MONTREAL — Canada's provinces on Wednesday witnessed the largest wave of protest against sex education policy and the "gender agenda" in schools, with the Muslim leadership in the movement as one of its most prominent features, and it showed the extent of the political and social division in the country, amid mounting calls for homeschooling.

The marches carried the slogan "March of a Million for Children", with protesters calling on local and federal governments not to interfere with their children's education, chanting slogans such as "Leave our children alone" and "Hands off our children".

At the same time, the other side mobilized in marches raising colorful flags symbolizing gay and transgender communities, chanting slogans, and some clashes were observed with hands dispersed by police.

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation CBC (government), police arrested 6 demonstrators on charges of "inciting hatred", in the capital Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria and Halifax, while some participants in the marches spoke to Al Jazeera Net about the "bias" of the police on the side of supporters of sex education while carrying out the task of protection.

Marches protest against the imposition of anomalies in Canada's school curriculum (Getty Images)

Political division

On the official level, officials' statements focused on countering "hate speech," most notably a brief statement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the X platform, who avoided commenting on the protesters' demands, saying only, "There is no place for transphobia, homophobia and biphobia in this country. We strongly condemn this hatred and its manifestations."

Let me make one thing very clear: Transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia have no place in this country. We strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations, and we stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country – you are valid and you are valued.

— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) September 20, 2023

Two days later, opposition leader and Conservative Party leader Pierre Bolívier responded accusing Trudeau of evading the consequences of his actions and "demonizing parents," adding: "Parents should be the ultimate authority over the values and lessons taught to children, and Trudeau should walk away and allow parents to raise their children."

Justin Trudeau always divides to distract from all he has broken. This time, he is demonizing concerned parents.

Parents should be the final authority on the values and lessons that are taught to children. Trudeau should butt out and let parents raise their kids.

— Pierre Poilievre (@PierrePoilievre) September 22, 2023

The impact of this political division on the street was more evident in the heated debate on social media, where the hashtags raised by the two sides topped the "trend" lists on the X platform, indicating that this file will be one of the most important points of engagement in the 2025 elections, especially with the liberals lagging behind the conservatives in the polls currently.

Civil Initiative

The director of the Canadian Institute of Islamic Civilization in Montreal Iyad Abu Hamed told Al Jazeera Net that the movement was not limited to Muslims, but participated in different groups who believe in the role of the family in society and have the same concerns, pointing out that the law does not allow minors to buy alcohol and drive cars while allowing them to make a fateful decision to change sex without parental permission.

Abu Hamed was one of the participants in the Montreal marches, and expressed his disappointment with the official reactions and media coverage, some of which he claimed were extremist parties behind them, stressing that the movement was launched by an individual organization of parents without any institutional role.

The director of the Institute of Islamic Civilization called on the Muslim community to be aware and take responsibility for the challenges. "Our problem is not with sex education in principle, but with content and ways to teach it."

Families' fears

Canadian provincial governments are free to decide educational policies, although they are increasingly, but all these policies are gradually moving towards empathy for sex education and acceptance of all sexual orientations and identities.

For example, the previous liberal government of the most populous province of Ontario imposed curricula that included classes on same-sex relationships and sexual identities, but the current government canceled the curriculum in 2018 after it sparked controversy and proposed alternative curricula, while postponing these topics to classes for older students.

Alberta and British Columbia have a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Education (SOGI) program, raising serious concerns among families across the country that the program will be rolled out and mandatory for their children.

Commenting on British Columbia's policy, educational consultant and university lecturer Abu Bakr Idris confirmed in an interview with Al Jazeera Net, a resident of the province, that the program "Suji" belongs to a non-profit organization supported by the government, whose stated goal is to provide recommendations to school staff on empathy for children "with homosexual orientations and different identities."

As a result, teachers are intensifying activities in support of this trend, the curriculum does not include sex lessons, sex education is not mandatory, and schools are obliged to consult parents before allowing children to attend, he said.

Lots of police presence on Ottawa streets today including Stompy the Toronto mounted patrol. #Leavethekidsalone #1MillionMarch4Children

— David Krayden (@DavidKrayden) September 20, 2023

Idris advises Muslim parents to enroll their children in Islamic schools or adopt homeschooling, and if they are unable to strengthen their relationships with their children and continue their direct supervision of homework and activities, he said, recalling that sex education does not pass through curricula but through books and side stories suggested by teachers during reading activities, and may be difficult to track because they are not scheduled.

In the same context, the director of the Foundation for the Development of Arabic Language Curricula in Montreal, Imad Hallaq, told Al Jazeera Net, that education is the most sensitive topic for Muslims, due to the importance of the family they have and their keenness on their identity from melting, calling on community leaders to open more non-profit Islamic schools.

"Dissatisfaction with the educational content is due to the curricula's disregard for the history of Islamic civilization, the cramming of scientific theories that advocate atheism, the inclusion of sex education materials, in addition to additional activities to normalize with values that contradict religions," he said.

Hallak explained that the prevailing educational system today dates back to the beginning of the industrial revolution in Europe, when it was necessary to train workers to move from a rural agricultural pattern to urban discipline, which means raising them from childhood to abide by the rules in a paramilitary manner, even if at the expense of creativity.

Ottawa teenagers stomp on a pride flag ending in an arrest.

"Why can they bend the Canadian flag but we can't touch theirs?"

— Rebel News Canada (@RebelNews_CA) September 20, 2023


Abu Bakr Idris says that the number of students adopting homeschooling throughout Canada was estimated in 2019 at about 40,85, and then it was imposed on everyone during the restrictions of the Corona pandemic, so this was an opportunity to experiment, which raised the number of these students to <>,<> after the restrictions were lifted.

He added that the statistics of the past year have not yet been released, expecting the number to rise to 100,<>, for several reasons, the most important of which is parents' fear of moral deviation, especially among the Muslim segment, and receiving ideas that may affect sexual orientation, and bullying.

Hallaq also talks about the success of his homeschooling experience with his children, and says that the number of public and alternative schools does not accommodate the growing population and does not meet the aspirations of upgrading to creative education, so Muslim parents are advised to homeschool.

Homeschooling can be promoted with the help of institutions that offer private tutoring, he said, stressing that many students succeed in studying two-year curricula in one year.

To investigate this experience, Al Jazeera Net met with Omar Abdel Fattah, who recently opened a center in British Columbia to support Muslim students in homeschooling, and said that students express their happiness to the point of resentment of one of them from the weekend.

This center offers an alternative to the regular school, where the same curricula are taught in addition to Islamic education, while compensating for social activities that homeschooling lacks, Abdel Fattah added, adding that they are in the process of opening other branches, and that the procedures for establishing these centers are much easier than establishing private schools.