Education Minister Stephen Lecce has called on Ontario’s education unions to condemn a protester at an anti-government rally on the weekend who carried a “vile and disturbing” sign.
A teachers’ union leader has criticized Lecce for engaging in “gutter politics” by suggesting the mystery man with the rude sign was a teacher.
And the protester says he has nothing to do with the education wars but was trying to make a point about abortion.
The events that unrolled on Twitter are another indication of the poisonous relations between Ontario’s education minister and the education unions battling for new contracts.
The mystery protester plunked himself among a sea of teachers holding picket signs at a protest outside the Ontario PC party policy convention in Niagara Falls on Saturday.
The rally was organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour and included teachers and others protesting Conservative government policies and budget cuts.
The man’s placard had a photograph of Conservative MPP Sam Oosterhoff and the words “A problem an abortion could have solved.”
Oosterhoff, the parliamentary assistant for education, is a vocal opponent of abortion.
A photograph of the protester was posted on Twitter by Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley, who called it “a sick and disgusting remark.”
“The teachers at the Ontario PC policy conference are keeping it classy,” Lilley wrote in the tweet.
Lecce retweeted Lilley’s post with his own comment. “I’m calling on all education union leaders to unequivocally condemn this. Our kids need strong role models.”
“We raise our children to be civil, decent, and respectful,” wrote Lecce. “This language has no place in our democracy.”
Teachers on twitter immediately cried foul, saying there was no evidence the protester was a teacher.
Adam Stirr, an animal-rights and pro-choice advocate from the Niagara region, says he was the guy holding the placard.
Stirr said he found out about the controversy when friends told him that former Conservative MP John Baird was retweeting a photo of him.
“I thought I should take responsibility for this before they try to spin it into some anti-teacher bullsh**,” said Stirr in a phone interview.
“I’m not a teacher and I’m not a union member. I’m not affiliated with any of them at all.”
Stirr said he was protesting Oosterhoff’s anti-abortion views. He made no apologies for his sign, saying Oosterhoff “wants to take away bodily autonomy for 54 per cent of the population and that is far more objectionable than any sign.”
The Citizen asked Lecce’s spokesperson, Alexandra Adamo, why the education minister posted a statement implying the protester was a teacher.
“We live in a democracy where individuals have rights, and we respect those rights,” said Adamo in a statement. “However, there is no place in this country for this vile, disturbing, and divisive language that was present at the union rally. Our youth look to us for moral leadership, and we have a duty to collectively uphold decency and civility in the public discourse. That is why we have called on the education union leaders to swiftly and unequivocally condemn this language that was present at this union rally.”
Harvey Bischof, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, says Lecce’s tweet is “gutter politics.”
“I do condemn that sign,” Bischof said in an interview Sunday. “And I condemn the minister of education engaging in gutter politics by attempting to link that sign to educators when he knows full well there is no connection.
“It is evident that the minister is tragically out of his depth, to engage in inflammatory politics at a time when calm is what’s called in order to find an agreement that meets the needs of Ontario students.
“It was very clear — calling on the leader of the education unions to condemn (the sign) is meant to link that to us somehow. There is no link. He’s well aware now there is no link, yet he still hasn’t withdrawn his offensive comments.”
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