TORONTO - News flash to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC): schools, both Catholic and Public, are closed. Schools have been shuttered for some time, even if the OHRC has been unaware of that fact.
Still, for some unexplainable reason, on June 1, its chief Commissioner, Ena Chadha thought it would be a teachable moment too good to pass up. She sent a letter to the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) reminding them of their “obligation” under the Education Act to fly the rainbow flag in June or face consequences before her tribunal. You see, the HCDSB on April 26 decided that it already had two symbols of inclusivity: the Canadian flag and the Christian cross.
However, Stephen Lecce, Minister (for way too long) of Education, has other plans and instructed the OHRC to remind them who is the boss.
In its letter, the OHRC reveals that it has also apparently bought into the unsubstantiated, undocumented claim that Catholic Schools in Ontario are “unsafe” for children who self-identify as non-heterosexual. Somehow, their “safety” can only be guaranteed if their schools fly the rainbow flag in front of the symbol of Christian inclusiveness – the cross.
As I said, the schools, all schools, are closed. They are now “safe spaces”. How do I know?
On June 1, I did a random sampling of schools on my way to work to see if schools nearby were “flying the flag”, as per the OHRC “directive” suggesting/requiring the HCDSB to do what their colleagues in Toronto were doing to make the Minister happy - read our article here: The Ontario Human Rights Commission threatens Catholic schools ... four of six Public schools were not.
A Catholic school was indeed flying the flag (the principal’s job is safe, for now), but a man with a kippa - a skull cap worn by followers of the Jewish faith, was exiting the building. Hesitantly, but deferentially, I asked what he was doing there.
A pleasant individual, he said something to the effect of “the City has shut down our schools because of Covid but there is an analogous program run out of this place (Catholic School), so we are moving our kids here.” As I said, none of the public schools in the general area were flying the rainbow. They must not have received the memo sent to the Halton Board, and dutifully copied to the Minister.
This may be a great time to “pile on the Catholic Church”, and there is no shortage of self-important moralizing finger-pointers to take up that role. The OHRC should not be one of them. It already has a greater role: the observance of its own Code, restricted only by section 19.1 of the Act governing the HRC, the Education Act, the Charter of Rights and Freedom, Section 29 and the Constitution Act, section 93, governing “denominational rights”.
I am surprised the OHRC did not receive that memo. Two weeks ago, on May 21, the Supreme Court of Canada, the ultimate arbiter of the Law, in a unanimous decision, reminded the country of those facts. The OHRC, for some reason, did not deign it worthwhile to intervene in the SCC’s deliberations leading to the decision.
Luckily, there are several other Court decisions archived for the OHRC’s recall, should they take an interest. There is even a scholarly assessment of the Constitutionality of Separate Schools presented as a Fraser Research Bulletin, authored by academic Bruce Purdy from Queen’s University (2016). Essentially, he says, if you want to take away the Constitutional Rights of Catholic schools, go the political route.
Minister Lecce must have read it. He decided to use the OHRC instead. In political circles, it is widely repeated that he is building a profile as “the team leader of the movement” to replace the former Liberal Premier.
He wants to emerge as the undisputed “slayer of Catholic schools”, but he is impatient, so he is using the OHRC as his cudgel.
It is not the first time. The Toronto Catholic District School Board is in the mess it is in because Lecce “urged” the OHRC to issue a similar directive two years ago.
The tactic reveals a contempt for the rule of law, at the very least. More likely it constitutes a perversion of laudable mechanism to undermine Rightsholders in Law - a Hollywood gangster tactic pure and simple.
Shame on anyone who plays along.
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