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OHRC submission to the Ministry of Education consultation on the Grade 10 Civics and Citizenship curriculum

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May 21, 2021 

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) congratulates the Ministry of Education (Ministry) for launching a consultation on the Grade 10 Civics and Citizenship curriculum, and welcomes an opportunity to meet with Ministry staff to enhance human rights as a key part of this curriculum. The OHRC strongly recommends that the curriculum include specific learning expectations on the rights and responsibilities set out in Ontario’s Human Rights Code (Code).

The Ministry’s consultation aligns very closely with the OHRC’s strategic goals and commitments. In its current Strategic Plan, the OHRC identifies both education and Indigenous reconciliation as focus areas. We are committed to promoting and strengthening a human rights culture in Ontario that encompasses rights and responsibilities, with a special focus on educating children and youth and making human rights a regular part of primary and secondary education, including in the curriculum. We are also committed to working with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities to advance reconciliation and equality, including promoting a greater understanding of the impact of colonialism on Indigenous peoples.

In a 2017 OHRC public opinion survey on human rights, a vast majority (89%) of respondents agreed that students should learn more about human rights in school.

In its submission to the Ministry’s 2018 consultation on the education system, the OHRC called for Ontario to make sure that all curriculum reflects and addresses the needs of the full diversity of communities, groups and families in Ontario. The OHRC also recommended including content on rights and responsibilities under the Code, and the history and ongoing intergenerational impacts of human rights violations, including the experiences of Indigenous peoples and racialized communities in Canada.

The OHRC further recommended that teachers be required to teach human rights-related curriculum, and that current and prospective teachers receive training and professional development opportunities to enhance their knowledge and understanding of human rights.

As part of our efforts to have human rights education included in schools, the OHRC has partnered with the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) to develop a classroom resource for teachers of the Grade 10 Civics and Citizenship course. The OHRC-OJEN resource is designed as a stand-alone teaching unit for online or in-person learning, and includes lesson plans, teacher guides and student materials. It uses case studies based on real human rights cases, to foster understanding about the rights and responsibilities set out in the Code, and steps to take to address discrimination. Issues covered include Indigenous-themed sports team names, mascots and logos, sexualized and gender-based dress codes and racial profiling.

In developing this resource, the OHRC and OJEN have benefitted from the advice and feedback of a diverse group of teachers and other education stakeholders, including Indigenous advisors. We aim to have the resource ready for classroom use in September 2021.

We chose to target the Civics and Citizenship course because as a compulsory credit, the lessons will reach the most students. We also saw a clear entry point in the current curriculum’s emphasis on building student understanding of rights and responsibilities associated with citizenship.

However, we note that while the current curriculum refers to and sets learning expectations on rights and responsibilities in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) and various international human rights instruments, it does not mention Ontario’s Code. This is a significant omission and must be promptly remedied. High school education is a critical point for building and sustaining a culture of human rights in our communities. Developing an understanding of Code primacy as well as the rights and responsibilities mandated by the Code should be defining features of the Civics and Citizenship course. This is consistent with the Ministry’s goal to provide anti-racism and anti-colonialism training to educators and administrators and its commitment to eliminate racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia and other forms of hate in schools.

The Code gives everyone in Ontario the right to be free from discrimination in many areas of their daily lives, such as working, shopping or getting a haircut. Unlike the Charter, the Code imposes responsibilities on both government and non-government actors (for example, private employers, store owners and other service providers). Also, when referring to rights and responsibilities, the current curriculum does not mention “discrimination,” “systemic discrimination” or “substantive equality.” The Code clearly establishes key rights and responsibilities, and the OHRC strongly recommends that specific learning expectations on the Code be included in the updated Civics and Citizenship curriculum.

The OHRC has also completed the online consultation form, and would welcome the opportunity to meet with Ministry staff to discuss revisions to Civics and Citizenship, our new resource for teachers and other ways to make human rights a regular part of Ontario’s curriculum.