Catholic board’s denominational rights will trump province’s equity strategy

  • December 8, 2010
TORONTO - Ontario’s Catholic schools won’t be forced to hire non-Catholic or gay teachers as part of the government’s new equity strategy, said an education ministry spokesperson.

Next year is the final phase of government’s equity strategy which asks boards to update or establish equitable hiring and promotion practices. Gary Wheeler told The Register that the government’s strategy “is to be implemented within the context of denominational rights.”

Currently, Catholic boards give preference to Catholic teachers based upon Catholic schools’ denominational rights, a right dating back to the mid-1980s when full funding was extended to the province’s Catholic schools.

But when it comes to asking questions on sensitive information like sexual orientation, school board’s hands are tied by the Ontario Human Rights Code, which prohibits employers from inquiring about this type of information.

That means Catholic boards “don’t have the ability to discriminate based on (sexual) orientation,” said James Ryan, head of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

Don Drone, chair of the English Council of Catholic Directors of Education, said Catholic school boards must follow the Ontario Human Rights Code.

At the Wellington Catholic District School Board, where he is director of education, Drone said it’s likely there will be “status quo” in the board’s hiring and benefits policies with the government’s new strategy since employers are legally not allowed to ask discriminatory questions like race or same-sex status when hiring candidates.

The government’s employment equity strategy could mean extending benefits to teachers’ same-sex partners. The Wellington board’s benefits policy does not discriminate based on gender, religion and same-sex status, said Drone.

This is also the same policy at Toronto Catholic District School Board. Its harassment and discrimination policy defines discrimination as “unfair treatment” under categories of race, sex, ethnic origin, sexual orientation and “same-sex partner status.”

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