TORONTO - Traumatized, guilt-wracked victims of human trafficking don’t often disclose what’s happened to them. Despite the reluctance to talk, Toronto’s Covenant House deals with a constant stream of both international and domestic victims, said social work manager Helen Winters.

“We don’t know how many youth who come in here have been involved in trafficking. We know they come through here with trauma, with addictions,” Winters said of the downtown Toronto agency that aids young street people. “The tip of the iceberg are the ones who actually reveal to us.”

Lately, many of the international victims turning up at its doors have come from Africa. There have always been aboriginal girls off reserves and runaways from small towns. In some ways it’s an old story. Men who hang around shopping malls, hostels and bus stations offering a little kindness and attention to vulnerable, lost young women.

“Often the pimps will act like a boyfriend. They’re special. They (the pimps) will wine and dine them. Then they use and abuse them,” said Winters.

Commodification of human beings

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TORONTO - Though she escaped more than a year ago, it’s still difficult for Irais Martinez to hold back tears when she recalls how she was trafficked into a sweatshop in Brampton, Ont.

It’s hard for the 27-year-old psychology graduate from Mexico to think of herself as a victim.

“I feel like I hurt myself without my permission,” she told The Catholic Register.

She hasn’t explained to her parents what happened to her since she came to Canada.

“It’s not easy to tell them, ‘Oh, I was involved in human trafficking.’ ”

Her case to stay in Canada is before the Immigration and Refugee Board, and she knows she faces extra scrutiny because she is Mexican. The IRB has rejected the vast majority of Mexican cases in recent years. The situation makes Martinez “really, really angry.”

Teaching excellence award goes to Toronto teacher

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TORONTO - Toronto Catholic District School Board veteran Léa Lacerenza has won this year’s Premier’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, Lifetime Achievement for her innovative work in special education.

Lacerenza has worked in special education with the TCDSB for 31 years, the past 23 years seconded to the Learning Disabilities Research Program at Sick Kids Hospital as the senior research teacher and lead writer in curriculum development and programs.

Lacerenza leads the collaboration between Sick Kids and the board in developing innovative techniques designed to help students with severe learning disabilities through the Empower Program. The Empower Reading Programs are now taught in hundreds of schools across North America.

Lacerenza says her experience with her youngest sister, Diana, who had a mild learning disability, first motivated her to work with students with learning disabilities. Diana “was immensely talented, smart and creative,” Lacerenza recalled. But in the 1970s, Diana was streamed into a vocational program because of her learning disability. This helped Lacerenza discover her professional vocation.

TCDSB approves its equity policy

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TORONTO - Despite concerns voiced by several Catholic parents and ratepayers, the Toronto Catholic District School Board passed its equity and inclusive education policy at a May 19 board meeting.

But trustees will vote later on a number of proposed amendments to the policy made by some trustees after these are reviewed by the board's legal counsel.

The vote came after months of debate on how a Catholic school board should deal with the equity policy that the provincial government mandated each board come up with. The aim of the 2008 provincial legislation is to combat discrimination in schools based upon sexual orientation, race and religion. The key issue of concern for many was that Catholic denominational rights should be protected in the policy. Many stakeholders in the Toronto Catholic system fear the policy will be hijacked by groups seeking to override teachings of the Catholic Church.

The new policy, which passed by a 7-4 margin, states that "any form of social or cultural discrimination is incompatible with Catholic moral principles." It goes on to say "The board further recognizes that we must uphold the protections entrenched in the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Constitution Act 1867 and confirmed in the Constitution Act of 1982 — the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Peterborough diocese, Trent U. takes steps to establish Catholic college

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The diocese of Peterborough and Trent University have signed a memorandum of understanding to help further discussions and set guidelines in establishing the future Sacred Heart College, a Catholic liberal arts college in Peterborough.

"It's important that now after a couple of years of discussion with Trent that we've entered into an understanding whereby both the future Sacred Heart College and Trent University are going to co-operate on establishing a relationship that will allow us to grant credit for courses," said Fr. Joseph Devereaux, chancellor of the Peterborough diocese, of the future university college which will be located in the basement of Sacred Heart parish.

The memorandum says that the college and Trent agree to "work together to explore the potential for delivery of distinctive and complementary educational opportunities," such as transfer credit recognition and degree completion pathways.

‘Little champion’ a Mother’s Day gift

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TORONTO - Cassandra Davis cradles her four-month-old son, Ayomide, and smiles at her “little champion.”

For Davis, this Mother’s Day will be one of celebrating the gift of motherhood, thanks in part to the Sisters of Life.

Davis is one of the many success stories of the Sisters of Life’s ministry for pregnant women in crisis in Toronto. Doctors had counselled Davis to end her pregnancy early because they feared the baby would be a burden to the 25-year-old, and that he wouldn’t survive long. His troubles began 16 weeks into Davis’ pregnancy when doctors found fluid in more than one part of his body. His stomach was larger than his whole body, his head and arms had water under the skin above the bone and his skull bone had water under the skin wall. Doctors predicted he wouldn’t have long to live after delivery and if he did survive, they said he would have severe health problems.

But with the “motherly love” and support of the Sisters of Life, Davis said she was able to stick to her convictions and go through with the pregnancy, despite the pressures from those around her who said she was “selfish” for wanting to “burden” the world with a sick child.

