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'We were vetted': Sex-ed organization 'disappointed' over Higgs' comments

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The head of a Quebec-based sexual and reproductive health organization says she's disappointed New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has deemed presentations she did in the province last week inappropriate.

On Friday, Higgs posted on X that a number of parents shared photos of what he called "clearly inappropriate" material presented at high schools.

"To say I am furious would be a gross understatement," wrote Higgs. "This presentation was not part of the New Brunswick curriculum and the content was not flagged for parents in advance."

Teresa Norris is the president and founder of HPV Global Action and she did presentations at four high schools last week.

In a Sunday evening interview with CTV News, she said the work of her organization and what the presentations were really all about is being grossly misrepresented.

Teresa Norris is the president and founder of HPV Global Action. (Source: HPV Global Action)

"New Brunswick, alongside many other provinces, have adopted a curriculum to deal with sexual health issues and the presentation that I delivered and that I have been delivering in your province for years in several places across the province all of a sudden is now deemed inappropriate because somebody decided to take an excerpt from that slide and create a story around it," said Norris.

A photo from what appears to be a recent presentation was attached to Higgs' post.

It showed a slide from a presentation by Thirsty for the Talk, which Norris also operates.

Norris said Thirsty for the Talk is an external resource that offers youth evidence-based information they can access instead of going on the web to have their questions answered.

The slide had four chat bubbles with questions such as, "Is it normal to watch porn like people watch TV series?" and "Do girls masturbate?"

Higgs said his office was told by officials from the Department of Education the presentation was supposed to be on human papillomavirus [HPV].

HPV is a common sexually-transmitted infection that can in some cases cause several types of cancer.

"However, the group shared materials well beyond the scope of an HPV presentation. The fact that this was shared shows either improper vetting was done, the group misrepresented the content they would share ... or both," said Higgs.

Effective immediately, the group will not be permitted to present again at any schools in the province.

Norris said she doesn't take kindly to the Healthy Relationships 101 presentation being looked at like it's inappropriate.

"Particularly after the amount of work and integrity that goes into it. So I think I'm disappointed and it would be nice if this could be rectified," said Norris.

Norris said she's been to dozens of schools in the province over the past 10 years to do the same presentation and added the Department of Education does a good job at screening external groups that come to New Brunswick.

"We were vetted. We're on your list of organizations that can come into your province. What we cover in that presentation is gone over. All of the issues that we cover are discussed," said Norris.

Schools are given an information sheet outlining all the areas that are going to be covered in advance and consent forms are signed.

"At no point was anybody under any illusion that I was going to be specifically talking about one specific thing," said Norris.

Norris wouldn't say which schools she did the presentations at because she says there's already too much attention directed toward them.

Higgs stated his government will have further discussions about whether additional rules regarding third-party presentations will need to be updated.

"Children should be protected, and parents should be respected," he said.

The post ended with a link to a survey asking parents if they feel stronger rules are needed about third-party presentations in schools.

In July of 2023, Higgs made changes to Policy 713, the province's policy on sexual orientation and gender in schools.

One of the major changes was students who are under the age of 16 and identify as transgender or non-binary will not be able to officially change their names or desired pronouns in school without the consent of their parents or guardians.

That decision has caused controversy among many LGBTQ+ advocates who believe the changes make the policy more discriminatory.

The province is currently in a legal dispute with the Anglophone East School District Education Council over the changes.

Earlier this month, Education Minister Bill Hogan announced he would attempt to dissolve the education council over litigation fees.

The council is in the process of taking the province to court over the changes the Higgs' government made last summer.

Higgs has repeatedly said he stands by the changes and they are taking a strong position for families. 

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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