Does Ontario's Bill 13 Violate the Religious Freedom of Cathlolic School Boards?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Both section 2(a) and section 15 of the Charter are robust constitutional rights.  At this point we have no jurisprudence on the merits delineating which might prevail in a publicly funded school where the equality rights of students are directly at stake.[1]
So legally it is difficult to say-
BUT the courts exist in the same social matrix that we do: a Canada where gays and lesbians can marry, raise children, and share benefits, and freely choose employment and housing without fear of persecution or discrimination.
It would strike me as tragically absurd that within such a social matrix  courts would condone conditions in publicly funded schools which drive youth to mental illness, anxiety, depression, self-harm, and even suicide because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. All in the name of religious freedom?

Beyond the legal question I am more concerned about common ground: I grew up in the Catholic Church, and understand it to be a social justice organisation in many ways. Both human rights advocates and Catholic schools boards in Ontario care about youth who identify as gay, lesbian or transgendered. We all want them to obtain optimal mental and physical health, and to learn in a safe school environment.

There is ample empirical evidence to show 3 things about these young people that we both care about.

1)    Youth are being bullied due to their sexual orientation and gender identity.

2)    The bullying is hurting them- mentally, physically, socially- their health indicators are much lower than their non queer cohort.

3)    Anti-homophobic and anti-transphobic (specifically…not just generic diversity) measures in schools reduce these negative health indicators for both queer identified and non queer students- the school are healthier places for everyone.

How can the Catholic school board protect the human rights of queer students under their care? By naming and stopping homophobia and transphobia, regardless of their normative position on the morality of belonging to a sexual or gender minority. You do not have to love everything someone does or is to be able to stand up for their rights. Especially children and youth.
Dr. Angela Cameron is a Professor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.

[1] While Trinity Western dealt with the equality rights of gay and lesbian youth and the religious expression of would-be public teachers there was no actual discrimination against youth, only predicted discriminatory action by would-be teachers. Here there is concrete evidence that gay, lesbian and transgendered youth are suffering human rights violations.

Designed by Rachel Gold.