An Ontario family is taking the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board to the province’s Human Rights Tribunal after a six-year-old girl was told that girls and boys “are not real” by her grade one teacher, Janine Blouin.

Pamela and Jason Buffone and their daughter are being represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. They are alleging that their daughter was discriminated against based on her gender identity and that her rights to security were infringed. The school board, the girl’s former teacher and the school principal are all named in the complaint. 

Several incidents took place in 2018, in which the girl’s teacher implied that being a boy or girl wasn’t real. In one case she presented a video titled “He, She, and They?!? – Gender: Queer Kid Stuff #2” to her classroom in which the host claims that “some people aren’t boys or girls.”

Later, the teacher asked her students to identify their gender in a “gender spectrum.” When the girl pointed to the end of the spectrum indicating that she was a girl, the teacher informed the class that “girls are not real, and boys are not real.” 

“[The teacher] further discussed the concepts of the gender spectrum and sex changes with the Grade One class which led [the girl] to believe that she could go to the doctor if she did not want to have a baby,” writes the formal application.

In the tribunal application, the parents are claiming that the teacher’s lesson challenged their daughter’s sense of identity and that it goes against biological reality. 

According to JCCF lawyer Lisa Bildy, who is representing the family, the school board has yet to file a formal response to the claim. 

“The parents say that the discussions the teacher had with her class on gender issues were “teaching moments” rather than formal lessons following a curriculum. We hope to find out more over the course of the proceedings,” said Bildy. 

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board guidelines on teaching “Gender Identity and Gender Expression” define “gender identity” as “each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is a person’s sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their birth-assigned sex.” 

The Buffones are also seeking that the school board informs parents when gender identity lessons are being taught and desists from teaching gender identity theory that suggests “sex categories of male and female do not exist,” as well as damages for injury to the child’s dignity and feelings as a result of discrimination. 

According to Bildy, one of the possible solutions the tribunal could arrive at is a “public interest remedy” which include mandating a change in policy, implementing education programs, or change hiring practices, among other things. 

“The apparent conflict between sex and gender categories under the various human rights codes across the country has not yet attracted much attention in legal decisions, and it will be interesting to see how or if they address this issue,” said Bildy. 

“This is going to come to a head in the areas of women’s sports and prisons, most dramatically, and we are going to have to find a reasonable solution that is not a zero sum win for one group over another.”

At home, the girl showed signs of distress and asked her parents why being a girl was “not real” and indicated that she needed to “go to the doctor” because she was a girl. 

When the family brought their concerns about the teacher’s conduct to school officials, administrators took no steps to alleviate the girl’s concerns. 

The girl has since been moved to another school as a result of the incident. However, she allegedly still grapples with identity issues.

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