In January of 2022, HumanistFreedoms.com reported on a human rights challenge to the Province of Ontario’s public-funding of Catholic schools led by an organizations named One Public Education Now (OPEN). Recently, OPEN has sent us an update on their work.
Two members of OPEN are plaintiffs in a Charter of Rights challenge to the current funding of separate schools in Ontario. The lawsuit states the funding of non-Catholics in separate schools and the funding of Grades 11 and 12 are not protected from Charter challenge and violate the s.15(1) guarantee of equal protection and benefit of the law for all religions and beliefs (including beliefs in no religion).
The two plaintiffs are a teacher who cannot obtain a teaching position in one-third of publicly-funded separate schools because she is not Catholic, and a parent whose children must travel an extra 80 minutes per day in order for them to have a non-denominational public education, and not a publicly-funded Catholic education.
The Attorney-General of Ontario has brought a Motion to Dismiss the Application before it even gets to a full hearing. The Motion is scheduled for Friday, November 25, 2022 and we think it will not be successful for various reasons including that the funding of non-Catholics in separate schools has not been ruled on by any court in Ontario. But obviously it means further delay and further expenses. We have already raised over $175,000, but we know we need to raise more. People can find out more on our website, https://open.cripeweb.org/, where they can also donate through secure PayPal or by E-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s something about elected office(s) and democracy that doesn’t quite match-up well with religious prerequisites. The concepts are fundamentally opposed. Elected office and democracy puts the leadership selection process in the hands of the people that the system is intended to serve while religious prerequisites place the selection process in the hands of religious authorities, regardless of who may be within that system. That seems fairly obvious doesn’t it?
Canadian media outlets have recently reported the outcome of a legal case wherein an Ontario student sued the York Catholic District School Board after having been barred from running for elected office within the school system. It seems that Dasha Kandaharian, an Orthodox Christian (i.e. not a Roman Catholic), was not allowed to run for student trustee at the high school she attended because of that sectarian difference.
Media stories have referred to the case as a “landmark” – which it undoubtedly is. The decision undoubtedly addresses the situation faced by thousands of non-Catholic students who have attended publicly-funded Catholic schools in the past (clearly, Kandaharian was not he first and only student to be barred from the elected office) – and the thousands more who may do so in the future.
What the media have not (that we can find) spent much time in considering is where the Catholic School Board(s) of Ontario may have gotten this notion that a sectarian religious prerequisite for elected office is an acceptable thing.
A person is qualified to be elected as a school board trustee if the person is qualified to vote in a school board election and is a resident of the school board district.
When filing a nomination a candidate must meet all of the following requirements:
a resident within the jurisdiction of the board;
a supporter of the board (“supporter” refers to the individual’s support for one of the four publicly funded school systems. A list of supporters for each system is kept by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation);
a Canadian citizen;
at least 18 years old;
Roman Catholic (if running for a Catholic school board);
not legally prohibited from voting; and
not disqualified by any legislation from holding school board office.
Note: A candidate, if nominated, must remain qualified throughout the election and, if elected, throughout the term of office. The term of office is 4 years. School board candidates should confirm that they have the qualifications described here and in section 219 of the Education Act. It is the responsibility of the candidate to determine whether he or she is qualified to be elected to and hold office.
In case you’re interested, Section 219 of the Education Act doesn’t seem to actually bear the qualification that we’ve bolded in the language above. Perhaps the argument is implicit or explicit in some other section of the Act. But for the moment, we can skip over that murky inconsistency and observe that the York Catholic District School Board (and any other publicly funded Catholic School Board) appears merely to have been applying the same criteria to the selection and election of Student Trustees as the Government of Ontario appears to tolerate for the selection and election of School Board Trustees.
Well, this landmark court decision rather brings to question whether what’s good for the goose (students) may also be good for the gander (adult politicians).
So let us consider, in the spirit of taking note of landmarks, an entirely fictional scenario: a hypothetical Secular Humanist who happens to be a (legally defined) ‘supporter’ of the Catholic School system in their area decides that they would like to be Board Trustee of that system. Regardless of how they might fare in an open election – how well do you imagine this hypothetical individual might fare in the qualification screening process?
Here is a separate and perhaps more fundamental question: Can you imagine any other elected office in a 21st-century democratic country named Canada where membership in a religious sect would be accepted as a pre-requisite condition?
The following article has been compiled from information provided by OPEN.
An application stating the current funding of Ontario separate schools violates s.15(1) of the Charter of Rights has been filed at the Ontario Superior Court and served on the Ontario government on behalf of One Public Education Now (OPEN) lawyers Adair Goldberg Bieber.
