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Anti-meat talk bites student

Vegetarian being home-schooled after run-ins with students, staff

Wed Oct 17 2007
By Nick Martin

click thumbnail to enlarge

Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press
Sydney McMahon, with parents Karen Hanuschak-Williamson
and Jim Williamson, decided to leave school.

DON'T eat meat, vegetarian Grade 9 student Sydney McMahon implored fellow students at Churchill High School -- and she stirred up so much grief that she's being home-schooled the rest of the year.

"I don't really want to be there," McMahon said in her Riverview home, where her parents and two grandparents will home-school her through the end of June.

McMahon said she and three friends formed their own animal rights/vegetarian group this summer, then asked in late September to make presentations to two classes, grades 7 and 8.

She said they downloaded and copied at their own expense a DVD called Meet Your Meat, produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and made copies of their own anti-meat pamphlets.

The principal said they could not show the DVD, but could offer it to any student who wanted one, McMahon said.

The first presentation went well, the second not well at all. The second class heckled the four students, and the four raised their voices in return.

Two days later, the controversy escalated when parents called Churchill to complain that children who'd heard the presentation were refusing to eat meat.

"That was the point of the presentation," said McMahon.

A subsequent meeting with homeroom teachers went badly, McMahon said, and the situation deteriorated rapidly when the four students and their parents sat down with the school's administration.

McMahon has withdrawn from Churchill.

She's turned down the school's offer to transfer her to Grant Park or Kelvin, and has started ordering curricula and textbooks from the department of education.

Winnipeg School Division would not make the principal available for interviews. The division said provincial privacy laws forbid officials from discussing individual students.

"There was a lot of clash going on," said McMahon's mother, Karen Hanuschak-Williamson. "We decided to go with the option of home-schooling."

Said McMahon's father, Jim Williamson: "There was a backlash. What did these kids do that was so bad? We had a bad feeling that these were people we could not reason with." McMahon said the youth wanted to tie animal rights and vegetarianism into "humin" rights. She explained the unusual spelling of the word was to avoid the word "man" in humin or womin, or "male" in the word femail.

The four vegetarians handed out their own pamphlets that claim, without citing scientific sources, that eating meat causes a wide range of deadly illnesses and major health problems. They described severe environmental hazards and "torture" in raising and slaughtering livestock.

"We just asked our teachers. We said we were going to talk about vegetarianism," she said.

McMahon said that when her group was heckled, they lost it "to some extent. We raised our voices. We were just like, 'can everyone be quiet please?'

"We expected a little feedback," she said. "In the halls after, there was a lot of screaming at us," and other kids continued to give them grief in ensuing days.

Her three friends have stayed at Churchill, and their families declined to be interviewed.

McMahon's parents said the school staff had talked about possibly not allowing the four to go on a field trip to Quebec later this year. "They talked vaguely: 'This will be a mark against you,' " said Williamson.

"They were treating a good cause like 'something we'll punish you for,' " he said. "What will they do when something serious happens?"

Meat of the matter

HERE are some examples from the pamphlet Sydney McMahon and three friends distributed to grades 7 and 8 students at Churchill High School. There are no footnotes or bibliography to cite sources:

* "The prions (a particle in protein) in animal protein also cause Alzheimer's (disease), as well as a multitude of other diseases (i.e. cancer)"

* "It is perfectly legal to sell an animal with cancerous lesions and gangrene as food. Countries who eat the most fish have the highest counts of stomach cancer."

* "Arteries are clogged by the intake of fat, causing heart attack and hurray hurrah!! IMPOTENCE!!!

* "Femail (sic) hormones induced in the animals are linked to high counts of violence, depression, premature sexual development, anger, man boobs (moobs, if you will, which allow males to contract breast cancer), and rape, all from activating our primal instincts."

* "Obesity is an international (U.S. and Canada) crisis, which is primarily (ah who we kidding??), which animal product consumption is to blame."

* "Lips, snouts, eyes, intestinal linings, spinal cords, and brain stems are used in mainstream hotdog brands."

* "Alcoholism has been linked to animal product assimilation, and has been treated with a vegetarian diet."

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