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Former Deputy Minister of Education Dr. Benjamin Levin (L), who was arrested in 2013 for making child pornography, attends Toronto Pride in 2013 with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and former Liberal leader Bob Rae.
Steve Weatherbe

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Ontario premier’s former adviser opts for speedy trial on child sex charges

Steve Weatherbe

The man who oversaw the development of the Ontario Liberal government's controversial 2010 sex ed curriculum, which many observers expect to be reintroduced as part of Premier Kathleen Wynne's plans to "update" the curriculum in time for September 2015, pled not guilty to the child sex charges of which he is accused in court this week.

Benjamin Levin was the very model of a modern senior bureaucrat, a deputy minister, unpaid advisor to Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne during her “transition” period, winner of awards, author of books -- until all that came crashing down when Toronto police raided his Toronto home last summer, seized his computer and charged him with making and distributing child pornography, counseling to commit an indictable offence, and arranging to commit a sexual offence against a child under 16.

On parole since then, the Manitoba-born educationalist was supposed to begin his preliminary hearing this week but his celebrity lawyer Clayton Ruby surprised the court and the Crown by waiving the hearing (by which a judge hears only the Crown’s evidence to see if it justifies proceeding to trial) and requesting an immediate trial. The court reconvenes today to set a trial date.

The investigation into Levin’s activities began in 2012 and involved police in Toronto, London, Ont., and New Zealand. Levin has advised the New Zealand government on education and made several speeches there in 2011, 2012, after which police down under contacted police in Ontario.

Police allege he took pornographic pictures of minors, wrote an explicit description of adults performing sexual acts on minors, and arranged with another adult or with a minor to perform a sexual act with a minor, although it is not alleged that this act took place.

So in demand at educational conferences was Dr. Levin that, according to the National Post, police had a hard time finding him at home to arrest him. The month before his arrest, “he was in Norway, France and Victoria for speaking engagements. The month before that, “he was in China and Alberta.”

Levin was born and raised in Manitoba and taught at the university level there before moving to teach at the University of Toronto.  From 1999 to 2002, he was deputy education minister in Manitoba from 2005 to 2007 and then from late 2008 to June 2009, he held the same job in Ontario, supervising, as social conservative critics of the Liberal government of the day have pointed out, a very liberal reform of the sex education curriculum.

So liberal, in fact, that its plan to teach youth in grade school technical details of not only normal heterosexual relations but deviations therefrom caused a public furore and the so-called “reform’s” quick withdrawal.

Coincidentally with Levin’s return to the spotlight, the Wynne government he helped “transition” into power has announced a new revision of the school curriculum, its contents as yet a mystery but already suspect.

Since leaving government Levin has taught at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, which for decades has been a centre for advocating experimental and progressive approaches to education. At the time of his arrest he was the Canada Research Chair in Education Leadership and Policy at OISE.  

In a review of one of Levin’s books, Making a Difference in Urban Schools: Ideas, Politics and Pedagogy, Nova Scotia education professor Paul Bennett characterizes Levin as an aging 1970s radical, who early on pushed “child-centred” learning, and social programs to improve outcomes, only to be disappointed by the results. Bennett describes Levin and his co-author, Jane Gaskell, as “leading social democratic reformers, [who] are really consummate Ontario education policy insiders and ranking members of the current Toronto educational establishment.”

Bennett’s review was written short months before that all came tumbling down. Now, he clearly wants the question of whether his reputation can ever be put back together again resolved as quickly as possible. 

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