CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence

Former trustees say ‘bullying’ rampant for upholding Catholic beliefs

  • April 11, 2024

Francine Champagne had high hopes of helping children when she was elected as a trustee of Winnipeg’s Louis Riel School Division Board (LRSDB) in October 2022. They all came crashing down a few months later over a non-existent debate about library books and mild memes.

Champagne is Catholic and has what she describes as strong “principles and beliefs.” 

According to a public statement that accompanied her November 2023 resignation letter, Champagne raised at a June 2023 trustee meeting the issue of “the wide array of highly explicit material available within LRSD.” Her questions followed a LRSDB statement of support posted on X, formerly Twitter, for library books that “allow all students and members of our divisional family to see themselves as valued and respected members of society, including the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.”

Champagne told The Catholic Register she couldn’t recall the topic being raised and told her colleagues that, “We don’t know the stance of any of our trustees here regarding this issue, we haven’t even discussed this.”

But Board Chair Sandra Nemeth told her “this is not up for discussion.” 

“I was really shut down,” said Champagne, and “then two weeks later, that’s when they came up with the posts.”

Champagne was told that certain memes she had posted the previous month on Facebook were a breach of the LRSDB Code of Conduct, specifically that trustees should “refrain from expressing opinions and/or sharing information through social media that would discredit, undermine or compromise the integrity of the Board.” The Code of Conduct also states that trustees should “listen respectfully and with an open mind to the full range of opinions on each matter before them, and make their decisions based on the merits of these varying opinions.”

Though Champagne said she had no friction to that point with her colleagues, she was hit with three consecutive suspensions without pay, a threat of legal action and the loss of her teaching job at St. Boniface University because, according to the university, the conflict with the school board was “causing too much commotion.” 

Her case has since been used as an example of the deep rift that exists on school boards over gender ideology and the meaning of diversity.

Ted Hurley served for six years as a trustee of the Ottawa Catholic District School Board. It has been nine years since Hurley was a trustee and he faced none of the controversial issues confronting Catholic school boards today. But he said conflicts such as the one that embroiled Champagne are a reflection of the larger divisions within the Church.

“There is so much division in the world. We see it in the trustees, within our members of the congregation, even in our priests and bishops,” said Hurley. “Further, we have politicians at all levels who say they are Catholic but are supporting things that are totally against the Catholic faith. Our Church leadership needs to clearly define what it means to be Catholic.”

The pro-family pressure group REAL Women of Canada has entered the fray, publicly calling the actions of the Louis Riel board towards Champagne “bullying” and asserting that it is not an isolated incident.

In a March 2023 newsletter, REAL Women wrote that the “bullying is carried out by… woke, progressive trustees, who are intimidating and harassing their fellow trustees, who are correctly endeavouring to uphold the tenets and rights of the Catholic faith, guaranteed by the Canadian Constitution.”

Though Champagne had not spoken with REAL Women, she agrees that what happened to her was bullying. 

“Yes, for sure,” she said.

For its part, the LRSDB announced Champagne’s resignation on its website with the note that “the school board has endeavoured to hold a colleague accountable for words and deeds that caused great harm to students, staff and members of our community while also working to reassure our community of our commitment to safe and caring working and learning environments.”

Despite disappointment that she is unable to represent the voices of the 2,817 parents who voted for her, Champagne is relieved to no longer be facing accusations and hostility.

“I’m just glad to be out of those establishments because I mean, they’re all supporting that corruption. I don’t belong. It’s like God took me out of there to do something else, to focus on the good, because it’s a poisonous atmosphere and not one that we should be supporting.”

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