YCDSB high school students left shocked after graphic anti-abortion presentation

A disturbing and graphic assembly at a Catholic secondary school in Keswick has left students shaken. As Tina Yazdani reports, they're speaking out after being exposed to anti-abortion material.

By Tina Yazdani and Meredith Bond

A disturbing and graphic anti-abortion assembly at a Keswick, Ont. high school has left students shaken and looking for answers.

Grade 11 and 12 students at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Academy say they were exposed to shocking and offensive anti-abortion material at an assembly they were forced to attend on Wednesday.

The students, who CityNews has chosen not to name, say they felt it was important to speak out against what they were subjected to.

“We listened to an anti-abortion presentation from an organization that was heavily biased, they really only brought in one perspective of that conversation, and a lot of women in that presentation didn’t really feel like they were represented accurately.”

The presentation consisted of graphic images and made connections that have been described as racially and culturally insensitive.

“There was one point in the presentation when they compare abortion to horrific historical events that I did not feel like were comparable at all, [including] the Holocaust and slavery … it caught a lot of people off guard,” said the student.

Students say at a certain point, almost every female student got up and walked out of the room.

“By the end of the presentation, there were really only four women who were still sitting there, and teachers did actually give us the option to leave; they agreed the presentation was not appropriate.”

The students said it seemed the administration and the teachers were also shocked by the presentation and issued an apology to them on Thursday.

“At least it was recognized and they also understand that it was a mistake … I think myself and other students appreciate that apology very much. And that just helped me recognize the dangers of not looking into an organization properly and really doing the research,” said a student.

In a statement to CityNews, the York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) said the speaker “departed from the pre-agreed material and shared inappropriate content during that presentation.”

“On the same day of the presentation, the school sent an apology letter to the community for the upsetting content, and school staff had conversations with students about their reactions to the material,” continued the statement.

Organization comments following YCDSB high school presentation

Keturah Dumaine, Eastern Strategic Initiatives Coordinator with the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, was the speaker at the YCDSB high school. She tells CityNews that “there must have been some sort of misunderstanding.”

“I was asked not to show photos or videos of abortion victims, and we always comply with requests from schools on presentation content,” Dumaine said.

“The presentation included prenatal images of human beings in the womb and an AbortionProcedures.com video with medical illustrations, along with narration from a physician with experience performing abortions explaining how the most common first-trimester procedure is done.”

Dumaine said she “shared a message of human rights for all human beings” while noting that she believes abortion is a human rights violation because it ends the life of an innocent human being.

“We know discrimination is wrong when we create second-class citizens based on gender, ethnicity, or religion, and abortion is age-based discrimination — all human beings deserve fundamental human rights, no matter how old they are,” she continued.

“While every injustice is different, the similarity is that whenever we say that some human beings don’t deserve basic human rights, bad things happen — this is how serious human rights violations happen.”

Students tell CityNews this is the first time they’ve been exposed to this kind of material and are concerned about what this could do to young impressionable students.

“I think this organization needs to kind of be blacklisted from all schools. It’s my understanding that we were the first school to receive this kind of presentation. And I really hope that other schools become aware of this organization and aren’t coerced into bringing them in and talking about that.”

One student added she believes there’s a time and place for this kind of discussion and it has to include both sides.

“There’s definitely a good way to represent both sides of the conversation. That’s just not what happened in this presentation. I think if we’re gonna have some discussions about such a heavy topic, such as abortion … I do think that students should be given the chance to make their own informed decisions,” said the student.

The YCDSB said they support the Catholic church’s teaching on the sanctity of life but “discussions of this issue must always be grounded in sensitivity and age appropriateness.”

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