Poles remember their pope in Toronto

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TORONTO - It was a big day for Toronto's Poles, starting at 4.00a.m. when they gathered round their televisions to watch Pope Benedict XVI declare his predecessor blessed - one step removed from sainthood.

These photographs follow the Polish celebration in Mississauga and on Roncesvalles Avenue in downtown Toronto - two places where Poles live, work, shop and pray.

They witness the joy and pride Poles derive from the memory os Pope John Paul II.

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Parents, students give wide-ranging opinion's on TCDSB equity policy

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150 parents, teachers and students met April 27 for the second consultation on the TCDSB's proposed equity policyTORONTO - Opinions varied, mostly along age lines, as the Toronto Catholic District School Board held the second consultation meeting on its proposed equity policy.

About 150 parents, students and teachers gathered April 27 at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School to discuss the policy. Two distinct sides became clear after 14 small groups broke off to discuss the policy which aims to combat discrimination based upon sexual orientation, race and religion in Toronto's Catholic schools. While parents and teachers were more concerned with ensuring the Catholic identity of schools, students among the group emphasized the need to prevent homophobic bullying by establishing gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

The TCDSB will make a report on the input from the two consultations as well as an online survey, said TCDSB spokesperson Emmy Szekeres-Milne. The report could come as early as May 19, she said.  

During the three-hour meeting, participants broke off into smaller groups to discuss the policy, which the provincial government has mandated be in place by September. After 20 minutes, a representative from each group reported back to the larger group.

Catholic schools make society better for all

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A new study says the phenomenon of religious belonging and its social connectedness of religious schools have a positive impact on society. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander)Editor’s Note: The following Education Week essay by Msgr. Dennis Murphy is not intended as a comparison between the public and Catholic school systems but is only intended to underline the positive contribution that Catholic schools make to public life.

As we approach the October provincial election the question of public funding of the Roman Catholic school system in Ontario will predictably be raised again. Opponents of Catholic schools will offer familiar arguments: it is unfair that one religious denomination has its own publicly funded schools; these schools represent a divisive force in our pluralistic society; a single education system would be more effective, cost efficient and save the taxpayer money; and a secular society should not be in the business of funding anything that is religious.

Promoters of the Catholic system will respond that Catholic schools exist due to promises made as part of our Canadian Confederation and are therefore constitutionally guaranteed. While probably acknowledging that it is indeed unfair that Catholics are uniquely privileged, advocates of Catholic education will suggest the solution is not to abolish Catholic schools but to make publicly funded schools available to other parents. Proponents of Catholic education will point out there is no evidence that Catholic schools are a divisive force, as witnessed in the graduates not only from Catholic schools but from the religious schools that receive public funding in provinces such as British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba. To the financial argument, the response will be that it is virtually impossible to prove that bigger education systems are more efficient and effective financially or educationally. Considering the cost of the much larger administrative units born through amalgamation of boards in the late 1990s, the argument that bigger is better rings hollow. To the contention that the province should not fund religious organizations and institutions, Catholic educators will point to Ontario’s long history of financially supporting not only their schools but religious hospitals, children’s aid societies and so on, all of which significantly contribute to public life. Finally they will cite data that belies any claim that ours is a secular society.

Jesus’ example inspires the next generation of Catholic leaders

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For Laura Limarzi, the “sense of caring about others in our daily lives” is one of the things unique to Catholic education. (Photo by Sheila Dabu Nonato)In the hallways of Ontario’s Catholic schools, the next generation of leaders is being formed.

What does it take to be a Catholic leader? Our Catholic faith invites us to look to Jesus’ example and His lessons of faith, humility, compassion and love for God and neighbour.

The hope of Catholic education is in our students who can provide this example of Christian leadership in their volunteer work and spiritual life.

Through Jesus’ words and actions, we learn about the Christian model of servant leadership: A leader who puts His love for God and others ahead of Himself and recognizes that it is through works of charity, compassion and love, which are rooted in faith, where God’s love is manifested.

For Catholic high school students, the challenge of being authentic Catholic witnesses becomes even greater as society becomes more secularized and popular culture presents viewpoints antithetical to Catholic values. An antidote to challenges that can weaken the faith and moral character of Catholic students, is having a solid grounding in spiritual and educational formation. Students need to have a solid foundation in their Catholic faith through an understanding of its rich history, traditions and teachings, with the support and mentorship of their parents and teachers.

Readying responsible citizens

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Student trustee Olivia Suppa. (Photo by Sheila Dabu Nonato)NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. - Being a Catholic student trustee has highlighted the gift of Catholic education for Olivia Suppa.

“Catholic education brings so much diversity to our province,” said Suppa, president of the Catholic Board Council of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association and a student trustee for almost two years. “You graduate embodying what Jesus wanted to embody.”

Suppa attends St. Jean de Brebeuf High School in Woodbridge, Ont., and took part in the recent Lighting the Way Catholic student leadership conference in Niagara Falls. Catholic schools, and being a trustee representing Catholic students, has taught her plenty.

“I learned a lot about myself, politics, (how much of an impact) a contagious idea, a contagious voice can be,” said the Grade 12 student.

Suppa said she was inspired by the Niagara Falls conference.