École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Famille in Mississauga. Photo courtesy of Eric Guay.

Human rights complaint accuses French board of homophobia

  • April 23, 2014

MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - A human rights complaint alleging systemic homophobia in an Ontario French-language Catholic school is “groundless,” said a board superintendent.

“The board maintains that all allegations are absolutely groundless,” said Andre Blais, the superintendent of the Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique Centre-Sudboard.

“We have always cultivated a culture of tolerance and respect and we are very proud of all of the work that our schools have done in creating diverse and inclusive communities.”

The complaint was made by Christopher Karas, an 18-year-old Grade 12 student at École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Famille in Mississauga, who began to publicly identify as gay at 15. He is seeking $25,000 in compensation, a letter of apology and seven “public interest remedies,” which include the removal of the book Poison from the curriculum, the implementation of genderneutral washrooms and sensitivity training for school staff.

“I am trying to hold them accountable for the actions that were taken against me,” said Karas. “There is change that needs to be had and that is why I have taken these actions.”

The allegations have not been proven before the rights tribunal.

“We feel strongly that the complaint is unfounded and that it should be rejected by the tribunal,” said Blais. “We will vehemently defend our position.”

Karas claims the first incident occurred while on an overnight field trip in Grade 10 to Ottawa when several students refused to share a room with him.

“In that particular case the staff that was responsible for the outing went out of their way to make sure that the climate was respectful and accommodating to everybody,” said Blais. “It in no way put anybody in a situation where there was a lack of respect for one’s sexual orientation or whatever other aspect of their lives would represent a diversity.”

Karas disagrees.

“I had a right to go to this event and have a right to go into a room and feel safe and feel respected and accepted for who I am,” said Karas. “The whole incident was really abusive.”

In Grade 11, Karas alleged that a religion teacher told the class that “gay people should not be permitted to adopt” and in another class a teacher said “homosexual couples are not recognized” as families under Catholic doctrine.

Blais said that’s not discrimination — it’s Catholic doctrine.

“We maintain that nobody on staff used any message that was disrespectful, was discriminatory or that they used homophobic language,” he said.

Karas claims the comments were made without context and were therefore discriminatory.

“It is really important to have context to allow the students to have critical thinking and there was no given context,” Karas said.

This year Karas was offended by a required book, Poison, which includes a scene in which a father beats a son who is caught engaging in homosexual relations.

Karas claims his teacher failed to explain the beating was morally wrong, and therefore the school fostered a culture of homophobia. The board disagrees.

“The school went out of its way to present to the class a very objective and very open perspective and also explain that we were studying views in a society that are no longer acceptable in a tolerant and respectful society,” Blais said.

Blais said the school’s vice principal explained this to Karas when he originally expressed concern.

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