MP Stephen Woodworth relaunched Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Pro-life petition not signed out of coercion, board says

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  • April 26, 2012

MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - It should come as no surprise to anybody that Catholic students are active and informed about issues that are directly related to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, said Bruce Campbell, spokesperson for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

But a recent anti-abortion petition that was circulated at St. Joseph's Catholic High School in Mississauga in support of MP Stephen Woodworth's private member's motion to re-open a debate on Section 223 of the Criminal Code was called "coercion" by the Centre for Inquiry Canada, a Toronto-based atheist group, in media reports. Section 223 states a child in the womb is not human until birth.

"Those claims are ridiculous," said Campbell. "There was no coercion, no force."

The petition was initiated by an e-mail from one staff member to all staff in the school, said Campbell.

"It made reference to the motion that Stephen Woodworth was presenting in the House of Commons and suggested it would be a good idea if teachers could ask students to sign the petition as well," he said.

"It was presented as an optional item." 

Out of 1,700 kids at St. Joseph's, 230 students actually signed the petition, he said.

"So that's about 13 per cent of the entire school."

The Centre for Inquiry Canada, however, claims that students were forced to sign the petition, adding that it is further proof why provincial funding should be cut to Catholic schools.

The petition came on the heels of speaker Debbie Fisher from Right to Life Toronto talking to Grades 10 to 12 religion classes.

"It was topical, it was current," he said. "There's a number of students at the school that are preparing to go on the March for Life in Ottawa in May and I think we have about 700 students board wide that are attending that."

Teresa Pierre, spokesperson for the Toronto-based Catholic advocacy group Parents as First Educators, said it's the responsibility of Catholic teachers to be raising serious issues with their students.

"I think it's necessary for their civic education," said Pierre.

"The main point that the Centre for Inquiry is raising is that Catholic schools shouldn't be indoctrinating because they're publicly funded, but Catholic schools have a constitutional protection to teach their faith in the schools," she said. "So I think their comments represent a misunderstanding of the law."

When asked if a student who signed the petition could comment, Campbell said "it's been our policy to be consistent and not have students commenting on news stories."

Debate on Woodworth's motion was set to come before the House April 26.

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