PHOTOS: A screen shot of the video at the moment it makes its controversial comparison. Below: Alberta Education Minister David Eggen, Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney as a young man giving his views on women’s reproductive rights, Red Deer Catholic Regional School Board Chair Guy Pelletier, and U of A Gender Studies Professor Cristina Stasia.

When the doors were closed and outsiders weren’t around, a publicly financed Catholic high school in Red Deer was teaching its students that abortions in Canada are the equivalent of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.

Needless to say, the shaky video of a video called “The Case Against Abortion, Personhood,” recorded on a cell phone by a student and reported yesterday by Global News, has resurrected the controversy about public funding for religious education in Alberta.

According to Global, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen informed Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools about the video “after a student contacted him.” Mr. Eggen told media interviewers later “there is no place in a publicly funded school for a video comparing the horrors of the Holocaust to abortion.”

We only know about this aspect of the education provided by anti-choice activists during a religion class at École Secondaire Notre Dame High School in the Central Alberta city because of the miracle of smart-phone camera technology and the eternally rebellious nature of high school students.

For this we can be grateful as it helps clarify activist role played on this and other issues by tax supported religious schools, which is a legitimate part of a broader debate about gay-straight alliances, student human rights and the use of limited tax resources in a secular society.

What we know is that medically inaccurate information and a highly tendentious comparison of abortion and the Holocaust was taught at one Red Deer high school.

What we don’t know, however, is just as important:

  • How often is this kind of pernicious propaganda distributed in other publicly financed schools in Alberta?
  • Do our opposition politicians, who have made a big deal about what they see as the value of “choice” in education, think about the appropriateness of the specific message put forward in the movie played to students at École Secondaire Notre Dame?

Dr. Cristina Stasia, a University of Alberta gender studies professor and chair of AIM – Accessing Information not Myths, a group devoted to addressing gaps in Alberta’s sexual education curriculum – told Global such presentations happen all over the province.

Unsurprisingly, an effort appears to be under way to pass the use of the offensive video off as merely a one-time problem with resource material shown by a volunteer instructor from a Red Deer group opposed to women’s reproductive rights.

Guy Pelletier, chair of Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools conceded the reference to Nazi Germany was not appropriate, and said the board has had no difficulties in the past with Red Deer and Area Pro Life and that it trusts its school administrators – points that don’t answer the more important question of whether such materials are being used at other schools in the district.

“This wasn’t the right video to bring into the school and we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen in future presentations,” he told a Global interviewer. (Emphasis added.)

The Anti-Defamation League, the U.S.-based international non-governmental organization that opposes anti-Semitism and supports human rights for all groups, describes such comparisons as “appallingly insensitive.”

“We are outraged by their attempt to somehow create a moral equivalency between the Nazis’ systematic murder of millions of Jews and others during the Holocaust with abortions,” the ADL’s New Mexico branch said in a news release published in response to a 2013 anti-abortion demonstration in front of an Albuquerque Holocaust museum. “Not only is such an analogy grossly inappropriate, it also trivializes the Holocaust and is deeply offensive to Holocaust survivors and the families of those who perished.”

The second question is important because Albertans deserve to know what opposition politicians would actually do about such situations in tax-financed schools, not just what platitudes they would mouth.

Jason Kenney, just elected leader of the Progressive Conservatives, is known to have been a militant anti-abortion activist since he was in his twenties. He vocally supported public financing for religious schools and private schools during his campaign to lead the party.

Given this, he needs to make it clear how he would approach this question, as he has already made it clear how he would deal with students who choose to join a gay-straight alliance in their school.

Other political leaders should be held to the same standard, of course.

As a result of yesterday’s revelation, a group called the Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition called in a news release for Alberta Education to develop “an explicit policy for all school boards regarding the vetting of outside agencies presenting curriculum to students.”

The policy should ensure information provided by such groups is accurate, evidence-based and free of bias, the group said.

Correction, clarification, or something …

When I last talked about the Alberta Liberal Party leadership race on April Fools Day (by happenstance, not intention) I left readers with the impression Kelly Cundal, then one of two likely candidates for the leadership who had filed nomination papers, wasn’t actually going to run.

