Human rights commission in Manitoba must reconsider complaint from parents alleging LGBTQ2S+ discrimination in curriculum

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission (HRC) has been ordered to reconsider a complaint filed by a group of parents alleging the province’s K-12 curriculum discriminates against LGBTQ2S+ kids and their families.

The initial complaint, filed in 2017 by Michelle McHale, Karen Phillips, and Sonja Stone, claimed the Manitoba government does not include gender identity or sexual orientation in its learning material or curriculum.

McHale told CTV News the topics are often only covered in schools under the context of sexual education – the complaint is calling for identity and orientation to be addressed in every course.

“It’s about people being able to see themselves positively reflected in the place they received their education,” McHale said. “And that all families are appropriately and positively reflected in their education as well.

In 2016, McHale and her former partner filed a human rights complaint against the Hanover School Division. She alleged kids bullied her then 12-year-old son at his middle school about her sexual orientation.

The HRC started investigating both complaints in 2017, and filed a 40-page report in July 2019. The report found there was sufficient evidence to support the complaint, and recommended the HRC’s Board of Commissions refer it to an adjudicator.

However, in October 2019, the Board voted to dismiss the complaint, rejecting the recommendation for a public hearing.

“I was shocked,” McHale said. “From what I understood, the investigation had found discrimination occurred – there was no good reason for [the dismissal] to happen.”

The group of parents applied to the Court of Queen’s Bench for a judicial review in November 2019 and hearings were held last year.

In a written judgment on August 17, Justice David Kroft ruled in favour of the parents. He quashed HRC’s decision to dismiss the complaint, directing the Commission to reconsider.

In the judgment, Kroft wrote, “the Commission’s decision is lacking. It may well be justifiable but, objectively viewed, it is not sufficiently justified by transparent reasons.”

The ruling means the Board will have reviewed the complaint and determine whether to uphold their decision to dismiss or direct it to a public hearing.

McHale said she’s cautiously optimistic there will be a different outcome.

“There is some renewed hope,” she said. “I think it’s still cautious because we wouldn’t have guessed it would’ve gone that way in the first place.”

She noted her own kids will be out of school by the time the matter has finally concluded, but said the complaint was never just about her family. She said she’s heard countless stories from Manitoba families with similar experiences.

“I think it’s important to remember when an inclusive curriculum is missing in schools, not every kid gets the opportunity to hear they’re okay just the way they are or their families are great just the way they are,” McHale said. “There are longer-term implications than just making some changes.”

She said they want the province to consult with community leaders and experts to change the way the curriculum is developed and administered.

“So it’s just a part of everyday life,” she said. “It’s something people should see themselves in every subject, not just sex ed.”

In an email to CTV News, HRC’s executive director Karen Sharma said, “The Manitoba Human Rights Commission is currently reviewing the decisions to determine next steps in the consideration of these two matters, in accordance with the guidance provided by the Court of Queens Bench.”

If the complaint is sent to a public hearing, the adjudicator can order the Commission to apologize, pay reparations, or develop and change existing policy – in this case, the provincial education curriculum.