Heritage Minister James Moore may disapprove of a sex education exhibit at Ottawa's Science and Technology Museum but politicians and some Canadians are suggesting he should just butt out.
Sex: A Tell-All Exhibition has been grabbing headlines in the nation’s capital for its displays of nudity and discussions about casual sex and masturbation.
The exhibit was designed for children 12 and up by the Montreal Science Centre and displayed without controversy in that city and in Regina.
But after Moore visited the exhibition on Monday, his office called the museum’s president to say it was inappropriate and indefensible.
NDP MP Rosane Doré Lefebvre accused Moore Friday of abusing his authority by meddling with the independence of the museum. She called on the Conservative government to take the opportunity on International Museum Day to promise to no longer interfere in museum exhibitions.
“Come’on daddy-o, it’s time for the Minister to get back into the DeLorean. It’s not 1955, sex happens,” she said during Question Period. “It’s better if youth are more informed, not less.”
Thursday, Lefebvre said she couldn’t believe what “prudes” the Conservatives were being.
“The exhibit was very successful when it was on display in Montreal, and no holier-than-thou hypocrites were offended. After all, sex education is not the devil's work,” she said in the Commons.
“I’m so very pleased that it’s here. This isn’t a pornographic show at all, it’s an educational show. It’s a show that every family should bring their kids to see,” she told the Ottawa Citizen.
Although Moore insisted he never instructed the arm’s length museum to make any changes, a day after his office called the museum to voice his disapproval, museum management pulled an animated video about masturbation and changed its policy to forbid anyone under 16 from viewing the exhibition without an adult accompanying them.
“Originally the exhibit was meant for children 12 years and up and I was very pleased and the minister was very pleased that that was changed to 16,” said Paul Calandra, the parliamentary secretary to the heritage minister on Friday.
“It is definitely not science and technology,” he said, as he was laughed at by MPs from opposing parties.
“Clearly, it is science,” interjected CBC host Evan Solomon. “It’s called biology Dean,” said Liberal MP and medical doctor Carolyn Bennett.
“No,” insisted Del Mastro. “It’s not called biology, it’s called many things but it is not biology Dr. Bennett,” he said.
Del Mastro said he had no intention of going to visit the museum.
"People can go to their average adult video store if they want to see this," he said, adding that he believes the exhibit goes quite a bit farther than anything he ever received in terms of sex-education.
“Maybe that's the problem” quipped Bennett as she argued it was important for children to be exposed to sex in a healthy way in order to limit teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Museum spokesman Oliver Bouffard said at last count 100 people opposed to the exhibit had called or emailed while 60 had come out in support.
The controversy has done wonders to engender public interest.
“First four hours of the exhibition opening yesterday were clicked at roughly 200 visitors … which is about double the rate we normally expect at a travelling exhibition on a weekday,” he said.
Conservative MP Wai Young, who yelled out "Do you have any children?" during the NDP's questioning on the issue, said she "very firmly" believes parents should have the responsibility to determine what their children can view publicly.
Talking to children about sex is one of the toughest discussions parents can have with their kids, acknowledged the NDP’s deputy heritage critic Andrew Cash. But it isn’t the role of the heritage minister to weigh in with his thoughts, Cash said.
“Canadians are fully able to make a decision about whether they want their kids to go to an exhibit like this or not,” he said.
The recently married Moore has no children.