It turns out, however, that Ms. Cundal is running for the party leadership after all, as is David Khan. Both of them are Calgary human rights lawyers, which considerably simplifies the job of describing where they’re from and what they do. Both jumped into the race after Nolan Crouse, mayor of St. Albert and up to then the only candidate and presumed automatic choice, quit without explanation two days before nominations closed.

So, it’s official, there is a race – and here’s the proof! It remains to be seen if the contest will generate either heat or light. The party will announce the winner on June 4.

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  1. I lived in Red Deer for most of the 1990’s and can assure you that this is not the first time that the Catholic Board has been under fire for bringing these anti-choice zealots into the publically funded classrooms with completely unacceptable information that they pass on to students.

    I hope that the Minister look into this issue as it seems to be an ongoing problem in this district with their board. He needs to also find out if these materials have been presented in other schools, private and catholic as well as home schools.

    1. Linda, your comment really elevates the issue in my mind. When I first read about this situation I thought it might just be a teacher who didn’t do his/her due diligence previewing material like he/she should have. When I was teaching there were a couple of times that I took a short cut and showed a film without previewing it and was embarrassed professionally as a result. If, however, this was film was shown when the teacher/administration etc knew what was on it, there really is a problem.

      1. Yes, and I have seen some private school lessons that are equally or more unfit than this in teaching bible passages that are full of hate and intolerance toward homosexuality.

        When I say that this is not the first time this situation has happened in Red Deer I am serious.

        The area around Red Deer has been home to white supremacists and you might recall the teacher Keegstra who taught that the holocaust was not true. And of course, a younger Stockwell Day whose religious peers, along with him, attempted to smite a drinking establishment by all standing together pressuring the outer side of a wall with a finger each.

        The area is also home to the flat earthers that believe man walked with dinosaurs. I believe that they even established a museum dedicated to that belief.

        I don’t buy that this was a case of the school or the board not being aware of the content.

        The kind of teaching that happens in some schools that are religiously based, including home schoolers, would never be tolerated in regular publically funded schools.

    2. The Catholic church teaches that abortion is murder. The Holocaust we can all agree was murder. So Linda, what was the unacceptable information? So was it probably the best analogy, no, but abortion is one of most prominent methods of mass murder in Canada (

      The real issue here is that public funds fund the Catholic schools which cause a lot of heartburn for several Albertans, but it is the law. So until that fact changes, the Catholic school system MUST teach according to Catholic church teachings. To quote the former bishop of Calgary Fred Henry, “…you can’t have it both ways,. “If you’re going to be a Catholic, be a Catholic. If you’re not going to be a Catholic, then don’t call yourself a Catholic. Do something else.”

      1. Actually, the more academic areas of the church are rife with debate and disagreement about church doctrine. The Jesuits, for example, are quite concerned about using evidence to back up an argument, something that got Jason Kenney in trouble at a Jesuit university that didn’t like how he was forcing his anti-abortion message down the throats of his fellow students.

      2. In response, it is only a religious opinion that abortion is murder. What Hitler did was, in fact and in law, murder therefore you cannot compare the two let alone state that one equals the other.

        We are fortunate to live under the laws of our country, not the religious dogma of an identifiable group.

        Bishops can declare whatever they want to declare, that does not make their declarations facts of the law we live under. I could delve into the catholic sexual abuse scandal, including homosexual activities, that the bishops not only defend, but interfere with legal prosecution of to show one example of what the bishops say as not being a hard and fast rule except when they want it to be.

        If bishops wish to use public funding for their schools, then they must be prepared to follow the requirements laid out for entitlement to that funding. To state that bishops have supreme authority for what takes place in publicly funded schools is equivalent to tyranny.

        No one is telling the bishops, or parents what they can or cannot believe. They are telling them that there are limits on what they can say or do in publicly funded schools and is in no way comparable to the holocaust.

        1. “If bishops wish to use public funding for their schools, then they must be prepared to follow the requirements laid out for entitlement to that funding.”

          it would be fair if same rule could apply to government as well.
          after all it’s not only politicians and handful of noisy “progressives” fund the schools but the public (and not only parents).
          i don’t remember any one ever asked me if such legislation is necessary.

        2. Linda:

          I know you disagree with my views, but my point is that Catholic Schools should be teaching about the Catholic faith and Catholic catechism. Abortion is murder according to the Catholic church so that’s what should be taught in Catholic Schools. To put it another way, if I didn’t want my children to learn about the Catholic faith, then I wouldn’t send them there.

