Quebec's plan to introduce compulsory sexual-education courses for primary and secondary students ran into some immediate opposition Thursday, with some parents promising to fight the proposal.
Raymond Ayas, a member of the Quebec Catholic Parents' Association and a father of three, said a spiritual component to the discussion is missing.
"The association believes that sexual education is very important — we're not against sexual education," he said in an interview. "What we are for is our sexual education and not the state's sexual education."
The courses next September will be mandatory for about one million students and the information will be taught during regular subjects such as French or mathematics.
The information the students receive will be based on their age and will deal with sexuality, anatomy, body image, sexual assault, love, sexual relations, stereotypes and sexually transmitted infections.
Ayas said he understands the government's objectives but that the teachings are not from a Catholic perspective.
"This is not a judgment on other people's values but, for us, sex is done within the context of marriage," he said.
Attempts to introduce sexual education to the curriculum have been controversial in places such as Ontario, where thousands of parents pulled their children out of class and forced the province to allow opting out.
Ayas said while he doesn't expect the same outcome in Quebec, he does foresee plenty of conversations between parents and provincial lawmakers, teachers and school administrators.
"We do not accept this course, I'm not asking for an accommodation in that sense," Ayas said. "I reject that course because it lacks the fundamental spiritual component and provides solutions that are not our solutions."
Others question the appropriateness of discussing the topic with very young children.
Donatella Garofalo, a Montreal-area mother of a 10-year-old boy, said she takes issue with kids between five and 10 being taught about sexuality.
"The problem with the government program is it focuses on a too young of a crowd," she said in an interview.
"This has nothing to do with religion. This has to do with age-appropriate material."
Education Minister Sebastien Proulx told reporters the sexual-education teachings are important and amount to just a few hours per school year, as recommended by the World Health Organization.
He acknowledged that some parents are opposed, but contends the vast majority want it.
"I know it's not an easy subject, I know it's a sensitive topic," said Proulx, a father of two. "But we have to respond as a society to a societal issue."
As in the case of the province's controversial religious ethics course, a mechanism will exist for exemptions, but they will be granted only in exceptional cases.
Proulx gave the example of a child who is a victim of sexual violence and in a vulnerable state.
"Will we grant them (exemptions) for everyone for all reasons? The answer is no."
Lyne Deschamps of the Quebec Federation of Parents Committees — which represents all French-school parent committees and one English one — lauded the initiative, which they have been requesting for three years.
Deschamps said teachers are better placed than the internet to convey the sensitive material but she added they need training.
"But, above all, parents in each Quebec school must get information (on the course) because it's an exceptional subject matter that must be treated that way," Deschamps said.
Lisa Trimble, a McGill University education professor, said she believes Quebec "is making some progressive moves forward."
One concern she has, however, is how the province plans to implement the teachings sprinkled among existing courses.
Trimble said prospective and current teachers have also expressed training and support concerns.
"It's not an easy topic for people to teach and many people had incomplete or fragmented sex education themselves and feel completely unprepared," she said.
Proulx confirmed that training and resources for teachers — a primary concern during a two-year pilot project run by his department — will be made available.
As for Quebec parents who've expressed concern about the subject matter, Trimble said she believes it's a fundamental human right that all students have access to the same information.
That said, she also believes parents need to have conversations about faith and values.
"These two things have to find a way of being in conversation with each other," Trimble added.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press