Albertos Polizogopoulos, a litigation lawyer specializing in constitutional matters, represents The Coalition for Parental Rights in Education. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Areas of Bill-13 could invite a court challenge against GSAs on Constitutional grounds

  • May 30, 2012

OTTAWA - The Ontario government’s controversial Bill-13 could face a court challenge on six different points, a constitutional lawyer told an Ontario government social policy committee hearing. During a May 22 submission, Albertos Polizogopoulos, an Ottawa lawyer who practices primarily in the areas of constitutional and civil litigation, gave the committee an inch-thick document that highlighted previous Supreme Court decisions related to religious freedom.

“Nobody has a right to insist Catholic schools become non-religious or non-Catholic,” he said.

Polizogopoulos outlined the following problematic areas of Bill-13 that, in his opinion, could invite a court challenge on Constitutional grounds.

• The Bill violates Section 15 of the Charter (and potentially sections 2a and 2b) by giving preferential treatment to gay and lesbian students.

• By using the term “homophobia” the Bill introduces a subjective term that has yet to be recognized by the courts or legislature. The term, he said, can have different meanings for different people in different contexts.

• The Bill relies on a subjective interpretation of the meaning of bullying by using the wording “would be likely to cause,” which removes intent as a requisite for an act to be considered bullying.

• The Bill removes democratic power from the hands of local school boards in favour of the government. This is particularly problematic for Catholic school boards because “nobody has the right to insist that Catholic schools and Catholic policies become either non-religious or non-Catholic.”

• The Bill forces school boards that rent out space at their schools to require the renting party to agree to adhere to the province’s code of conduct. This clause could potentially violate Section 15 of the Charter that guarantees religious freedom and religious assembly.

• The  Bill identifies four types of anti-bullying clubs to receive special status while failing to consider other, more-common types of bullying. Mandating GSAs potentially violates freedom of religion and conscience, and violates the denominational rights of Catholics guaranteed in the Constitution, the Education Act and possibly the Charter.

In other submissions to the committee, the Ontario Provincial Council of the Catholic Women’s League (CWL) supported the Ontario Catholic School Trustee’s Association’s (OCTSA) “Respecting Differences” policy and endorsed Bill 14.

The CWL also raised concern over the emphasis on bullying against one specific group and the unclear definition of homophobia.  

“As Catholic women, we, of course, are opposed to bullying of any kind in the area of same-sex orientation in our schools,” said Colleen Randall, adding “...this area is quite sensitive and should be handled with compassion and care in the most confidential way by qualified adults and counselors.”

But Ottawa unit president of the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association (OECTA) Elaine McMahon supported Bill 13, and said she was “astounded” that “homophobia exists and is supported.”

Psychiatrist Tim Lau told the committee statistics show “bullying is twice as likely to occur for religious reasons than reasons related to sexuality.” Lau warned Bill 13, if implemented without changes, could be used to attack people of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths.

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