Funding Faith-based Schools in Ontario is being Challenged

15 Jan

I am a passionate advocate for social equity.  As an educator, I am constantly finding myself discussing social inequity with peers and students in a wide variety of circumstances.  One of my greatest frustrations as a teacher is the topic of our catholic school system.

I strongly disagree with the public funding of a school board that does not support or accept those who do not follow the catholic faith.  I am tired of the ignorant arguments that Canada is a Christian nation and that the church championed social justice in Canada.  This is 2012, and the accepted processes of colonialism of Canada’s past would never be allowed in the twenty-first century.  There is a reason we recognize our aboriginal community as ‘First Nations’.  They were not catholic and frankly, neither were all of the immigrants who came to Canada.  Even within our current catholic system we are ignoring the beliefs of other Christian based faiths.  I also strongly disagree with the idea that the catholic churches in Canada are dedicated to social justice for one simple reason; if you cannot provide a pastoral letter you are not welcome to teach with the catholic school boards.  My other concern is the lack of support for LGBTQ youth in our catholic schools.  Recently, Halton showed their true colours by choosing to deny support to Gay/Straight Alliance clubs.  In one article I read that a HCDSB representative stated, “We don’t have Nazi groups either,”… are you kidding me? It would seem to me that social justice (as defined below) really only applies to those who uphold the catholic faith.

Social justice: A concept based upon the belief that each individual and group within a

given society has a right to civil liberties, equal opportunity, fairness, and participation in

the educational, economic, institutional, social and moral freedoms and responsibilities

valued by the community.

“Cultural Competency Handbook,” R. Degan and Dr. M. Disman, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto

How can the catholic school boards (a publicly funded institution) be allowed to openly deny employment to anyone who is not “committed to the teachings of the catholic church…”?  Can you imagine applying to any other job opening and being asked to provide a pastoral letter?  Of the 55 English-speaking school boards in Ontario, 24 of them are catholic.  How many resources are being denied to the students in the larger urban areas like  Toronto and Peel, where a large percentage of the student populations are no catholic.  I live and pay taxes in Peel and I don’t want my hard earn money funding a school board that will deny me employment because I am not “committed to the teachings of the catholic church”.

This morning while stumbling, I came across an article in the National Post titled, “Woman files suit over Ontario school funding.” I could not agree with her argument more.  She points out the catholic school boards are receiving far more than their constitutional rights originally allowed and that the schools should only receive funding according to the rights originally afforded.  History is an interesting thing.   just because things are the way they are doesn’t mean its right and doesn’t mean it should be continued.   Ontario is the only province to fully fund the catholic school boards, even in Quebec catholic school boards don’t get full funding!  Historically, the roman catholic school boards were built to appease French Canadians while the remaining school boards were protestant as dictated by English-speaking Canadians.  Eventually the protestant schools became secular but the catholic boards in Ontario have remained the same, exclusive. Why? Learn more about in this CBC article… Faith-based schools by Jennifer Wilson

What are your thoughts?

Woman Files suit over Ontario school funding

Andrew Duffy, Postmedia News · Jan. 14, 2012 | Last Updated: Jan. 14, 2012 6:27 AM ET

OTTAWA – A Toronto woman has filed suit against the Ontario government in a bid to turn back the clock on funding for Catholic schools to 1867 when the right to a separate system was enshrined in law.

Reva Landau, a retired business systems analyst, concedes in her application that the Constitution protects Catholic school funding in Ontario.

But Ms. Landau argues that giving Catholic schools more money than is strictly required by law offends the Charter’s equality provisions.

“In an ideal world, I’d like to see one public school system,” said Ms. Landau, who holds a law degree from the University of Toronto.

“But we do have the constitution. So I’m saying OK, if you insist we have to have Catholic schools, they should not get one penny more than they were entitled to in 1867.”

Canadian courts, she argued, have consistently said that legal decisions that limit Charter rights must be interpreted narrowly.

The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that Sect. 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which guarantees Catholic school funding in Ontario, is immune from Charter challenges. (The Charter specifically exempts from review all rights guaranteed in the constitution.)

But Ms. Landau contends that the obvious inequality that results must, by law, be narrowly defined.

To that end, she contends that Catholic school funding should be based today on the 1867 model, one that strictly limited government support.

In her application, filed in the Superior Court of Justice, Ms. Landau asks for an order that eliminates all government aid for Catholic schools from Grades 9 to 12.

She also seeks an order that limits the funding of Grades 1 to 8 to “only that aid available in 1867, that is, only property taxes from Catholics who declare themselves to be separate school supporters and who live within three miles of a separate school, and property taxes from wholly Catholicowned businesses.”

She argues the current funding system unjustly forces her, through the tax system, to support Catholic schools.

“It means I’m being forced to fund a system that has sectarian views of which I do not approve,” she said.

“I’m therefore being discriminated against because a Catholic is not being forced to fund a system of which they do not approve.”

Ms. Landau’s legal gambit, which could renew the emotional separate school debate, faces an uphill battle.

The Supreme Court has twice ruled on issues related to Catholic school funding in Ontario. It upheld premier Bill Davis’ decision to extend full funding in 1984 as a valid exercise of the province’s constitutional power. And it later dismissed an argument, made on behalf of parents from other faith-based schools, that the system discriminates against them.

In its rulings, the high court has noted that the Catholic school funding guarantee was an important compromise on the road to Confederation.

Ms. Landau, however, contends that the court should reconsider its reasoning in light of the 1997 constitutional amendment that allowed Quebec to reorganize its schools along linguistic rather than religious lines.

“The other party to the historic compromise, Quebec, has already opted out,” she said. “That argument is now much weaker and it has to be reconsidered.”

Ms. Landau decided to file her lawsuit after researching the history of the province’s education system.

“It’s one of those things,” Ms. Landau said, “that the more you think about it, the more it just seems so blatantly unfair.”

The last time the Catholic school funding issue made headlines in Ontario was in 2007 when Progressive Conservative leader John Tory made the politically disastrous promise to extend full funding to all faith-based schools.


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