A “Catholic conduct” clause led to the closing of a Catholic secondary girls’ school in Burnaby on June 30. The Board of Directors of the Catholic Public Schools of the R.C. Archdiocese of Vancouver, chaired by Archbishop James Carney, announced the decision as final at a May 24, 1988 press conference.
In dispute was the principle that Catholic teachers must conform to Catholic standards of conduct in their own lives at all times as a condition of employment. The 17 teachers of the 23-year-old Marian Catholic Secondary School organized in a new union had refused to accept the clause in their contract talks with the board. Thereupon, the Board announced the school’s closure, leaving 372 students to look for new facilities in September.
After the announcement officials of the Catholic Secondary School Teachers Association claimed they had always been ready to negotiate the conduct clause.
Lawyer David Blair claimed that the Catholic clause was simply a smokescreen to hide a programme of “union-busting.” According to the Association’s president it was just a question of being unwilling to sign the conduct clause as a pre-condition for collective bargaining. But that was just the point. Teacher representatives did not seem to realize that the clause was not negotiable. Catholic schools throughout Canada have fought long and hard to keep the schools Catholic by insisting that teachers live up to the Church’s standards in their personal behaviour. This struggle has been upheld by the Courts throughout Canada.
In B.C., the legality of the conduct clause was confirmed in 1984 when the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the firing of Margaret Caldwell, a teacher at Vancouver’s St. Thomas Aquinas school, who had married a divorced non-Catholic.
Vancouver’s Archbishop said that “the teacher representatives repeatedly refused to accept this essential principle” which, he said, is vital to Catholic schools. (B.C. Catholic, May 30, 1988)
Western Report (June 6) noted that “parents seemed to take the bad news rather quietly” which led Vancouver Sun columnist Nicole Parton to denounce them as the kind of “compliant” Catholics willing to bow to “hard fisted autocracy.”
Thereupon, the union of the 17 teachers appealed to the B.C. Industrial Relations Council to block the closure and uphold their stand. TO their surprise the I.R.C. ruled in August that the demand that teachers agree to “exhibit at all times conduct and a way of life that are consistent with Catholic denominational standards” does not constitute an illegal demand under the B.C. Industrial Relations Act. It also stated that the closing of the school was not an illegal lockout. (Western Report, August 22, 1988)