Skip to main content

Canada's Heritage Minister James Moore speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa April 25, 2012.

Canada's Heritage Minister says an Ottawa museum is acting outside its mandate by showcasing an exhibit designed to educate teenagers about sex.

"Sex: A Tell-all Exhibition" will open Thursday at the Crown corporation Canada Science and Technology Museum. Even before opening day, the museum faced backlash over the exhibition – which had been shown in Montreal and Regina without similar incident – from about 50 people, including parents and Heritage Minister James Moore.

James Maunder, spokesman for the minister, said in an e-mail that Mr. Moore "didn't complain, he expressed concerns" earlier this week. While the museum is independent and makes its own decisions, Mr. Maunder said its president was contacted because its mandate "is to foster scientific and technological literacy throughout Canada."

"It is clear this exhibit does not fit within that mandate," Mr. Maunder said. "Its content cannot be defended, and is insulting to taxpayers."

The exhibition was created by the Montréal Science Centre for teenagers and pre-teens 12 years of age and older. Following e-mails and calls from distressed parents in Ottawa, the Canada Science and Technology Museum raised the age limit for unaccompanied teens to 16, said museum spokesman Olivier Bouffard. He said the museum will also leave out an animated video about masturbation.

Mr. Bouffard said he had not seen the minister's remarks about the museum's mandate so he could not comment on them or whether they had caused the museum to rethink hosting the show.

The exhibition uses video, computer animation, photography and interactive platforms, attempting to answer questions about sexuality, puberty, contraception and other topics.

Mr. Bouffard said the museum has planned to host the exhibit for six months, costing about $60,000 in total. Government funding goes towards in-house productions, he said, but the museum generates revenue itself through rentals, sponsorships and fundraising.

Before the sex exhibit was chosen, the museum researched reaction in Montreal and Regina, as well as attendee satisfaction, Mr. Bouffard said.

"Of course we did our due diligence," he said. "Their experience was nothing like ours. … in a way it was a bit of a surprise, the kind of response that we're getting here in Ottawa."

Mr. Maunder said the minister encourages other concerned Canadians to contact the museum's president as he did.

Before the uproar, president Denise Amyot said in a statement that she was impressed by the reaction the show had elsewhere and the support it has from education and public health experts.

"We are proud to offer to our region's youth this daring exhibition," she said, "which can help them make enlightened decisions on questions that they feel deeply concerned about."