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BC Conservative leader Rustad under fire for linking SOGI to residential schools

John Rustad also faced criticism for ‘picking on kids’ by Premier David Eby in question period
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad announces BC Conservative Leadership party bid.

The leader of the Conservative Party of British Columbia is facing scrutiny over a social media post, which appeared to compare teaching students about sexual orientation and gender identity to harm caused by residential schools.

John Rustad, MLA for Nechako Lakes, made the comments on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in a Sept. 30 post on X (formerly known as Twitter).

"Today we remember what happens when the Canadian government thinks it's better at raising children than parents. I will always stand with parents," read Rustad's post.

The post has drawn criticism from residential school survivors and fellow MLAs.

B.C. New Democrat MLA Ravi Parmar called the social media post a disgraceful comparison and said, “it’s shameful to co-opt this day to spread fear and attack the rights of queer kids” and B.C. United MLA and education critic Elenore Sturko called on Rustad to apologize for both his post and also for referring to being LGBTQ as a "lifestyle" in media interviews.

In an interview with the Citizen, Rustad said generations of Indigenous people were a significantly impacted by residential schools, and he did not want to take away from that.

“But what I did want to highlight was the mechanism that was used to create that, which was, the government believed they knew better how to raise children,” he said. “I wanted to highlight, not to take away from happened, but the highlight the tool that government actually used.”

Rustad said as a minister he was part of the implementing the changes to curriculum so that students across this province would learn about the true and full history of residential schools and that he’s very proud of the work he’s done with Indigenous peoples.

“I also think it's important to recognize that the trauma that created this pain, and this suffering by Indigenous people was government thinking they knew best and taking away the rights of parents to be able to raise your children.”

Rustad also earned a stern rebuke form Premier David Eby, who accused him of picking on children and families during question period in the British Columbia’s legislature.

Rustad, whose Conservatives gained official party status last month after former Opposition BC United member Bruce Banman crossed the floor to join him, zeroed in on the government's Sexual Orientation Gender Identity program in provincial schools, saying it is divisive and concerning to parents.

"Will the minister admit this SOGI 123 has been divisive and an assault on parents' rights and a distraction to student education?" said Rustad, who called on the government to replace the program.

B.C.'s SOGI program was introduced by the province to help make schools inclusive and safe for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities, says the government's website.

Eby said Rustad, who was ejected from the BC United caucus in August 2022 for his anti-climate-change views, has not made an "auspicious" start with his first question in the legislature as the Conservative leader.

"To come into this place and use the authority of his office, his new party, to find a small group of kids to leverage that, to make them feel less safe in our schools, less safe in our communities, to feed the fires of division in our province and bring a culture war to B.C., it is not welcome," said Eby.

"Shame on him. Choose another question," said the premier.

“First of all, Premier Eby refused to answer the question and this is typical of the left wing politics to actually spread hate and absolutely avoid any accountability on their own behalf,” said Rustad, when asked about the exchange. “And that's what we saw today. Most interestingly we saw the BC United party standing with the NDP. Three lefts that doesn't make a right and the Conservative Party in British Columbia is going to stand for what's right. We're going to stand and fight for the average everyday person in this province and we are not going to rise to the bait of these left wing parties that seem to only want to create division.”

The return of politicians to the legislature marked a session that now features four parties: the NDP, BC United, Green Party and Conservative Party of B.C.

- with files from the Canadian Press