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 email@example.com.
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?
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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Featured Photo Courtesy of Dr. Richard Thain
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