Should Ontario keep funding separate Catholic schools? No.
OttawaCitizen.com – opinion/op-ed
January 3, 2012. By Joe Killoran, The Ottawa Citizen
Ontario is in the anachronistic position of being the only province that publicly funds one type of religious school (Catholic) to the exclusion of all others. Massive, wasteful duplication and the religious segregation of students are some of the results of this system. Recent events have also shown Catholic doctrine is incompatible with the equality rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms while other religious groups, now seeking access to public schools and public funding, have pointed out the blatant hypocrisy of Ontario’s education policy.
Thus Ontarians face a choice:
1) Continue to fund two school systems and be subject to convincing accusations of religious bigotry from credible sources such as the UN;
2) Segregate all public schoolchildren according to religious denomination and fund every religion — a choice overwhelmingly rejected by Ontario voters in 2007; or
3) Eliminate Catholic school funding and introduce one secular school system for all Ontarians regardless of faith.
Many Ontarians are under the mistaken impression that Catholic schools cannot be defunded because of the Constitution. In reality, all that is required is an act of the Ontario provincial legislature and the consent of the federal government — consent they would almost surely grant following a vote among MPPs. Quebec and Newfoundland have both taken this step in recent years with no recorded negative effects. Therefore, as the constitutional argument made by many Catholic school supporters is a hollow one, Ontarians can debate the subject on its merits.
It’s not uncommon in Ontario to see two half-empty schools (one Catholic, one secular) around the corner from one another or children being bused past a Catholic school to a public school miles away (and vice versa). While there is no firm figure on how much money is wasted, segregating children or maintaining half-empty buildings, estimates run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Ontario government implicitly admitted duplicating school boards was wasteful when, in the case of Waldman v. Canada brought to the UN Human Rights Committee in 1999 by a Jewish parent alleging religious discrimination, the government argued against creating other religious school boards on the grounds that the cost would be prohibitive. Ontario lost the case and as a result of its policy of religious favouritism in education, Canada was found to be in breach of its treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and therefore, in violation of international law.
As the recent controversy over gay-straight alliances has shown, Catholic doctrine cannot be reconciled with the promotion of gay rights. It is impossible to honour gays and lesbians while simultaneously teaching a faith that believes any sexual or romantic expression of their love is sinful. Gay and lesbian Catholic students are taught they have a choice: repress or deny a fundamental part of their identity or go to hell. While some Catholic bureaucrats have argued they can prevent bullying and isolation of gay students while prohibiting rainbows or use of the word “gay” in student groups, their arguments are unconvincing. Imagine if Jewish student groups were prohibited from displaying the Star of David, or black students were told they were loved, as long as they didn’t encourage “blackness.” As a rash of suicides of bullied, gay children across North America has shown, these students’ lives are in danger. For a publicly funded school board to offer them anything less than the same vigorous, full-throated support it offers other students is a contemptible betrayal of some of our most vulnerable children and the values we hold dear as Canadians.
It is also worth mentioning that according to Catholic teaching and the current Pope, gays and lesbians will not be alone in hell; the same fate awaits all divorced or lapsed Catholics as well as every non-Catholic on Earth. This is not to single out Catholics; most religions believe they alone have the key to salvation. The question is whether these exclusionary articles of faith should be taught in public schools.
A further problem arises when other religions begin to demand religious accommodation in public schools (as with Muslims at Toronto’s Valley Park Middle School). While many Ontarians may oppose this, it’s hypocritical to do so unless one supports defunding Catholic schools.
The choice is between an unfair, internationally illegal, discriminatory status quo; a system with dozens of separate religious boards and schools; and one secular school system which respects all faiths, while favouring none.
Joe Killoran is a law and politics teacher at Malvern Collegiate Institute in the Toronto District School Board. He formerly taught religion, law, English and history at Neil McNeil Catholic School in the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He is vice-president of the Ontario Pro-Con Debating Forum.
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