The Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Canada’s largest school board, is planning a rollout of education programs created by China’s communist government that has some parents worried about what their children will be learning.
Michael Lewis was riding in a friend’s car around Toronto when he noticed a sign welcoming a Confucius Institute to a nearby school in September.
A parent with a child in the public school system, Lewis became interested to learn what exactly a Confucius Institute is, so he used his smartphone to look it up.
The more he read, the more concerned he became. He found reports the institutes were being shut down at some Canadian universities.
Although Confucius Institutes are branded as promoting Chinese language and culture, they have been cited by intelligence agencies as organizations used by the Chinese communist regime to extend its soft power. The institutes are funded and controlled by the Chinese regime.
“With solid information out there pointing that you shouldn’t have these things, why is the TDSB just bringing them in,” asked Lewis.
Lewis and other concerned parents and human rights organizations held a rally on Wednesday outside the school board’s office to urge it to stop its partnership with the institute.
They wore black tape over their mouths, symbolic of the Chinese regime’s censorship, which finds its way into the curriculum taught in the institutes.
Last December, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) issued a statement urging universities and colleges to cut their ties with CIs, saying they are “subsidized and supervised by the authoritarian government of China.”
“They restrict the free discussion of topics Chinese authorities deem controversial and should have no place on our campuses,” CAUT executive director James Turk said.
Both McMaster University and the University of Sherbrooke have closed their Confucius Institutes, and the University of Manitoba rejected an institute in 2011, reportedly out of concerns over political censorship (official reason cited was “logistical issues.”)
McMaster closed its Confucius Institute early last year due to dissatisfaction with Confucius Institute (CI) hiring practices in China.
Epoch Times reported in 2011 that Sonia Zhao, who came to Canada from China to work at the McMaster CI, was required to sign a contract promising not to practice the meditation discipline Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, which is repressed in China and its adherents persecuted.
There are currently Confucius Institutes at 12 universities/educational institutions in Canada. The TDSB is the third school board after Edmonton and Coquitlam to initiate a CI.
‘I was curious about the deal’
The controversy surrounding CIs is also a worry for Howard Goodman, a trustee for Eglinton-Lawrence. He questions whether TDSB members had all the information needed when they voted to make arrangements to open a CI.
“I wanted to understand what the concerns were of the universities, and I was curious about the deal that we had made,” he says.
In May, Goodman tabled a motion through fellow trustee Howard Kaplan for the board to be presented with more information about CIs and to further scrutinize the deal given the concerns raised by the CAUT.
However, parts of the motion referencing CAUT’s concerns were struck down, and the motion was voted to be addressed in November—after the CI has already opened.
“My hope had been that we would receive that information in June,” Goodman says.
Another concern for Goodman is a stipulation in the requirements for CI teaching candidates wanting to come to the TDSB listed on the website of the Hunan City University in China, saying that “candidates will be assessed to ensure they meet political ideology requirements.”
“It is one of the things that has increased my concern,” he says.
According to Lewis, that discriminatory requirement is enough for the TDSB to suspend its contract with CI, as it “goes against TDSB hiring policies and Ontario human rights codes.”
Lewis has started an online campaign, SayNoToCI.ca, to collect signatures to stop the rollout of the program in Toronto schools.
He is appalled that the TDSB actively decided not to dig into how the institutes operate.
“Not to scrutinize CIs just defies logical rationality,” he says.
Goodman says the campaign raises a number of questions and issues that the board needs to understand.
Calls to the board and the office operating the Confucius Institute requesting an interview were not returned by press deadline. TDSB chair Chris Bolton said he won’t be available for an interview until late June.