Ontario French Catholic school board forced to compensate Raelians for religious discrimination

  • December 23, 2010
cscfnlogoOTTAWA - A French Catholic school board in Northern Ontario has been ordered to compensate three members of a controversial religious group after an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal found the board guilty of discrimination.

On Dec. 15, the tribunal ordered the Conseil Scolaire Catholique Franco-Nord to pay unspecified compensation to Daniel, Michel and Sylvie Chabot, siblings who belong to the Raelian Movement and who operate the Academy of Pleasurology and Emotional Intelligence (APEI).

In 2007, APEI had contracted with the board to conduct a series of workshops on emotional intelligence. Chabot said the school broke the contract after someone discovered on the Internet that the Chabots are Raelians.

The Raelian Movement began in France in 1973 after a French journalist claimed to have encountered extraterrestrials known as Elohim, who claimed to be highly evolved human beings who had created life on Earth. The journalist subsequently changed his name to Rael and the movement boasts about 100,000 followers in several countries. In recent years they were in the news for attempting to clone a human.

School board chairman Ronald Demers said the tribunal had “passed judgment” and he doesn’t “necessarily agree” with it, but “the decision has been handed down and we will not be appealing it.”

But experts say the ruling may violate the religious freedom of the Catholic board.

“Canada is an exercise in living together with disagreement, not forced agreement,” said constitutional expert and law professor Iain Benson. “It is not the Roman Raelian Church — yet.

“Within religious matters, religious schools are pretty much sovereign,” he said. “Once there is a basic test to ensure that there is no religious ruse going on and what is really at issue is a doctrinal difference, then the tribunals should respect that.”

Chabot said the workshops dealt strictly with emotional intelligence and never discussed Raelian faith.

He called the course a simple matter of pedagogy that had as much relationship to faith as math does.

“When they broke the contract after discovering our religion, we had a lot of good contacts with a lot of conseils in French Ontario,” Chabot said. “We had a lot of reason to think they talked with them and told them not to make business with us any more. Suddenly all the contracts we had were finished.”

When business dried up, the Chabots were forced to wind down their company, he said.

Raelians do not believe in a supernatural God to whom one prays, Chabot said. The members are pacifists who believe all the great religious leaders of the world were in touch with Elohim who inspired their teachings, but that their words were corrupted, he said.

The movement has filed dozens of complaints of religious discrimination before the Quebec human rights tribunal and most have been rejected. It took 17 years to achieve a victory before a tribunal.

Benson said even if the course avoided direct Raelian faith claims, it could still violate Catholic doctrine.

“What is emotional intelligence to one person is a moral problem to another,” Benson said. “How many people have urged others to be more emotionally mature when by that they mean ‘agree with what I am saying, not what you believe.’

“Remember that the cry of atheists for a long time has been that religion belongs to the infancy of the race,” he said. “That being the case, religions have every right to be cautious of invitations to maturity that look like anti-religious dogma.”

Catholic Civil Rights League President Phil Horgan agreed a Catholic board has broad rights to exclude parts of any course that conflict with Catholic teaching. But the judgment by tribunal member Michelle Flaherty gives no description of the discrimination involved. It says only that the parties agreed to mediation, that the board discriminated and the parties had agreed to confidential compensation, Horgan noted.

“It really drills down to what’s in the course,” Horgan said. “If a Jewish organization is supplying rental chairs for an event, you can’t terminate the rental contract because they’re Jewish.”

Demers said the people who decided to terminate the APEI contract were not ill-intentioned and “at no time would they make the decision to hurt people.”

“They must have thought they were doing the right thing,” he said. “It wasn’t malicious in any way, shape or form.” 

He did not have details on why the contract was broken.

Chabot said the board had contracted for eight workshops on emotional intelligence and cancelled half way through.

Demers called the episode a learning experience. 

“We’re learning that perhaps we should better do our homework when we venture into a project and make sure all the t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted.”

Chabot grew up in rural Leeds, Que., where not only was he baptized and confirmed Catholic, but participated in the Mass as an altar server.

The Raelians do not hold to traditional Catholic moral codes on marriage or abortion, but are committed to freedom with responsibility, Chabot said.

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