TORONTO - Breaking with tradition, the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) has reversed its position and voted in favour of flying the rainbow flag in June to mark Pride month. The HCDSB is the latest Catholic school board in Ontario to do so after having previously voted to not do so.
In the early hours of January 19, HCDSB trustees cast their votes on Trustee Agnew’s motion: Strengthening Community Relationships which included flying the Pride flag at Catholic schools starting this June and every June thereafter. Chair Duarte delivered a statement before the vote saying “our pillars are ‘achieve, believe and belong’ which strongly align with Catholic teachings.”
He acknowledged that among the correspondences sent into the Board on this matter, both last year and this year, “there is a lot of information, misinformation and misrepresentation”. He also emphasized the “need to look at the big picture of Catholic Education and keep a positive and constructive mind”. Although he himself did not vote on the motion, it carried on a vote of 5 to 3.
Most of the meeting, which started at 7 pm, January 18, and lasted five hours and fifteen minutes, dealt primarily with eight delegations pertaining to the Pride flag. That alone was contentious.
Six delegations presented in favour of the motion, while two were opposed. Each were offered ten minutes to present. During the meeting, a trustee pointed out that nine delegations were declined. The Corriere asked Chair Duarte and the Director of the Board, why more delegations were not accepted, with a shorter time to speak. Neither the Chair nor the Director offered a response at the time of going to print.
The Corriere also contacted Patrick Daly, President of the Ontario Catholic Schools Trustee Association, about the merits of the decision and the process. Daly would not offer insights as the matter was “subject to the Education Act and each Catholic School Board would follow their own By-Laws and Regulations”.
When it came to a series of correspondences included as part of the agenda, eight spoke against the motion, while four expressed their support.
One letter, circulating via social media channels, attracted some attention and commentary (including from the Corriere’s pages, titled Rudderless in Halton. What next?) That letter also raised interest among rate payers as it is authored by four federally elected Members of Parliament (for Halton) who express their “unwavering support in favour of flying the flag”.
A portion of the letter was read by a delegate during Tuesday’s meeting, perhaps in an effort to help influence the vote. The question and concern that parents and ratepayers have is whether the authors, two of which are Cabinet Ministers and two are parliamentary secretaries may have overstepped their boundaries in commenting on matters not within their purview. Education is a Provincial matter.
Supporters of Catholic schools maintain that their schools are constitutionally protected under the denominational clause in the Constitution. Catholic school supports also point to Section 29 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which protects the rights and privileges of denominational schools. Flying the flag is about those rights and privileges.
Those who agree with HCDSB’s decision claim it is a step in the right direction and for a more accepting, diverse and inclusive community. Others maintain the Canadian flag does just that.
It is the ultimate symbol of unity and welcomes everyone equally.
P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter