As long as she can, Michelle McHale says she will fight for the rights of all children in Manitoba to feel comfortable and safe and respected when they go to school.
And because of a Court of Queen's Bench decision last week, McHale will now have another opportunity to keep up that fight.
“Even though my kid is going to one day be gone and moved on from school, I know these decisions will greatly affect so many other kids and teens and their families, in terms of their experiences going to and being at school,” southeastern Manitoba resident McHale said on Thursday.
“When I think about all those kids and teens and families who are affected by this, that is what keeps me going.”
Last Tuesday McHale, who said that her son was bullied in a Hanover School Division school when he was 12 years old for having “two moms,” learned that she may get another chance to prove her belief that Manitoba’s provincial school curriculum discriminates against LGBTQ people and families.
Back in 2017 McHale, along with two other LGBTQ parents filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, because they believed that Manitoba’s curriculum fails to properly reference diversity of gender, sexuality and family.
McHale said that when she complained to her son’s teacher when he was bullied, she was told that homosexuality was not something that could be publicly discussed in the school division.
The parents also complained the issues were magnified because individual school divisions were allowed to make their own decisions on what can and cannot be talked about publicly in school, or what conversations and lessons parents can choose to have their kids opt-out of.
“In the area where my son went to school there was a lot of ‘we don’t want kids to learn this,’ but you can’t say you won’t talk about it and you can opt-out of talking about it, because this is about who we are as a society,” McHale said.
“It’s like their lives are something that needs to be hidden and not talked about it, this is about kids and families being able to see themselves represented positively in their education and in the places where they get that education.”
An investigation conducted by the commission originally suggested the complaint go to a public hearing, but then in October of 2019, the commission's board of directors voted to dismiss the complaint, saying it did not find sufficient evidence that the curriculum contributed to the creation of a discriminatory learning environment for children and families.
McHale said when she heard the 2019 decision to dismiss the complaint it was “demoralizing,” because of how much time and energy she and others had put into it.
“There really hasn’t been an area of my life or my child’s life that has not been affected by this, there have been death threats and harassment, so when you get a decision and it’s just dismissed, part of you asks, was all of this for nothing?
“It was incredibly defeating.”
In November of 2019, the three parents filed for a judicial review of the dismissal, and last Tuesday Court of Queen’s Bench Justice David Kroft ordered the commission to reconsider their decision to dismiss, stating the commission had not properly explained why they had dismissed the complaint.
McHale said she has no idea why the complaint was dismissed in 2019.
“There was no ‘here’s what’s missing, or here why it was dismissed,’ they simple dismissed it. It was incredibly confusing and frustrating at the time,” she said.
She said she and others will now wait and see what comes next, as the commission can now uphold their original decision to dismiss or send it to a public hearing.
“Now we go back to ‘hurry up and wait,’ but we keep fighting,” McHale said.
“This has been a long process and this has been trying for everyone involved, but we’re not giving up.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun