Teresa Lubinski addresses her fellow trustees at the Toronto Catholic District School Board meeting while Ida Li Preti, left, and chair Maria Rizzo look on. Joshua Santos

Toronto Catholic board votes to include gender terms

  • November 8, 2019

The controversial gender debate at the Toronto Catholic District School Board came to end in the early morning hours of Nov. 8 with the board voting to include gender terms in its code of conduct.

The resolution followed the dissemination of a misleading report to trustees on the eve of the vote that suggested the Archdiocese of Toronto was on side with a provincial government mandate to include the terms “gender expression, gender identity, family status and marital status” in the revised code.

In fact, the archdiocese opposed terms that are “not compatible with our faith,” but felt its options were limited in dealing with a board of trustees and a Ministry of Education that was intent on inserting gender terms into the board’s code of conduct. 

In the end, the archdiocese persuaded trustees to include additional language to ensure the code would “be interpreted through the lens of the Catholic faith as articulated by the teachings of the Church and protected in legislation.”

Responding to criticism from some Catholics who were reacting to misleading information in the media, the archdiocese issued a statement on Nov. 11 to clarify its position. It reiterated its commitment to fostering safe environments for all students and stated: “While the archdiocese recognizes that terms such as gender identity are included in the Code, we do not accept the view of the human person which underlies this terminology, since that view is not compatible with our faith.”

The statement also noted that the revised code requires school boards to interpret the code “as expressed through various documents of the universal Church, the bishops of Canada, the bishops of Ontario and the Archdiocese of Toronto.”

Ontario’s Ministry of Education had instructed school boards to include the revised language in their codes of conduct by Nov. 4. Opponents to the changes argued that the wording violates Catholic beliefs on gender and natural law, while proponents insisted that schools must have inclusive language that reflected cultural trends regarding sexuality and the family.

The final vote at the seven-hour meeting was 8-4, with Garry Tanuan, Michael Del Grande, Nancy Crawford and Teresa Lubinski voting against the motion. Those trustees had passed a motion in a sub-committee on Oct. 30 to eliminate all specific categories of groups protected from discrimination in favour of a code that was broadly inclusive of all people.

The new language now reads that all members of the school community must “respect and treat others fairly, regardless of, for example, race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.”

Crawford, Ward 12 Scarborough trustee, said she opposed the motion because she objects to listing specific characteristics in the code.

"The Human Rights Code requires many different grounds of which you can't discriminate against anyone, and we were coming from the perspective that every person is worthy of immeasurable love, respect, and dignity because we are all children of God," said Crawford.

Board chair Maria Rizzo supported the change.

My prayers came true. God was listening to the right side,” she said.

Parent Christopher Elliot, whose daughter attends a Catholic secondary school, was among more than 100 people at the board meeting. He opposed changes to the code’s language. 

“I’m concerned that our society and our government is slowly taking away our rights as parents to raise our children according to our Catholic beliefs and values,” Elliot told trustees. “This assault on our freedoms is glossed over with words like inclusion and tolerance, values that are already enshrined in Church teachings.”

Rizzo said it’s important to include everybody, make them like they aren’t discriminated against and aren’t excluded. 

“God made us in His image,” said Rizzo. “All of us have differences. We have different colour skin, we have different coloured eyes, we different coloured hair, we have different bodies. We need to celebrate our differences and make sure our children from the LGBTQ community and families from the LGBTQ community are supported and welcomed.”

Rizzo said students may not be as fearful as they once were, knowing that they are supported by the board.

Crawford said she's concerned additional terms for prohibited grounds of discrimination may be added by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. 

"There's no predicting when something like this will come up again, and it might be viewed differently by the Roman Catholic Church at the time or the board of trustees at the time," said Crawford.

(With files from Joshua Santos)

(NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify the position of the Archdiocese of Toronto on the issue.)

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