When the doors were closed and outsiders weren't around, a publicly financed Catholic high school in Red Deer was teaching its students that abortions in Canada are the equivalent of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.
Needless to say, the shaky video of a video called "The Case Against Abortion, Personhood," recorded on a cell phone by a student and reported yesterday by Global News, has resurrected the controversy about public funding for religious education in Alberta.
According to Global, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen informed Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools about the video "after a student contacted him." Eggen told media interviewers later "there is no place in a publicly funded school for a video comparing the horrors of the Holocaust to abortion."
We only know about this aspect of the education provided by anti-choice activists during a religion class at École Secondaire Notre Dame High School in the Central Alberta city because of the miracle of smart-phone camera technology and the eternally rebellious nature of high school students.
For this we can be grateful as it helps clarify the role activists played on this and other issues by tax-supported religious schools, which is a legitimate part of a broader debate about gay-straight alliances, student human rights and the use of limited tax resources in a secular society.
What we know is that medically inaccurate information and a highly tendentious comparison of abortion and the Holocaust was taught at one Red Deer high school.
What we don't know, however, is just as important:
- How often is this kind of pernicious propaganda distributed in other publicly financed schools in Alberta?
- Do our opposition politicians, who have made a big deal about what they see as the value of "choice" in education, think about the appropriateness of the specific message put forward in the movie played to students at École Secondaire Notre Dame?
Cristina Stasia, a University of Alberta gender studies professor and chair of AIM -- Accessing Information not Myths, a group devoted to addressing gaps in Alberta's sexual education curriculum -- told Global such presentations happen all over the province.
Unsurprisingly, an effort appears to be under way to pass the use of the offensive video off as merely a one-time problem with resource material shown by a volunteer instructor from a Red Deer group opposed to women's reproductive rights.
Guy Pelletier, chair of Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools conceded the reference to Nazi Germany was not appropriate, and said the board has had no difficulties in the past with Red Deer and Area Pro Life and that it trusts its school administrators -- points that don't answer the more important question of whether such materials are being used at other schools in the district.
"This wasn't the right video to bring into the school and we'll make sure it doesn’t happen in future presentations," he told a Global interviewer. (Emphasis added.)
The Anti-Defamation League, the U.S.-based international non-governmental organization that opposes anti-Semitism and supports human rights for all groups, describes such comparisons as "appallingly insensitive."
"We are outraged by their attempt to somehow create a moral equivalency between the Nazis' systematic murder of millions of Jews and others during the Holocaust with abortions," the ADL's New Mexico branch said in a news release published in response to a 2013 anti-abortion demonstration in front of an Albuquerque Holocaust museum. "Not only is such an analogy grossly inappropriate, it also trivializes the Holocaust and is deeply offensive to Holocaust survivors and the families of those who perished."
The second question is important because Albertans deserve to know what opposition politicians would actually do about such situations in tax-financed schools, not just what platitudes they would mouth.
Jason Kenney, just elected leader of the Progressive Conservatives, is known to have been a militant anti-abortion activist since he was in his 20s. He vocally supported public financing for religious schools and private schools during his campaign to lead the party.
Given this, he needs to make it clear how he would approach this question, as he has already made it clear how he would deal with students who choose to join a gay-straight alliance in their school.
Other political leaders should be held to the same standard, of course.
As a result of yesterday's revelation, a group called the Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition called in a news release for Alberta Education to develop "an explicit policy for all school boards regarding the vetting of outside agencies presenting curriculum to students."
The policy should ensure information provided by such groups is accurate, evidence-based and free of bias, the group said.
Correction, clarification, or something …
When I last talked about the Alberta Liberal Party leadership race on April Fools Day (by happenstance, not intention) I left readers with the impression Kelly Cundal, then one of two likely candidates for the leadership who had filed nomination papers, wasn't actually going to run.
It turns out, however, that Cundal is running for the party leadership after all, as is David Khan. Both of them are Calgary human rights lawyers, which considerably simplifies the job of describing where they're from and what they do. Both jumped into the race after Nolan Crouse, mayor of St. Albert and up to then the only candidate and presumed automatic choice, quit without explanation two days before nominations closed.
So, it’s official, there is a race -- and here's the proof! It remains to be seen if the contest will generate either heat or light. The party will announce the winner on June 4.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.