The Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) passed a motion on Jan. 16 stating that any organization that receives funds raised within the school system must not directly or indirectly support abortion, euthanasia, contraception, or embryonic stem-cell research. After some students, parents, and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) complained, the school board reconsidered their decision. However, after an initial defeat of the motion, it passed the same night in a five to three vote.
Critics complained that the policy needs clarification, and efforts led by 17-year-old student Ben Sabourin are designed to remove the word “indirectly” from the policy. He and others complain that the policy prevents organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society, which funds embryonic stem cell research, from being beneficiaries of school fundraising efforts. Other organizations like women’s shelters that are officially pro-abortion or the United Way that disperses money to others who support abortion or contraception, are likewise disqualified.
CBC Radio’s Matt Galloway quoted OECTA representative Keith Boyd’s letter to the board, charging the trustees of being “unnecessarily divisive” and taking “a narrow view of Catholic values.”
Trustee Helena Karabela said the motion is necessary because “we are making sure the Catholic schools are walking the talk.” She emphasized that “the church teaches that abortion is the killing of an unborn human being,” and is therefore something Catholic schools must stop supporting.
After stories in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail condemning the decision appeared and a petition calling for rescinding the policy garnered 21,000 signatures, the board held another meeting on March 20 to discuss the policy. More than 200 people attended this meeting, which had to be relocated to accommodate wide public interest.
Marie-Claire Bissonnette of Campaign Life Coalition Youth told the board the policy was “brave and principled” in defense of Catholic moral teachings. “We cannot, in good conscience, support the raising of funds for social causes which, under the guise of human rights, bring harm to these innocent lives.”
Sabourin was outraged, insisting that “I will not stand here and be told by this board that I am any less of a Catholic for helping sick children and cancer patients.”
After hearing from students, parents, and pro-life groups, the board decided it will holding further consultations to receive feedback on its policy.
The Toronto Star editorialized that the board should reverse its policy that was based on “a few trustees’ strict interpretation of religious doctrine.” A previous Star story quoted a 16-year-old student, Olivia Pineau, who said, “I don’t feel like charity is something that should have any judgment involved at all.” Despite giving voice to a number of anti-motion students over several stories covering the controversy, the paper did not quote any students in support of the motion.
In the meantime, the board has a list of 30 charities that it has deemed appropriate to support. The list is not public but rather is used internally by principals and other staff to help direct charitable activities at the school level.
Lawyer Geoff Cauchi, who lives in the Halton region, told LifeSiteNews that students “need to be taught about formal cooperation with evil, material cooperation with evil, and the sin of scandalizing others. It’s obvious that they don’t understand those concepts.” He also said, the students “should also understand that the trustees owe fiduciary duties to the Catholic electors on issues of Catholicity … They don’t owe their duty to dissenting students or dissenting teachers.”
As a result of the motion, more than 70 charities that used to receive money from the Halton board no longer qualify, including the Canadian Cancer Society, Doctors Without Borders, and Plan International.