It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

January 29, 2012

A New Ways Ministry friend from Ontario wrote  to say that our post yesterday about what to name GSAs in Canada’s Catholic state-funded schools may have left the impression that the controversy was over.

It’s not.

While the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association’s (OCSTA) debate about what to name the groups has ended, their decision still has to be reviewed by the Ontario’s Education Minister, Laurel Broten.   Broten’s initial response to OCSTA’s announcement was printed in an article on Xtra.ca:

“”We have set our expectations out clearly in the Accepting Schools Act. We have said that if requested by a student, every school and school board must support the establishment of a single-issue club to support students with a range of issues, including groups like a gay-straight alliance. This bill is still before the House and I hope that every member of the legislature will support the work we’re doing to make Ontario’s schools safe for every student.

“I understand the Catholic trustees have released a paper. And I’ll take a look at that paper. We are creating a law – an accepting school law – that will lay out expectations for every school in Ontario and their obligations around supporting all students.

“My expectation is that every board in this province will abide by our policies – policies that very clearly state that schools need to support student-led initiatives such a gay straight alliance.

“Boards may choose different approaches to meet that expectation, but all must work to the same goal: ensuring every student feels welcome, safe and supported in an environment free from discrimination and harassment.

“If requested by a student, the board must find a way to support the student. For example, the Ottawa Carleton DSB has a Rainbow coalition. This is not about the name but about what support is provided to students.”

So before the naming decision is finalized, it still has to be reviewed, a legislative battle looms, and, most likely court challenges will follow.

Meanwhile, the naming controversy has raised the issue of whether Catholic schools should be receiving government funding. Grant LaFleche in St. Catherines’ Standard opined:

“If anything, this entire ordeal shows that maybe it’s finally time to revisit the complicated political question of public funding for Catholic schools. The provincial government has guaranteed gay students in taxpayer funded schools they can have peer support groups (although they are allowing schools the right to name those groups). The association is trying to marry incompatible ideas — the rights of those students and the church’s view on homosexuality. Were these schools privately funded, it would not be an issue. But they are publicly funded. Which means tax dollars are going to be a measure of discrimination, even if that discrimination isn’t obvious at first glance.”

Chris Selley, in Canada’s National Post was a bit stronger.

“I didn’t think Queen’s Park [site of Ontario's government buildings] had the stomach for a fight with the Church on this matter, or most any other matter, beforehand. . . . I’ll leave it to gay students in the Catholic system to decide if clubs conducted under the OCSTA’s new policy would constitute an improvement. But politically, this smells to me like yet another attempt to be seen addressing a problem without angering a powerful stakeholder. And it illustrates yet again that when push comes to shove, publicly funded Catholic education, in Ontario, in 2012, makes very little sense at all.

Stay tuned.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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