TORONTO - Lecce may yet succeed in his plan to eliminate Catholic Schools as a system. He does not appear disposed “to take any prisoners”. Caught in the middle of a legal case laden with Constitutional issues (Provincial rights, Religious freedom, Rights of Roman Catholics and the [potential] abuse of office by a Minister) between Trustee Del Grande and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), his Ministry played the “Calendar Game” hoping for the next availability of a “ favourable” judge.
Court documents obtained by the Corriere Canadese through the Canadian National Multilingual News Agency (CNMNG) suggest they succeed. Judge Corbett convened a case conference on August 5, 2021, to “lay out” his initial reactions to the written submissions and his “going forward” directions to the Parties.
Judge David Corbett rose to fame in 2002 when he argued a celebrated case (Hall v Durham Catholic District School Board) involving a teenager who wanted to be accompanied by his gay lover to the school graduates dance. At the time, lawyer Corbett successfully managed to convince the judge presiding over the hearing that, based on it receiving “public funds,” the Board could not prevent the teenager from attending the dance, even if his conduct ran counter to the values of the Catholic ethic.
The judge ordered the Board to permit Marc Hall and escort to attend and left other Constitutional issues unresolved. After the dance, Hall dropped the case, for reasons beyond the scope of this article. David Corbett, a litigation lawyer, was also a director of an LGBTQ organization, Foundation for Equal Families, advocating for same-sex couples. The next year (2003) he was appointed judge to the Superior Court of Ontario.
No reflection on his views today (Corriere has not yet accessed the minutes of the conference), but the Ministries of the Attorney General and Education would have been elated to draw a judge whose background could be viewed as sympathetic to a cause inimical to Catholic rights, true or not.
In an ironic twist of fate, among other issues that would be beyond the jurisdiction of his Court, Judge Corbett would be “sitting in judgement” on the rights of a Catholic Board against those of one of its Catholic trustees on a fundamental issue of what constitutes “Catholic values”. Corbett has not recused himself.
Court documents obtained by the CNMNG and the Corriere, outlined a meticulously argued position for a judicial review of two decisions by the TCDSB wherein it sought to reverse an August 20, 2020, decision to exonerate Del Grande from any misconduct in his defense of the Catholic values. Some radical activists, aided by three trustees whose eligibility to hold office is questionable, succeeded in having the decision reversed on November 12 then reaffirming the decision in a subsequent vote in December of the same year.
Trustees with similar views to Del Grande on the Board called the outcome “abominable.”
Court documents obtained by CNMNG and Corriere suggest interference by Minister Lecce who would appear to have overstepped his authority and abused the Constitutional rights of Roman Catholic electors in the process.
It was he who directed Renu Mandhane, former head of the Human Rights Commission, to demand that all school boards – read Catholic - institute Codes of Conduct recognizing the primacy of the Human Rights Code over religious rights, laws and Constitution notwithstanding. Del Grande’s objections led to the controversy. Expecting that a direct questioning of the Minister in a Court of Law would lay the issues bare, Del Grande’s legal team included Lecce in the application for Judicial Review.
It may be the last thing an embattled Minister and government would want politically. So far, Lecce has managed to alienate virtually every element in the education spectrum. Over the last few years, Catholicism, Catholic values and the Catholic school system has been subjected to relentless attacks from both within and from without. It is only a question of time before “fight back”.
Catholics have a Constitutional right to their own schools system, and, as of the last Census, Statistics Canada reported one of every three (32%) citizens in Ontario as Catholic - the next identifiable “religious group” sits at one in five (20%).
Lecce may not respect that. It remains to be seen if Judge Corbett can navigate him through the morass.
(Article written with files from P. Pajdo)
TO READ PREVIOUS COMMENTS: https://www.corriere.ca/english-articles