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Condoms don’t work” and “gonorrhea will kill you in three days.”

No, that’s not a quote from The Ring. It’s one of the lessons allegedly taught at Edmonton public schools in sex ed classes, according to concerned parent Kathy Dawson and her equally concerned 18-year-old daughter Emily. This week, the Alberta Human Rights Commission agreed to investigate the EDSB’s sexual education curriculum after the mother-daughter duo filed a complaint with them about their misinformation and misconduct.

Last summer, Emily was enrolled in ‘Career and Life Management’ (CALM) at McNally High School, a course mandatory to all students if they want to graduate from high school. In about 60 Edmonton area schools, this course is taught by the Pregnancy Care Centre, a pro-life organization based in the United States. On their Edmonton-chapter website, they refer to their sex-ed service as “WAIT! Let’s Talk Sex: abstinence program“. The WAIT!-ing in question is presumably ‘until marriage’.

Emily, despite being 17 at the time, was clever enough to understand that the “slut-shaming” and contraception-condemning being shoved down the class’s throat was clearly flawed. She told her mom about the insanity of what was being taught to her, so Kathy showed up to her daughter’s next class to witness it herself. Kathy claimed that although there was no explicit mention of God or Jesus, the values of the curriculum were clearly rooted in Evangelical Christianity, and given that the Dawson family identifies as Agnostic, they were not at all okay with it.


Not actually a scene from an Edmonton sex-ed class, but closeParamount/SNL Studios

Not actually a scene from an Edmonton sex-ed class, but close
Paramount/SNL Studios


Under former Conservative Alberta Premier Selbach, a clause was added to the provincial Human Rights Act, stating that parents have to be notified if their children will be taught lessons in school on sex, sexual orientation and/or religion, and at that point are entitled to have their kids exempt from the class. Ironically, it was an addition made for right-wing parents who would likely be uncomfortable with their kids being taught about LGBT-acceptance and other evil propagandas of the ‘Liberal elite’.

In this situation, however, Kathy Dawson wished to have her daughter exempt from CALM because of its thinly-veiled religious bias that their family doesn’t subscribe to. The school rejected their request, and said there was no way to avoid an academic penalty if Emily was going to skip out on CALM. This is the basis for the Dawson family’s human rights complaint; Emily should have been 100% entitled to missing a class that preached religious beliefs contrary to her own.


Fighting ignorance, one school board at a timeEd Kaiser

The real issue here is mandatory summer classes. That’s just crazy.
Ed Kaiser


It’s interesting that the angle of this complaint is that a student should be allowed to miss out on sex-ed. In my opinion, the investigation of the Human Rights Commission should be coming at it (no pun intended) from a different angle. While abstinence obviously prevents pregnancy and STIs, whether abstinence-only education prevents them is a whole other story. Teenage pregnancy rates have declined since the ’90s (corresponding to a decline in the overall rate of teenage sexy-time), at the same time as a sharp rise in abstinence-only education platforms, a statistic often used by proponents of abstinence-only programs to prove that they work. However, there’s one big thing that these people are forgetting: the internet. At the same time that abstinence-only became the norm, people began informing themselves about contraception, and managed to use more condoms and birth control pills, despite never being lectured about it by some old person in a classroom (which is the real best contraception method, but I digress).

Given how young people use the internet, teenagers are going to find out about condoms and birth control (it’s really not a secret), but without an authoritative figure showing them how, they’re likely to do it wrong (those links include people who wear two condoms for double protection and think they got pregnant from swimming pools. People get terribly confused). So, good on Emily and Kathy Dawson for trying to base our sex-ed policies not on religious interpretations, but through trying to let teens make informed decisions. It’s fine if abstinence is part of that curriculum, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of replacing contraception with misconception.