The two plaintiffs, a public high school teacher, and a parent of children in the French public school system, are founding members of OPEN (One Public Education Now). OPEN is a coalition of groups and individuals dedicated to challenging the current discriminatory funding of the schools of one religion.
Many people want to do something about this discriminatory funding of one religious school system, but don’t know what to do. Governments and political parties ignore letters, articles and petitions. But they can’t ignore lawsuits, and people can do something by contributing to our challenge. Our lawsuit is funded by the donations of many people and needs additional funding to continue our legal fight.
The Application states there have been sufficient changes since 1987 that the Reference re Bill 30 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that the Charter does not apply to the funding of Ontario separate schools should be re-examined.
Therefore, the only rights protected from Charter challenge are those that existed in 1867 and are protected by s.93(1); and the public funding of non-Catholics at separate schools and the public funding of Grades 11 and 12 at separate schools, neither of which existed in 1867, violate the equality sections of the Charter of Rights.
Not only is the public funding contrary to the Charter of Rights, but it wastes money in duplicate administration and unnecessary busing of students at a time when money is needed for, among other things, protecting the safety of teachers and students. Estimating the savings is difficult because so many of the costs are hidden but it has been estimated up to 1.6 billion dollars a year could be saved. So many people think separate schools are funded by residential property taxes, not realizing just 7% of separate school operational funding, and none of the capital funding, come from the property taxes of residential separate school supporters.
OPEN’s Positions Regarding Funding of Catholic School System in Ontario
Separate schools were started under historical circumstances that no longer exist; for example, there were fights between Protestants and Catholics in public schools and Ontario agreed to protect separate Catholic schools in return for Quebec protecting separate Protestant schools; these circumstances no longer apply
So much has changed since the 1987 Reference re Bill 30 Supreme Court of Canada decision, such as Quebec abolishing its funding of separate schools in 1997, that the ruling the Charter of Rights does not apply to the funding of Ontario separate schools, should be reconsidered
Separate schools are not paid for by separate school residential property taxes.
Capital funding is paid for entirely by general provincial revenues. In general, only 7% of operating revenues of separate schools come from residential property taxes; 15% comes from business property taxes; 70% comes from general provincial funding.
By contrast, 15% of public school funding comes from residential property taxes and only about 60% from general provincial funding.
The current system wastes money. Boards of Trustees, Superintendents of Education, Board offices and administrative staff, are duplicated.
We don’t have two fire services, one for Catholics and one for everyone else. Think of the waste if we did.
Students are bused to the closest public or separate school, instead of walking or being bused to the nearest publicly-supported public school.
Local community schools are being closed that could be kept open if all local students went to a public local school, not split between public and separate schools
Estimating the savings is difficult because so many of the costs are hidden but it has been estimated up to 1.6 billion dollars a year could be saved.
One third of Ontario publicly-funded teaching jobs are denied to the two-thirds of the population who are not Catholic even though all Ontario tax-payers pay for these schools.
Of course Catholics who want to can pay to send their children to religious schools, just as Anglicans, Baptists, Muslims and others do. What is unfair is the government, for outdated reasons, funding one religious group .
People have signed petitions, written articles, and sent letters and emails. But because all the major parties support the status quo, nothing changes.
According to his website, Andrew West is a lawyer in the Ottawa area with specialization in Environmental Law and dispute resolution. He’s also the Green Party of Ontario’s Attorney General Critic. Currently, West has his sights set on leading the Green Party of Canada.
Following a career in the television industry working mostly as a sole proprietor/independent contractor, West attended Ryerson University (B.A. (Hons) in Politics and Governance) and University of Ottawa (Faculty of Law). West has volunteered for several NGO’s including a committee chair role for Amnesty International’s annual fundraiser, “Taste for Justice” – raising money to help stop violence against women.
West has run for office as a Green Party candidate in four election since 2014, most recently in a provincial by-election in Orleans (February 2020). When asked during a candidate debate whether education should be considered an essential service, West stated
“I think education is the most important thing we can do in this province.…rather than making cuts and slashing…proper investment back in to the most important resource we have, our children.” The format of the debate did not provide adequate time for West to immediately elaborate on how investing back into children’s education might be achieved. Later, however, he stated that helping to create appropriate funding would be “to merge the public and Catholic school boards.“
Ontario’s Ministry of Education is one of the province’s biggest Ministries. This massive ministry happens to house one of Canada’s greatest human rights embarrassments, the ongoing privileging of the Catholic religion via public-funding of Catholic school boards.
There are many individuals and organizations in Ontario who oppose the ongoing public privileging of the Catholic religion. Andrew West appears to be one of the few politicians willing to talk about ways and reasons to bring the Ministry of Education’s spending into line with principles of equal human rights.
