It’s time to abolish the Catholic school system in Ontario

Posted on June 1, 2023 in Education Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Diversity
May 31, 2023.   By David Moscrop

OPINION: If Catholic schools can’t support safety and inclusion, they shouldn’t be publicly funded

The York Catholic District School Board’s refusal to fly the Pride flag at the district’s central office is a reminder of why we ought to defund the separate school board in Ontario. On Monday night, trustees voted 6-4 against raising the flag in June — a disappointing end to an acrimonious battle that has continued for months in York and for much longer across the province. It is a notable loss for proponents of safe, inclusive, anti-bigoted schools and school boards. And it’s a warning of worse to come.

The Catholic education system in Ontario is publicly funded. Yet it’s part of a “separate” school system. Canada’s constitution guarantees the right of Catholic education in a handful of provinces across the country. The system is a constitutional artifact, born from a very different time and a very different country. Section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, protects separate school systems. As the Department of Justice puts it, they’re “the product of an historical compromise crucial to Confederation.”

But we are well past 1867, although it may not always seem so. As Michael Coren pointed out in The Walrus last year in his case against funding the separate system, “The origins of the funding system were largely noble. There were historical divisions between Catholics and Protestants, with people from both faiths raised in largely denominational communities … because Protestants were the majority in Canada from Confederation until the 1950s, protection of Catholic rights was vital.”

That was then, he notes. The demographic and political imperatives that required a separate system no longer exist. The system continues to exist because of a powerful lobby, entrenched interests, and inertia. Politicians are loath to risk the ire of the powerful and vocal minority whom the separate system serves, but when the safety and well-being of students are at stake, leaders ought to step up. This is no time for cowardice. Yet the other day, Premier Doug Ford said of the York decision, “I have no comment on that.” Later, he paid lip-service to student safety, but he seems unwilling to do anything to actually guarantee it. Funny, given that he often loves to govern every last inch of localities in Ontario from Queen’s Park.

Under the Constitution, separate boards are granted powers to set their own rules. Catholic schools and boards have, though do not necessarily assert, the right to discriminate in hiring and student admission. Until recently, they could mandate sectarian religious education. They can still adopt discriminatory policies and decisions — such as refusing to fly the Pride flag — in regard to sexual orientation. Recently, a surge of anti-trans school-board candidates across the province has threatened to undo the protections that exist for LGBTQ2S+ students. As we saw with the York debate, militant, anti-gay parents are now feeling empowered and making themselves heard.

Publicly funded education is by definition a public thing, and it ought to be maximally inclusive. Indeed, education is the ultimate public thing insofar as it is something we do collectively that shapes the foundation of social, political, and economic life across the province. At a basic level, each student in the education system has a right to be who they are — and teachers, education workers, school officials, and the province have a duty to protect them. As Education Minister Stephen Lecce himself said, “Every child in a publicly funded school should be supported, should feel affirmed, and should feel safe.”

Cynical Ontario politicians should scoop their guts up off the floor and back up their rhetoric with action. Lives depend upon it. If Catholic schools cannot meet the imperatives of safety and inclusion, they ought not to be publicly funded. They ought to be amalgamated into the public system.

It can be done. Both Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador ditched their separate systems in the 1990s. As much as opponents to ending the separate system may try to scare you off the idea with warnings about “the Constitution,” the fact is that, with a little political will, ending separate-school funding and amalgamating systems wouldn’t be made impossible or implausible by the Constitution. In fact, it would take only Ontario and the federal government to do so. The legal path to ending public denominational funding is much easier than you think. There would be court challenges and protests, but the separate-system backers would lose.

Ontario is at critical juncture: the province can choose to protect its students and include them in the education system — a system into which they are forced — or it can choose to abandon them to atavistic activists, educators, and officials whose perspectives, preferences, and policies are better suited to 1867 than to 2023. It shouldn’t be a difficult choice.

David Moscrop is a political theorist, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post, and the author of “Too Dumb for Democracy? Why We Make Bad Political Decisions and How We Can Make Better Ones.”

Tags: , , , ,

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 1st, 2023 at 10:00 am and is filed under Education Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply