Saturday, March 7, 2015

Any Port In A Storm

Ben Levin at his plea hearing.
Source: The National Post newspaper.
This past week brought news of former Deputy Education Minister Ben Levin's guilty plea in connection with a series of charges related to child pornography. The details of his case had not been known, apart from charges of making and distributing child pornography, as well as counselling an undercover officer online to perform sex acts on a child. The actual statement of facts heard in court on the day of the hearing is vile beyond description -- from the sharing of imagery depicting a child victim to the jaw-dropping revelation that Mr Levin told an undercover officer (posing as a mother seeking stories of sex with children) that he had used his own daughters for gratification with his wife's support. If there is any saving grace, police found no basis for this latter fiction; however, Levin's closest family are left to suffer in the knowledge that they were used as background characters in his play to engage with like-minded others online.

It is all very sickening. 

Right on cue, detractors of Ontario's new Health and Physical Education Curriculum have used the spectacle to press the ongoing conspiracy theory that the document itself part of a fiendish plan to groom children for sex. 

First out of the gate is Toronto Sun columnist and Councillor Rob Ford fanboy Joe Warmington, whose article Liberals can't deny Levin's role in sex-ed curriculum, published only days before the plea hearing. Mr Warmington references several memos by the disgraced former deputy education minister. There's no smoking gun here -- all the dreary government correspondence says is what everyone should already know: As Deputy Minister of Education for the Province of Ontario, Mr Levin was responsible for everything the Ministry did. That's not the same as doing everything himself. 

