This year marked a first for many Catholic school boards across the province. On June 1, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, along with Catholic boards in Durham, Niagara and Ottawa raised the symbol of Pride, the rainbow flag, for the first time to celebrate the start of Pride month.
The flag did not appear at the Catholic school board in Halton region. Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) Trustees voted against a motion to fly the Pride flag at a board meeting on April 26. Instead, trustees passed a motion that required the Board to provide mandatory training for senior staff on supporting students who identify as LGBTQ2+ and to raise awareness around Pride month.
While other Catholic boards were hoisting the flag outside their schools on June 1, the HCDSB Director of Education, Pat Daly and Chair of the Board, Patrick Murphy both received a letter from Chief Commissioner Ena Chadha, of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).
The letter essentially stated: “The OHRC was disappointed to hear that the Board refused to accept the request that the Pride flag be raised at all HCDSB schools”. The Chief Commission wrote, “the OHRC urges the HCDSB to reconsider its decision”.
Advocates of the LGBTQ2+ community say the Pride flag is a symbol of love and inclusion for all.
Some supporters of the Catholic education system may view the letter as a “strong arm” tactic to put pressure on the Board to reverse their decision.
Other supporters feel strongly that such matters are not within the purview of the OHRC. The Board has not confirmed whether they intend to revisit the issue. Neither Director Daly or Chair Murphy responded to the Corriere Canadese (CC) prior going to print.
However, the CC did speak with Vincent Iantomasi, Burlington Trustee for the HCDSB. When asked what his reaction was to the letter from the Chief Commissioner, he said, “she is overreaching her jurisdiction”.
He reiterated that as members of a Catholic Board, “we hold denominational rights which our forefathers thought it valuable so they added it in Section 29 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Human Rights Code subordinates itself to the Charter.”
He further explained: “this gives Catholic school boards the ability to create a faith-based community where religious instruction, religious practice, value formation and faith development are integral to and woven through every area of the curriculum”.
In terms of the most recognizable symbol of Christianity – the Cross – which is displayed outside every Catholic school, Iantomasi said it is the “most powerful symbol and one which welcomes everyone with open arms”.
The Canadian flag, that flies proudly outside all schools is perhaps the ultimate, “unmistakable universal symbol of unity and inclusiveness for all Canadians no matter their sex, orientation, race or colour”, he added.
An article by Joe Volpe, published on June 1, referenced the Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous decision in a separate matter which reaffirmed “the Constitutional rights of voluntary religious organizations to be free from the interference of the state on matter of doctrine and dogma”. (Click here for full article: Unanimous Supreme Court bombshell decision in the “flag debate”)
In that case, rendered on May 21, the OHRC did not appear as interveners. This raises the next question, why interfere with matters at the HCDSB now?