  2. beside the portion of my property tax is redirected to fund provincial education, i have nothing to do with education. so perhaps i’m not much qualify to discuss this matter. but as a bystander, i did notice growing ugly trend of confrontation between governing branch of education and the schools itself, which isn’t good.

    David, if i recall correctly, your work related to education, i believe, in union department?
    you have lot of articles about education and none with positive content.
    my closest guess – most likely this is just a reaction on the constant attempts of government to change educational system into shape, to fit their own ideological view and doctrine.
    isn’t would be better to find the common ground and work without forceful interference?

    1. To paraphrase David, (and I apologize for putting words into his mouth – I added the stuff in [square brackets] below) to respond to the above:
      “while it is tempting to ascribe this [ongoing criticism of some educational policies] to Mr. Klein’s failure to complete high school, it surely has more to do with the neoliberal market fundamentalist [and other] fantasies that went mainstream in Alberta during his premiership [that are still being enacted by some school boards].”

      1. sure, Klein at fault. as usual.
        as i remember, during his reign, fight mainly was concentrated around financing.
        now it sounds like switched to an ideology.
        for me it more looks like present minister of education is too aggressive, to fit his chair.
        but what do i know?

  3. I have thought for some time that too many people with causes want to down load them into public schools. As a retired teacher, I wince at how quickly we assume schools contain converts for our cause de jour, and am slightly insulted by how many adults think teaching is a matter of dumping information on young heads.

    But when it comes to babies, the only thing more motivating than an infant seems to be a foetus. It is too easy to make the termination of an unwanted pregnancy a crime equivalent to the death camps.

    The more difficult task would be to make our schools places of real intellectual challenge, spaces where women’s freedom to choose could be measured against our willingness to provide for the children women do bring into our society. Twenty-five dollar day care sounds like a pretty sound way to encourage more women to consider motherhood. Expanded maternity benefits, for both parents would help too. Putting more resources into schools and universities makes it obvious that our province values young people.

    All these measures would decrease abortions. But so would accurate and open discussions about sexuality….in all its variations…and ethical discussions about sexual responsibility and birth control options.

    There are so many things a pro-life society can do to help its young mature into responsible, caring sexual beings.

    Scare mongering, victim blaming, and the rabid woman hating of some elements of the radical right, are not among them. And it is too bad, when even the Pope is calling for changed attitudes around sexuality and reproductive rights, that an Alberta highschool still considers an anti-abortion group as presenting ‘one side’ of the argument.

    What’s next??? Friends of Science beaking off in Biology class?

  4. Catholics!

    Hey Catholics why don’t you join the 21st century and support the HPV vaccination for students?
    Oh, and while you’re at it why don’t you deal with your pedophile priests?

    1. Oh by the way all those pedophile priests were all confessed homosexuals, a unhealthy unbioligical lifestyle being forced on children by so called “21st century enlightened thinkers”. Oh while your at it why don’t you take the time to do a little basic factual biological on study on abortion instead of being propoganized by fake leftist news and universities. Science clearly physically shows that the baby is alive and feels pain in the womb, but the so called “enlightened thinkers” deny this and use the rape excuse to justify killing babies, rape cases make up a fraction of a percent of abortions. It makes me ashamed and sad to live in a barbaric society that thinks it is a “right” to kill their own children.

      1. Dear Stan,

        You would feel different about abortions if were a woman.

        Pedophilia is not restricted to homosexuals. Most acts of pedophilia are in fact committed by heterosexual males who victimize females.

        The Catholic school should not have shown a film linking abortion and Nazism. Nor should they have hired such a firm using public money.

  5. David, I noted that the story on Global’s web site stated that:

    “The Red Deer and Area Pro Life group has been hired to make presentations at the school in the past.”

    Hired??? If that is correct, it’s not only taxpayer funded classroom time and facilities used for this propaganda, but taxpayer dollars channelled to an outside advocacy organization. I didn’t see any stories indicating that the school board has been questioned on this.

    1. Yes, hired. The Red Deer Catholic School District contracted out teaching of classes on sex education years ago.

  6. Just one more example of how disconnected the Catholic faith organization from society.

    Makes me sad and somewhat ashamed on their behalf. I can see this being supported by the Parish but cannot for the life of me understand how a school board could make the decision to subject their students to this nonsense.

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