Guest post by Renton Patterson
I have often wondered what goes on in an orientation session for newly-elected Ontario MPPs. I’m sure it would be an enlightening experience to be in on such a session. But for sure, new MPPs would be thoroughly indoctrinated in the policy of division when it comes to the public funding of the Roman Catholic separate school system. They would be instructed to be careful when answering oral or written questions. I’m sure that replies from MPPs to school funding questions would have to be authorized, prepared statements by the Ministry of Education, so they don’t give any hint of disagreeing with party policy.
Answers by email from the Ministry itself seem to be more detailed, but with prepared paragraphs chosen, sometimes, to provide a more direct answer to the question. The text of some of these form-letter replies can be ludicrous. The samples below are based on replies to email messages Veronica Abbass sent to MPP Glen Murray, drawing his attention to a Canadian Atheist post and asking Murray to
encourage Premier Wynne to close down these homophobic [Catholic] schools.
For instance, the response to Abbass by Murray, through Nahid Keshavjee, Constituency Assistant, tells Abbass that, for the Ministry of Education,
Equity is identified as one of the four goals in Achieving Excellence: A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario released in 2014.
Equity? The use of the word equity is in blatant disregard for the meaning of the term. There is no “equity” in the provision of public funds to schools in Ontario, nor in student admission to separate elementary schools. Also, prospective teachers of the “wrong” religious beliefs do not find equity in the hiring process; religious discrimination is the norm when it comes to the hiring policies of separate schools.
Another statement on discrimination reads
We have been clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, race, age, disability or any other factor is unacceptable in our schools.
It is implicit in this statement that the Ministry of Education’s discrimination on the basis of religion is portrayed as right and good. In a bold, shameless manner, the writer blatantly ignores the religious discrimination in the public funding of the Roman Catholic separate school system and the attendant United Nations Human Rights Committee’s rebuke against Canada/Ontario for that discrimination.
In addition, the email message goes on to say,
We [the Ministry] expect all school boards comply with the Education Act. . . .
The Ministry of Education’s expectation of compliance is moot, considering that Roman Catholic separate high schools have been disobeying the law, as written in the Education Act, for years, and continue to do so without a peep from the Ministry of Education. The law routinely broken is that which requires a separate high school to grant exemptions from religious courses and programs on the presentation of a letter from the parent/student to that effect. In contrast, Roman Catholic high schools, in defiance of the law, continuously erect roadblocks to the achievement of the required exemption.
Finally, a reply to Abbass’s follow-up email contains a statement from Minister of Education Liz Sandals:
“Our Government remains committed to working with all of our publicly funded schools to build an excellent education system. Working with our Catholic, Public, English and French partners we have built an education system that is among the best in the world. We will continue to respect our constitutional obligations with respect to Catholic schools and look forward to working with our Catholic school partners to further improve student achievement.” (Emphasis added)
To try to justify religious discrimination through a protection (not a guarantee) for Roman Catholic schools in the constitution is disingenuous. To discriminate on the basis of religion is a choice made by the Ontario government. Three other provinces have easily rid themselves of their school-based religious discrimination. The truth is that the Roman Catholic hierarchy lobbies the MPPs so intensely that they are suckered into giving the Roman Catholic separate schools over a billion dollars each and every year to, it appears, ensure its continued existence. The natural question to ask is: “Does the Roman Catholic hierarchy believe that the Roman Catholic churches and adherents would disappear without government support?” If so, that’s quite the admission. But are the Roman Catholics who support the public funding of their schools have any proof that government funding will save their church from decline? Not in the opinion of a Roman Catholic priest from Quebec:
Fr. Real; Ouellette who serves the Quebec parishes of Fort Coulonge, Otter Lake, Walthan and Vinton is not mourning the loss of funding for Catholic education in that province. Since the church assumed responsibility for catechesis training five years ago, he has witnessed a stronger bond between church and family. “I think it was one of the most positive things that’s been done,” he says.
Whether the aim is to prevent a church organization from failing – or to cause a church to fail – is no business of government. Religion and politics do not mix – and never will.
Also, what is seldom, if ever, mentioned is the fact that the only reason the Supreme Court allowed the full funding of the Roman Catholic separate school system in the first place, was because of the bargain made between Ontario and Quebec at Confederation in 1867. This bargain is mentioned in section 93(2) of the Constitution and, in effect, means that Ontario will have a separate school system for Roman Catholics as long as there is a similar school system for Protestants in Quebec. This was an admitted historical compromise, but in 1997 Quebec eliminated all religious instruction in its schools through a simple change to the Constitution, thus breaking the bargain. Ever since, Ontario no longer has any constitutional obligation to publicly fund a Roman Catholic separate school system.
The only reason the public funding of the separate system remains is because successive Ontario governments have all decided to continue spending over a billion dollars every year to support the separate system. This conscious decision made by party leaders (or the back room persons), is solely because, in my opinion, the party leaders (and also the followers) have been suckered into believing that a – phantom – Roman Catholic vote would remove that party’s chances for electing its normal share of MPPs. Democracy is therefore forfeited for a perceived personal gain, paid for, through the billion-dollar-cost, by all citizens of Ontario. How does one describe the nature of such persons? Well, the dictionary meaning for “the act of giving up oneself or one’s talents to an unworthy cause” is “prostitution”. And how does one describe the “unjust use of power” which is responsible for a policy of religious discrimination which results in a two-tier citizenship? Again, the word to describe this “unjust use of power” is “tyranny”.
Unfortunately, no citizen with a social conscience, and enough money, has come forward to bring this issue up before the courts since then. But there doesn’t have to be any court decision, just common sense, integrity, fairness, and fiscal responsibility on the part of Ontario MPPs.