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Challenging publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario

Challenging publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario

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Lawyer files new case arguing current structure is discriminatory
Ontario Catholic students fighting for equality in schools are closely watching a constitutional challenge against the publicly funded Catholic education system that was recently launched by a Toronto woman.

Reva Landau, a non-practising lawyer, filed the case with the attorney general in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice in December. She says the Supreme Court should take another look at its previous decisions.

Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic school system is the relic of a deal that was struck with Quebec at confederation. Quebec no longer funds religious schools.

“So the other party [Quebec] has withdrawn from the great historic compromise,” says Landau. “The argument to continue funding the separate school board is gone. I think this should be reconsidered because it is so out of tune with the way things are today. The Charter of Rights says there should be no discrimination.”

Landau says giving aid to one religious institution that is not equally available to others violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

She says there is also “appalling” inequity and “blatant discrimination” in the Catholic board’s hiring practices for teachers.

“Catholic teachers in Ontario can get a job in both school systems, Catholic and secular. Non-Catholic teachers can only apply for jobs in the secular school system,” she says. “A non-Catholic teacher can apply for a job in the Catholic system, but they have a legal right to discriminate. About 30 percent of the teaching jobs in Ontario are in the Catholic separate system; that's a huge burden for teachers to bear."

Schools are forcing a religion onto teachers, she says, or forcing teachers to lie.

Furthermore, Landau adds that gay-straight alliances (GSAs), or any student group that supports queer youth, are banned in Ontario Catholic schools.

“The Catholic school boards' opposition to gay-straight alliances is being upheld with public money," she says. "Now they can have a group, but not call it a gay-straight alliance. It’s like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."

Leanne Iskander, who founded Catholic Students for GSAs (CS4GSA), continues to look at legal options of her own.


Groups like CS4GSA, Queer Ontario and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) may decide to file a legal brief in support as a “friend of the court,” Landau suggests. They would not carry the case, but would provide valuable information.

Equality program director Noa Mendelsohn Aviv says the CCLA is taking a close look at the case and may decide to get involved.

Landau says she’s been investigating the possibility of a challenge since former PC leader John Tory raised the issue of faith-based school funding in 2007. “[Tory] said if Catholics get it, everyone should get it.”

Education Minister Laurel Broten did not respond to Xtra's requests for comment.

“The more I investigated this issue, the more it seemed outrageous to me,” Landau says. She came to the conclusion that the government should create and fund only one secular school board that welcomes everyone.

The last similar challenge was Adler v Ontario in 1996, which sought equivalent funding for all faiths. The lawyer argued that it is unconstitutional to fund one religious school system to the exclusion of all other religions.

“There is no reason why this can’t be done,” Landau says. “The government could do it if they wanted to, but they obviously don’t want to. They are afraid they’ll get thrown out of office, I assume.”

Legal experts agree that Catholic school boards' denominational rights, which are guaranteed by Section 93 of the Constitutional Act, do not justify discrimination and can most definitely be challenged.

Landau says she is taking a new legal approach in arguing that the Charter of Rights applies to everything beyond 1867, “so the government has no right to give Catholic schools any money beyond what they were entitled to in 1867, unless they want to start funding all religious schools, and I certainly don’t want that.”

Funding was extended to Catholic schools by former premier Bill Davis in 1985. It’s unlikely the Catholic school system could continue to operate on 1867 funding levels.

“Whether they could or couldn’t operate at that level [of public funding] is up to them," says Landau. "All other religious schools in Ontario operate with no funding.”
  Charter Challenge_ Reva Landau
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Comments

I don't believe in clubs
Hello, Marie-Louise,

Honestly, I don't approve of any mandated clubs for folks who share common traits, whether it be people who were born gay, or people who like to engage in sports.

When I was younger I relied on my own club. I called them, "my friends" and it worked out pretty well. I think that mandating a GSA club, or other such organization would simply emphasize "the difference."

I'd much prefer a group of people who hung around each other because they enjoyed their company. After all....there are a TON of straight folks who can't stand each other, and I'm sure it's the same for homosexuals. Just because you have SOMETHING in common...doesn't mean you will get along.

I think that kids today don't make as big a deal out of who someone is likely to be attracted to, or fall in love with. What would make it a big deal is if the adults in charge of their upbringing decided to make political hay over it. It's a bad idea all around, though I do understand why some people have a different view.
Wishes come true for those who work it
James,

As a practicing queer Catholic, I immediately became involved because I see what you see.

There are many youth who are isolated in this conflict who have internalized homophobia to the degree that they are firmly in the 'pro-family' camp. They will not set foot in a GSA, and certainly not be well served by respecting difference clubs/Courage ministry because they can not openly identify. This does not mean that the fight for GSAs, the name of choice or it's systemic constitution (bishops/oss/etc.) is irrelevant.

In any case, I would like you to know that a group of concerned Catholics is growing and will take care of this problem of emotionally, physically and spiritually abandoned queer Catholic youth. Too many of us are outraged at this point.
Careful what you wish for
If the result of this lawsuit is the withdrawl of public funding from Catholic Schools, what will it accomplish?

If the Catholic School Board decides to go it alone, does that mean the LGBT community will stop worrying about the students who attend? It would seem you will lose the sounding board if Catholic SChools pay their own way. If that is the case, then what right would you have to complain?

I don't think the "public funding" argument is the real reason for the lawsuit, as much as I think the issue is with the Catholic Faith. And I think that Catholics know it.

The Catholic School Board knows that the hostility towards their teachings won't stop simply because they lose funding.

I think devout Catholics believe that the real goal of the LGBT community is NOT to help gay Catholic students, so much as it is to destroy the Catholic Faith.

I will only be impressed if this lawsuit is extending to include those who follow the Islamic faith, which as you know, is far more threatening to gay individuals than are Catholic SChool Boards.

For the record, I am not Catholic, nor do I have any intention of becoming one.
Hey Ryan,
you make excellent points. You also point out very clearly why Landau has intentionally been given up to slaughter as opposed to any of those numerous others who claim to represent lgbt in legal advocacy. She is outgunned! She is perfect bait and switch deflection! The status-quo benefits the seemingly corrupt lgbt legal institutions, legal "advocacy" organizations and policy bodies. That's why or so it appears they are not in the forefront. These lgbt "advocacy" parasites apparently will not allow their social status to suffer for the stupid and ridiculous lgbt unwashed masses. Landau's new legal "approach" is already doomed to failure. The enemy I'm afraid to say is within.
The Great Undoing of Catholic Funding
Personally, I've believed for a long time (many years) that Catholic school funding would not withstand the law suit of a gay student/gay students who claim they're being treated unfairly in that system.
What are her legal credentials?
What are the credentials of Reva Landau? According to the Law Society of Upper Canada website, she is a non-practising lawyer (i.e., she doesn't practise law). Has she ever worked as a litigator in a law firm (or as a crown attorney) and taken a constitutional case to a court hearing? In order to protect the millions of dollars it receives each year in public funding, the Catholic Church will likely intervene in the case and a hire a high-priced, high-powered law firm. The Attorney General of Ontario will likely be represented by lawyers in his department who are experts in constitutional law (the government lawyers may also retain a high-powered constitutional expert from a Bay Street law firm to assist them). If Landau is out gunned and loses the case, those opposed to public funding of Catholic schools will be prevented from raising the same constitutional arguments in court again.
What took so long?
It is about time to use the courts to stop publicly funded religious bigotry.
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