissions and 6,523 people had completed a survey. People can also participate in Telephone Town Halls, which have been attracting between 25 and 135 participants per session.

Beckett notes the consultation process will run until Dec. 15 and that input will inform the government’s decisions for the next school year, including the creation of a new sex-ed curriculum that is age appropriate.

Both the CCLA and the ETFO challenges will be heard together in Divisional Court in January.

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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