The Halton Catholic District School Board is maintaining its policy of prohibiting charitable organizations that “directly or indirectly” support abortion, contraception, euthanasia, sterilization, or embryonic stem cell research from receiving funds raised in its schools, despite political and parental opposition to the decision.
In January, the HCDSB voted to ban any group whose activities directly or indirectly conflict with Catholic moral teaching from receiving funds raised by students at school activities. After criticism, the board has twice reconsidered and reaffirmed the “Sanctity of Life” policy, the latest on April 16. Every vote has been decided by a 5-4 vote. The five trustees supporting the Sanctity of Life policy are Anthony Danko, Anthony Quinn, Paul Marai, Helena Karabela, and Susan Trites.
In March, the board voted to refer the matter to a future meeting as it continues to consult with parents, students, and community groups. Comments on the policy can be submitted through the HCDSB website until June 1.
Students have complained that the Sanctity of Life policy causes confusion because they are unsure what “indirect” support of abortion or embryonic stem cell research includes.
Board chair Diane Rabenda said she disagreed with her colleagues in supporting the Sanctity of Life policy but will defend it: “I found that very disappointing, personally, but I do represent the board and I have to abide, like all trustees do, with the will of the board.”
Liberal Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris said she is monitoring the board after it rejected her request to suspend the policy. Naidoo-Harris said, “Boards are there to be the eyes and ears on the ground and reflect the needs of communities.” She questioned whether the Halton board was listening to parents, teachers, and students. Premier Kathleen Wynne chimed in, too, saying she was “concerned” about the board’s policy, without elaborating with what she had concerns. Rabenda said she looks forward to meeting with Naidoo-Harris, as well as parents and students opposed to the policy.
Meanwhile, retired Burlington lawyer David Harvey filed an application April 16 with the Ontario Superior Court against the HCDSB to either revoke the Sanctity of Life policy or suspend it until the board completes “a meaningful process of community consultation” and adopts “a revised Fundraising Policy.” Harvey, the father of three children, one of whom is enrolled in one of Halton board’s 53 schools, argues the trustees violated Regulation 612/18 of the Education Act by not consulting school councils before passing the motion in February. The Superior Court is expected to hear the case May 1 in Milton. Harvey also asked that the hearing be heard at that level, claiming waiting for a hearing in the Divisional Court “would likely involve a failure of justice.”
The Toronto Starreports that the “showdown … has further ignited the debate about mixing public dollars with religious beliefs” as it highlighted opposition to Ontario’s separate (Catholic) school system. It reported on the efforts of One Public Education Now (OPEN) as well as the one-system advocacy of teachers’ unions like the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation. Naidoo-Harris denies the Liberals are looking at merging the public and separate school systems.
Harvey, who also addressed the April 16 board meeting, said that if the board did not revise its policy, the Education Minister could take over direct control of the Halton Catholic District School Board.