How do you spell "Constitutional Challenge"? TCDSB [Toronto District Catholic School Board] trustees are set to debate a ban of GSA [Gay Straight Alliances] at the school board's 80 Sheppard St. East office this Thursday May 23rd at 7:00 pm. Whichever way the vote goes on the Tanuan motion, it seems inevitable that the GSA's will become the flash point for a court challenge pitting denominational against civil rights.
Here is the 2012 report co-written by the Ontario Catholic Bishops + the Ontario Catholic SchoolsTrustee Association on Respecting Differences. It is their preferred alternative anti bullying club model to replace GSA's in the provinces catholic schools @ Respecting Differences
Both the arguments for and against the GSA clubs are irreconcilable. They are both steeped in deep legal issues and moral concerns. From a legal point of view, "GSA clubs" in specific have been mandated by the government for all of Ontario's publicly funded schools, the Catholic schools notwithstanding. When students request the establishment of a GSA club, a GSA club with a leader, not necessarily a student themselves, must be supported by the school board at their school. The provincially amended and mandated Bill 13, the "Accepting Schools Act" states:
Furthermore, in the defence of the GSA clubs, the advocates can argue that the ban would violate the Canadian Charter of Rights + Freedoms, which prohibits sex discrimination. The Charter states:
From the GSA opponents perspective the clubs are considered a violation of the schools boards denominational rights which are protected vis a vis the Canadian Constitution, in particular s.93 of the BNA [British North America] Act, which founded Canada as a dominion in 1867. The GSA's are considered a direct violation of the Catholic Church's scriptural teachings. Firstly is the belief that the GSA's would undermine chastity + promote homosexuality + other sexual relationships in the schools. From a biblical perspective, marriage is only for a man and a woman, the often referenced Adam and Eve not Adam + Steve argument. As Genesis states:
Opponents could argue that the GSA's are then sinful in promoting homosexual acts, lifestyle and same sex marriage. Further proof could also be quoted from the scripture of Leviticus which reads:
Pope Francis has recently reiterated the traditional Catholic perspective on the issue of gay relationships in the modern context. He said:
Problems, problems + even more problems! What is OECTA's position on the GSA's? On May 17th OECTA Provincial reaffirmed the teacher unions support for marginalized and LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans + Queer] students. Not all Catholic teachers are on side. Indeed the Ontario Catholic community is deeply divided on the issue of LGBTQ rights in our schools. However OECTA has strongly reiterated the Catholic teacher unions official position ahead of Thursdays TCDSB trustee meeting. Member delegates from the local units across the province voted by a large majority to approve the OECTA position at the 2012 Annual General Meeting. President Kevin O'Dwyer explains @ OECTA's Position
At the time, I reported on the OECTA AGM motion and vote here on my blogsite. For more insight on the arguments that were presented, please see @ AGM: Rights + Sexual Identity
Catholic Lifesite News supports the GSA ban. The issue of homosexuality + also public funding of the Catholic schools is debated at length @ Catholic values?
Parents As First Educators supports the ban. GSA's as an issue of concern for Catholic parents are followed closely and reported to the community @ PAFE
Commentary: If the GSA clubs are banned at the TCDSB, GSA advocates could file a human rights complaint under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would suspect the MOE would be faced with the prospect of a takeover of the board if Bill 13 is not being followed too. In either case the opponents of the GSA's could claim that violates their denominational right to a publicly funded Catholic School system under the Canadian Constitution.
Considering the negative attention the Catholic schools have been facing with educational budget cuts and the OECTA MOU, it would seem to be quite inopportune to risk further public support, or for that matter a constitutional challenge at this point in time. Be that as it may, when exactly is it a good time to risk either? Clearly the problem has been on the back burner of the seemingly irreconcilable Canadian Constitutional and Catholic denomination rights issue for quite some time now.
It will take a miracle to resolve the crisis not unlike turning water into wine
Unless a reasonable solution can be found soon, hopefully at the TCDSB trustees meeting this Wednesday, the dice have been thrown with the Tanuan motion. It will ultimately be up to the Supreme courts or perhaps Queens Park to solve the problem one way or the other.
Don't forget, the government controls the purse strings and in Ontario as in Canada it is not above or below the law once a judicial decision has been made. One rues the civil upset that will create, but it would seem to me that it is inevitable.
In short, the TCDSB GSA ban is poised to become the battleground upon which the future of the publicly funded Ontario Catholic School system will be decided, be it by St. Peters rock or Caesars coin.
IN THE NEWS
I will continue to post news links + more information on the Thursday trustees meeting and vote as the week progresses:
The Toronto Star reports on the upcoming vote @ Catholic GSA's?
XTRA magazine quotes MOE Sandals and TCDSB trustee Anderchuk who point out the ban would contravene the Education Act + urge the board to reconsider @ Headed 4 a showdown?
PAFE Catholic Parent group issues a press release on their concerns about GSA's in their children's schools @ PAFE
XTRA provides an archive overview of a similar GSA ban by the Halton Catholic board @ Halton Catholic
A gay Halton Catholic School board trustee spoke out against the ban @ Paul Marai
A Facebook page was created against the ban @ Facebook
The Halton Catholic ban was overturned but the issues remained @ Overturned
A January 17 2012 Hamilton Spectator article reports on a crisis over the name of the clubs at the Catholic Board @ GSAs?
Catholic Lifesite News reports the TCDSB trustee chair + school board Director tried to pre-emptively block the vote. A video of the April trustees meeting is included @ block
Campaign Life archive article explains their concern with the OLP's Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy dating back to when McGuinty was Premier and Wynne the Education Minister @ OLP
The buck stops here? Jewish school doesn't have GSAs either, but doesn't receive public funding. The situation seems to be different for private schools. See @ Jewish GSAs?
Toronto Sun columnist criticises ETFO President Sam Hammond for speaking out against the Catholic GSA ban, like OECTA has @ Unions butt out?
Sam Hammond wonders why teacher unions shouldn't have a say like everybody else in his letter to the editor of the Toronto Sun @ Who can speak? Who can't?
Premier Wynne expresses hope TCDSB trustees will not ban GSA's. She will deal with that if and when it happens @ Premier Wynne
Everybody can expect a lot of problems to follow whatever the trustees decision!
OTHER POINTS TO CONSIDER
What are the different TCDSB trustees position on the Tanuan motion?
What specific denominational rights are the Catholic schools guaranteed in constitutional law?
How many TCDSB Catholic schools currently have an active student GSA program in place?
How many Respecting Difference clubs are actively in place? Do they meet the criteria for a GSA as set out in Bill 13?
At the school board level: What direct instruction + training is available for a TCDSB GSA or Respecting Differences teacher group leader? Who provides the program? What risks + liabilities could the teacher face in leading the group? What happens if the teacher is outed or makes it known that they are gay in the course of leading the group?
What protection + supports does OECTA Provincial actively have in place for a GSA or Respecting Differences teacher group leader, be they either gay or straight?