President of Parents as First Educators Teresa Peirre calls upon Ontario's Catholic school trustees to reject the implementation of Gay-Straight Alliances during a press conference on July 5. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Parent group wants trustees to fight Bill-13

  • July 9, 2012

TORONTO - Parents as First Educators’ (PAFE) president Teresa Pierre is urging Ontario’s Catholic school trustees to pressure their boards into refusing to implement Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) in Catholic schools.

“A legal opinion (from lawyer Geoff Cauchi) obtained by PAFE argues Catholic trustees are obliged to refuse to implement GSAs in Catholic schools,” said Pierre at a news conference held in the shadow of St. Michael’s Cathedral in downtown Toronto July 5. “Mr. Cauchi says a reasonable court should find that ‘it would be absurd to expect a Catholic board to tolerate the presence in its schools of student groups that present an anti-Catholic counter witness.’ ”

The 75-page document from RZCD Law Firm says that that Bill-13, the province’s new anti-bullying legislation, is a violation of the Catholic taxpayers’ constitutional rights. Further, the document stated that those who challenge this law through civil disobedience would be protected.

Created in 2011, PAFE’s original mission was to seek amendments to the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s equity policy by encouraging grassroots activism from trustees. As Bill-13 developed, PAFE expanded its scope to all Ontario Catholic boards. To date PAFE has a mailing list of 15,000 supporters who agree with Pierre that Respecting Difference groups provide a better solution to schoolyard bullying. 

“The government is really favouring establishing clubs for one segment of the student population. Respecting Difference clubs can be adapted for any group that forms,” said Pierre. “The key difference between the clubs is that there is an adult moderator present and the expectation is set up that there will be a respectful dialogue between students and that moderator.”

While she did acknowledge the importance of adolescents having the opportunity to freely discuss topics of gender relations and sexual orientation, an adult presence would ensure conversations remain consistent with Catholic teachings. 

“The Church teaches that people cannot do certain things,. That doesn’t mean that we are against the people that do them,” she said. “We feel that it is important to support the children, the students, as they are understanding who they are but we don’t feel that their identities are necessarily well understood at this age.”

The influence of the GSA agenda would further undermine the already eroding Catholic vision of marriage and family by saying that same-sex attraction, as well as the sexual actions associated with it, are OK, said Pierre.

Although PAFE’s proposal of civil disobedience has yet to garner formal approval any trustee, Pierre is optimistic support will roll in now that its message is public.  

The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) respects the individual rights of trustees to their personal opinions, but thinks collectively boards should adhere to the law.

“An individual trustee can voice opposition on their own, they have the right to do that, but typically OCSTA would urge all trustees to encourage their boards to adhere to the law,” said Bob Murray, director of legislative and political affairs for OCSTA. “While we had problems with certain sections in the bill, our expectation is that our boards will adhere to the law.”

Murray declined to comment on the legal value of Pierre’s constitution-based challenge of Bill-13, but did say OCSTA wouldn’t to using it to challenge the bill — at least not in the foreseeable future.

“We will not be, at this point, seeking any legal action or challenge and our expectation is that our principals will implement the legislation that was passed.”

So for trustees to follow Pierre’s call-to-action they will not only have to go against law, but also their association.

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