Candidates for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada must raise $10,000.00 as part of their leadership campaign by the first week of June. While it appears that the Party has a system to track credit for generating donations, the money does not go to an individual candidate, but to the Party. As of May 28, 2020 West does not yet appear to have reached the mile-marking of having his portrait appear as a candidate. Whether he progresses or not, advances in human rights will rely upon politicians like Andrew West who develop and communicate policy that is consistent with a common and shared humanity.
At www.humanistfreedoms.com we do not endorse any specific political party nor any candidate. However, from time to time, political parties and/or individual politicians take positions on issues that deserve to be recognized and analyzed. We are particularly interested in issues related to defending human rights and our common humanity. If think that a position taken by an individual politician or a political party deserves to be covered – contact us.
The Humanist Association of Ottawa (HAO) has been operating since 1968. Our vision is a world where reason and compassion guide public policy and social values to enable the fulfillment of human potential. Our mission is to promote the cause of humanism, foster the humanist community in Ottawa, and advocate for a secular public domain.
Clear, Empathic Communication in a Pandemic & Always (A Two-Part Series)
A Webinar with the Gold Foundation & Alda Center Thanks for joining us for this two-part informational webinar series, made possible by a grant from the Kavli Foundation and sponsored by the American Chemical Society. Please register below.
PART 1: WEDNESDAY, MAY 27TH, 1:00-1:20PM ET PART 2: WEDNESDAY, JUNE 3RD, 1:00-1:20PM ET
Difficult Discussions – Why Secularists Disagree on Bill 21
This will be an online meeting using Zoom. You can join with a computer, tablet, smartphone, or by phone (audio only). Information will be provided to those who RSVP
Has there been a more contentious issue for secularists in Canada than Quebec’s Bill 21? At CFIC, we’ve seen that this issue has been divisive for our secular community. We think that it is important to have a discussion about this topic, not to change minds, but to enhance our understanding of differing perspectives.
The event will start with a presentation by Catherine Francis about the background of Quebec’s Secular Bill and the subsequent legal challenge, followed by a moderated Q+A and discussion Whether you have a strong opinion about this bill (either for or against) or have watched the dialogue and not come to any conclusions, this webinar is for you.
This is part of a series of presentations about topics that our members disagree on. We recognize that while we all are aiming for a more just, secular society; we may have different views on how to get there. What we do know, is that as secularists, we must stick together on the big issues such as the funding of religion, elimination of blasphemy laws around the world and the use of science, rather than superstition to solve the world’s biggest issues.
About our Presenter: Catherine Francis was called to the Ontario bar in 1987 and is a partner in the Litigation Group and Bankruptcy and Insolvency Group of Minden Gross LLP, a mid-sized Toronto law firm. Her practice is devoted largely to corporate/commercial, real estate, banking, and insolvency litigation. In her spare time, Catherine is a member of several secular organizations and serves on the steering committee of the Humanist Association of Toronto. Catherine has frequently presented to Toronto Oasis, a community that meets regularly to create a place for freethinkers to celebrate the human experience, on legal issues of interest to the secular community.
Please join us on June 6, 2020 for a robust discussion of Bill 21.
“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Carp, Ontario is a village in the Township of Huntley lying in the western-most ward of Ottawa. As of 2012, the human population was estimated to be approximately 2000. The village sits on the edge of a geological fault running through the Carp River Valley know as the Carp Escarpment or Carp Ridge. Carp has been an Eastern Ontario centre for agricultural activities since the 1800s, perhaps best featured in contemporary events as the annual Carp Agricultural Fair. Close by the Diefenbunker, another well known local museum attraction, huddles underground – a persistent reminder of postwar fears of nuclear war. It is a bunker the politicians had planned to retreat to in the event of a devastating nuclear attack.
A group of Carp residents are concerned about a different kind of devastation – a devastation that is entirely local and entirely preventable. They are appealing the city’s decision to allow a Concrete Batching Plant at 2596 Carp Road. The group objects to the rezoning because they believe that the city has ignored a number of municipal and provincial planning regulations as well as the welfare of its citizens. The group’s main concerns regarding the placement of a concrete batching plant at this location are: significant increases in heavy truck traffic; significant air pollution and increase in hazardous airborne substances; contamination of groundwater; contamination of Huntley Creek and degradation of the surrounding area; detrimental impacts to homeowners who live adjacent to this site; detrimental impacts to the heritage cemetery that sits directly across the street and has done so for 160 years (well actually, long before there even was a street to be named).
“Freddie Redfin the Story of Huntley Creek” is the result of a few of the local residents in Carp to take responsibility to try to prevent the devastation of a precious local eco-system. It is a children’s book written by local Carp, Ontario resident and author Dan Mayo and illustrated by local artist Jana Rothwell to highlight this struggle.
