Timothy Que has had restrictions placed on the Catholic club he started at a Vancouver public high school. Photo by Terry O’Neill

Restrictions placed on school’s Catholic Club

By  Terry O’Neill, Canadian Catholic News
  • December 18, 2021

VANCOUVER -- School officials in Vancouver have slapped restrictions on a Catholic students’ club operating in a public high school which limits the club’s founder from sharing his faith with students.

The officials’ edict means the club will now have to limit its weekly meetings to socializing and general discussion about Catholicism, said Timothy Que, a Grade 11 student at Eric Hamber Secondary School who started the club this fall with school permission.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “All I really wanted to do is to just teach Catholic teaching.”

The restrictions were imposed shortly after a Nov. 15 B.C. Catholic story about Que’s initiative. He said he learned that members of the public had contacted the Vancouver School Board to complain about the club.

“People were really mad,” Que said. “Someone on Twitter posted about it — negative stuff.”

Former VSB chair Patti Bacchus was one such commentator. Bacchus tweeted in response to the story: “I’m pretty sure this does not comply with the B.C. School Act or district policy.”

Patricia MacNeil, director of communications at the Vancouver School Board, said Section 76 of the B.C. School Act “states that schools must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles,” and that “no religious dogma or creed is to be taught in a school.”

She said the legislation means “districts cannot promote a particular religion but that they can certainly teach about religion.”

MacNeil said following publication of the article a vice-principal at Eric Hamber met with club members and its sponsor teacher to explain the restrictions and that “the meeting went well.”

Que said he expected some reaction to the founding of the club, but “it’s been kind of crazy. I didn’t expect it to be this bad.” He confirmed that a school administrator visited the club “and said we weren’t allowed to evangelize — not allowed to try and convert people.”

Que explained that it was never his intention “to do something such as going into the halls and preach.” That said, he did want to evangelize those who freely joined the club because they were either “interested in Catholicism or open to change their mind.”

For now, Que said he is holding a weekly instructional meeting on a networking platform in addition to the in-person meeting.

“I do wish I was able to do it (at school),” he said. “The good thing is that I still can do something online.”

Que’s pastor at Holy Name of Jesus Parish, Fr. Rodney Nootebos, said he was disappointed to learn of the restrictions placed on Que’s Catholic club, “and yet, I’m not surprised, as well, which is kind of sad.”

Nevertheless, Nootebos said it seems “ridiculous” to place restrictions on a Catholic club when other clubs related to an “ideology,” such as LGBTQ+, are allowed.

“And yet you cannot have a club that is devoted to something that is precious and integral to many peoples’ daily life,” he said. “I think it’s an absurdity and very sad.”

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis brought the matter up in the House of Commons Dec. 7, making a statement on threats to freedom of speech, association and religion in Canada.

“Timothy Que, a 16-year-old who attends Eric Hamber Secondary School in Vancouver ... tried to start a Catholic club, a voluntary association of students who get together to discuss Catholic ideas, but administrators forbade him from sharing Catholic teaching at the club, even with students who chose to attend the meetings. This is a shameful violation of freedom of association, but it is one small drop in a growing sea,” said Genuis.

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