To take another example, the publisher of The Toronto Sun newspaper is responsible for everything that appears within its pages and online. That doesn't mean that he writes stories, takes pictures, or negotiates ad buys. But let's play along with Mr Warmington for a moment. I donned a pair of gloves, got out my tongs, and extracted this bit of prose:
Memos show Levin announcing he is taking over the “renamed” Learning and Curriculum department and “will have responsibilty for curriculum.” It’s nonsensical and troubling to suggest Levin was not involved. In the interest of children, with these documents now public, members of the legislature should sanction the premier and minister for spinning attempts.
After all, inside the strategy Levin was pushing, under the heading “Curriculum and Courses,” it states revised curriculum policy documents contain a section on “antidiscrimination education that encourages teachers to recognize the diversity of students’ backgrounds, interests, and experiences, and to incorporate a variety of viewpoints and perspectives in learning activities. New courses are also being created that focus on gender studies, equity studies, and world cultures.”
Under the “Safe Schools Strategy” it says it “includes revising the curriculum to ensure that gender-based violence, homophobia, sexual harassment, and inappropriate sexual behaviour are discussed and addressed in the classroom. It also includes the use of sample school climate surveys to help principals assess perceptions of safety by students, parents, and school staff to inform prevention and intervention plans.”
Realistically, if Mr Levin wanted children vulnerable, he would scaling back on equity and gender-based violence prevention, not dialling them up. In any event, we're still back to this curious notion that a curriculum document can groom children for sex, with many co-authors, curriculum experts, parents, teachers and administrators none-the-wiser. 
On the day of the plea hearing, Faith Goldy of the moribund Sun News channel was among phalanx of journalists following Ben Levin in and out of the courthouse. As he returned to his car (shown at 3:11 on report) she begins a series of questions on the curriculum -- not the guilty pleas, the conviction, or the statement of facts. "Do you see Ontario schools as a place to groom children?" she asks. "Parents want to know."
It comes as no surprise that Mr Levin was not going to answer any questions from media that day. Even without the best lawyering money can buy, having pleaded guilty to a set of charges that most people find unforgivable, there is nothing he can say that will satisfy anyone following the story.
Also on the day of the hearing, The Toronto Sun newspaper itself published an editorial on the curriculum. The article doubles back on the allegation that Mr Levin wrote the curriculum; proudly trumpets the Joe Warmington article for revealing information that it didn't; and calls for a public hearing.
The Liberals’ claim Levin didn’t write the sex-ed curriculum is a dodge.
Of course the deputy minister of education didn’t write the sex-ed curriculum.
He presided over its first version in 2010, as Joe Warmington’s Toronto Sun column clearly revealed Tuesday — using Levin’s own words about his role in the education ministry.
As for the Liberals consulting with parents, they didn’t do it in 2010, when former premier Dalton McGuinty withdrew it citing that lack of consultation, and they haven’t done it now, even though the curriculum is substantially the same.
Indeed, it’s been presented by Wynne as a fait accompli that’s coming to schools this September come hell or high water.
Why? What’s the rush?
Why can’t a few months of public hearings be held on the sex-ed curriculum by the relevant Queen’s Park committee?
Why can’t parents have a real say on it — and by that we mean not just parents hand-picked by the government?
Given that the curriculum hasn’t been updated since 1998 what difference will a few more months make?
Why not take that time to get it right, as well as satisfy the understandable concerns many parents have that it turns out the guy who presided over its development was a pervert?
There's one other advantage to a public hearing the Sun's editorial writers neglect to mention. It keeps Ben Levin's name in the news for months on end and oxygenates the pre-election activities whoever gets to be the leader of Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. An early Christmas gift to Joe Warmington, Brian Lilley, Faith Goldy, Charles McVety, Ezra Levant, and the rest.
Speaking of Ezra Levant, the former Sun News commentator has made the Ben Levin scandal a signature story on his upstart Internet-based outlet In his quest to remain in the public eye as a self-professed freedom fighter, Mr Levant sought Ontario Government emails through a Freedom of Information request. His report appears in both Ezra-style-video-rant and print form. All of the communications he reports on take place in 2012 or later -- a rebuttal to Education Minister Liz Sandals' assurances that Ben Levin played no significant role in the Education Ministry after departing it. 
Typical of an Ezra rant, the video runs over nine minutes and provides little juice for the squeeze. His face contorts as he enunciates the words vulva and vagina, much like a child tasting broccoli for the first time. Other than that, he attempts to stitch together a series of non-sequiturs. The only eyebrow raiser I see is this item:
* October 31, 2012: Levin’s comments to (Deputy Education Minister George) Zegarac, including "safety/well-being are not aspects of individuals or things that we would teach or develop are they?”
It's a curious comment, to be sure, but it also lacks context. The remark certainly flies in the face of memoranda quoted above in Joe Warmington's article, in which Mr Levin advocates for school climate surveys (very much in use at the moment) and gender-based violence prevention initiatives, also evident in the Toronto District School Board and others. Further, and I know this from years of having taught Health and Physical Education, safety and well-being are persistent themes.
Again, no smoking gun. All that there really is in Mr Levant's report is an opportunity to shame anyone who ever had any contact with Mr Levin prior to his arrest and conviction. An inquiry of the sort advocated by the Toronto Sun's editors would enable tabloid media and far right religionists to do more of the same. 
A final thought. I mentioned Toronto City Councillor and former Mayor Rob Ford above for a reason. Mr Ford weighed in briefly on the revised curriculum by way of endorsing Provincial MPP Monte McNaughton for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Ontario. As reported in Blogwrath, Mr Ford helped organize and host an event for Mr McNaughton.
Charles McVety with Monte McNaughton.
Source: Blogwrath
The McNaughtons with Councillor Ford.
Source: Blogwrath
Mr McNaughton -- now likely an also-ran due to his competitor Patrick Brown's chart topping Tory party membership sales -- had been the preferred candidate of hardline religious conservatives, like Charles McVety. His candidacy has been promoted by other Ford allies. For instance, the  Lambton—Kent—Middlesex MPP and Mr McVety were quoted in Mr Warmington's January 27th, 2015 article Wynne's sex ed photo op raises eyebrows, along with a politcal scientist from the UofT. No one else is quoted. As I wrote at the time, "Nowhere in the article on a key change in the sex education curriculum does he attempt to quote an expert on sex or education."
There's more. Mr Warmington hosted both Mr Ford and Mr McNaughton on his Newstalk1010 radio broadcast The Late Shift. He's also quoted Charles McVety in two other articles recently: The piece I mentioned above on Ben Levin, as well as an "exclusive interview" on February 23rd of this year.
Let's get back to Faith Goldy, as quoted in an article on her website, 3 REASONS TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT BEN LEVIN:
I just wish pundits and politicians would emerge from their zombie refrains and realize: A child pornographer has no place in the classroom.
I quite agree. 

And neither does the ideology behind FordNation.

"Queeruption" counter protester at July 25, 2014 FordFest grabbed by neck.
Story here

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