In Huntley Creek, every spring, a spectacle of nature is seen as hundreds of redfins migrate back to their spawning ground. This creek has born witness to the redfins annual migratory spawning for millennia, long before Canada existed! The carcinogenic dust from the plant will settle into these clean waters and contaminate it with heavy metals and silica. This pollution will necessarily flow downstream and poison the redfins, their offspring and an enormous diversity of wildlife, including many threatened and endangered species that live in or rely on the creek and spring waters.
These waters are the spawning grounds for the River Redhorse, known locally as redfins due to their red-colored fins. The redfins come to Huntley Creek because of Bradley Falls, a large spring-fed waterfall that cascades into the creek creating a pool of clean, cool oxygenated water and riffle rapids. These specific conditions are essential for the redfins’ to spawn!
The redfins are a heritage fish in Carp, Ontario and have lived in Huntley Creek long before Canada or the City of Ottawa existed as legal entities. In fact, the Town of Carp owes its name to the redfin fish. When early French settlers first discovered the river that was to be named the Carp River, they marveled at the thousands upon thousands of redhorses and related suckers to be seen during their annual migration. These fish were called “carpes à cochon” by the French, though the fish they were witnessing weren’t carp at all, but redfins. In the end the name stuck, and the town of Carp was named for the river it was built next to. None of this would have happened without Huntley Creek, however, because this creek is the only reason these fish make the migration up the Carp River.
Canadian governments and officials, at all levels, ought to respond to the demands and concerns of local residents who know and love their communities and Eco-systems. Placement of a polluting industry next to a pristine creek and natural springs will result in devastation of that local system. The City of Ottawa’s decision to allow heavy industry has failed to respect and act on the wealth of local knowledge and heritage. The local residents – whether counted as 2000 humans or the far greater number of non-human residents – will be the ones whose habitat is devastated. Perhaps, like with the building of the Diefenbunker, the politicians think the best way to contemplate devastation is to hide from it.
To help protect Huntley Creek, consider a donation:
On September 20, 2014, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was opened to the public. Located in the City of Winnipeg, one of the Museum’s guiding principles is to inspire human rights, reflection and dialogue. It is a principle that ought, perhaps, to have been given closer attention when Dr. Richard Thain was advised that his interest to place a series of advertisements on the City of Winnipeg’s buses was rejected.
Dr. Thain had planned to advertise his opposition to the public funding of Catholic school systems in Canada. His idea was to leverage local and national media coverage of the museum’s grand opening to bring attention to his position on this issue. Thain worked with a professional advertising designer to develop a series of simple and elegant bus-ads. The theme of the ads was that the system of public funding for Catholic schools in Ontario is a human rights disgrace. The ads contained no images, words or phrases that could reasonably be considered offensive. The only contained a message that some people might disagree with.
Thain grounded his views with a position taken in 1999 by the United Nations Human Rights Committee when indicating that the provision of funding to Catholic school systems while simultaneously denying it to all other religious groups is discriminatory. Thain hoped to inspire intelligent, reasonable public discourse on this long-standing issue.
Thain contacted Pattison Outdoor Advertising, the firm responsible for the management of the City of Winnipeg’s bus advertising at the time, to gain access to advertising space. During the back-and-forth of price negotiations and content review, he began to understand that that some of the “higher-ups” did not agree with his views and planned to put an end to his campaign. It was then that he received a letter advising that his ads would not appear via the Winnipeg Transit system and that he would not be provided an explanation of why his ads had been blocked. No one from the City of Winnipeg called him as he had requested.
Thain says that he received a letter from the City of Winnipeg’s agent, one of Canada’s most powerful and influential advertising agencies, that contained a five-word sentence which altered his view of human rights in ways that he could not have imagined. The sentence read, “We consider this matter closed.”
No dialogue. No reflection. No right to self-expression.
Thain’s initial shock soon passed and he was struck by the need to confront a deep and worrisome dilemma. What do you when authorities tell you to go away? How do you fight City Hall? Thain decided that the matter was not closed. He decided to sue the City of Winnipeg and Pattison Outdoor Advertising.
In the summer of 2017, Thain procured Winnipeg-based legal counsel, Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP to represent him in his response. Thain believes that he has been denied his charter right to freedom of expression. and has launched a legal suit against the City of Winnipeg and Pattison Outdoor Advertising. The parties in the suite are set for an examination for discovery on January 30 & 31. 2020 – 62 months since the attempted advertising campaign. An examination for discovery process is intended to help all parties in a law suit find out about the other side’s case. Generally the idea is for each party to find out what the other parties have to say about the matters contained in the lawsuit, to see whether there are areas of agreement and to try to obtain admissions which could be used during a trial.
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