Time to end discrimination against educational minorities

By  Gerald Vandezande, Catholic Register Special
  • June 4, 2007
The Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats are in agreement on maintaining Ontario’s public funding for two education systems: public and Catholic.  One key question I still have today: why should Catholics get full funding and no other religious groups get any public support?
{sidebar id=2}The Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Nov. 21, 1996, that the Ontario government is constitutionally permitted, but not obliged, to fund alternative and independent schools. Clearly, 10 years later, the challenge before Ontario citizens and politicians committed to equal educational justice to all parents and students is to persuade, once and for all, Premier Dalton McGuinty, Conservative Leader John Tory and NDP Leader Howard Hampton and their political associates to recognize equally in Ontario laws and government budgets the constitutional rights and bona fide aspirations of every other serious faith- and value-community active in Ontario education.

The legislature’s ongoing discrimination against legitimate minority educational communities violates both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code, as well as the spirit and letter of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares in Article 26 (III): “Parents have the prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

Surely, before 2007 ends, the Ontario legislature can finally agree to respect its own Human Rights Code, which speaks of “public policy in Ontario: having as its aim the creation of a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person, so that each person feels a part of the community and able to contribute fully to the development and well-being of the community and the province.” The code guarantees “every person has a right to equal treatment without discrimination because of creed.”

Surely, before 2008, the three parties can muster the political courage to agree that educational justice must be seen to be done and that, therefore, all independent and alternative schools which meet appropriate, mutually agreed-upon standards are legally entitled to non-discriminatory tax treatment that ensures choice and equity for all parents and all students living in Ontario.

Preferably, this could best be done as recognized, qualified partners within a truly representative, inclusive public education system, perhaps similar to the exemplary Edmonton model that respects religious/ideological diversity and real accountability.

No political party with an awareness of the reality of diversity in our pluralistic society, and with a sense of democracy based on equal justice for all, would want to deny the human right and freedom of parents and students to choose the kind of education that best reflects their basic beliefs, aspirations, and goals in life. If the McGuinty government and the opposition parties have any religious sensitivity, they would insist on making educational justice a non-partisan issue and on ensuring freedom of religion and legal equality for all Ontario residents.

Let’s examine our collective conscience and duty to act justly for the common good.

(Vandezande is former spokesperson for the Ontario Multi-Faith Coalition for Equity in Education.)

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