TORONTO - If you are a supporter of the Separate (Catholic) Schools System in Ontario, pay attention to what will transpire December 16 at the scheduled meeting of the TCDSB. There is only one item on the agenda: consideration of an appeal against an illegal decision made by the Board of Trustees on November 12.
The outcome could unleash lawsuits and political fallout with the potential to mow down ambitions in every political party and beyond. It is a story that, at various stages of development has been described as “abominable” and “reprehensible”.
And it started with a questionable overstepping of authority by a former Chief of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), now Judge, Renu Mandhane. In a letter to the TCDSB, dated September 17, 2019, she demanded and directed that Trustees include Human Rights Code criteria on sexual orientation, sexual preferences and sexual identity as non permissible items of discrimination in its Code. In retrospect, whether by whim or by design, she was dictating change in Catholic dogma and single-handily effacing any vestiges of distinction between public and separate schools.
Regardless of one’s views on the substance, she went well beyond her authority. The TCDSB should have politely told her NO! The Human Rights Code (HRC) itself, specifically preserves Constitutional separate school rights. It prohibits interference in Catholic schools.
In fact, Section 19 (1) says This Act shall not be construed to adversely affect any right or privilege respecting separate schools enjoyed by separate school boards or their supporters under the Constitution Act, 1867 and the Education Act. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 19 (1).
For further clarity, under sec 19 (2), it extends the same preservations and protections to teachers in Catholic schools: This Act does not apply to affect the application of the Education Act with respect to the duties of teachers. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 19 (2).
The Memorandum of Understanding between the Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of the Attorney general drives home the point: In case of conflict between this MOU and any statute (including the Code) or regulation, the statute or regulation prevails.
“Any statute” includes the Education Act. It prohibits the Minister from interfering directly or indirectly with in the religious affairs of the Catholic system. Section 230.19 (1) (a) is very direct: Nothing in this Part authorizes the Minister to interfere with or control (a) the denominational aspects of a Roman Catholic board.
Furthermore, under 230.19 (2) (a) the Act orders ministerial conduct: The powers under this Part shall be exercised in a manner that is consistent with, (a) the denominational aspects of a Roman Catholic board. Yet, the then Chair of the TCDSB implicated Minister Lecce in what was/is clearly a breach of Constitutional authority when the debate on inclusion of HCR language into a Catholic educational environment erupted at a TCDSB meeting in November 2019. Since then, trustees have divided themselves into zealots for “LBGTQ2+ rights” (resolved in law, 15 years ago) and those who recognize their duties under the Education Act and the Constitution.
The debate has become “weaponized” by the first group. By manipulating and leaking a confidential Report by Michelle Bird of Rubin Thomlinson into an alleged breach of Trustee Code of Conduct for language used by Trustee Del Grande, they whipped everyone into a fit of hysteria.
Bird argued that because she found the “tone” and “flippancy” of the trustee’s language to be offensive to some people in the audience (none identified) she found him in breach.
No one has released a mandate letter asking her to include tone and flippancy in the investigation. Nevertheless, some cooler heads prevailed, and Del Grande was found not to be in breach, at an August 20 meeting of the Board. Hold on! A new Director took ofice in September and, on petition, orchestrated a re-opening of the issue. It has been bedlam since. Against any thoughtful and competent legal advice, the August 20 vote was “reconsidered”, thus tearing to shreds the reputation of the Board, besmirching the image of Catholics everywhere and leaving open to litigation everyone concerned – including Minister Lecce.
If only Renu Mandhane had read the Section 93 of the Constitution, the Education Act, her own Human Rights Code and the MOU she signed with the Ministry of the Attorney General!
Wednesday, the Board, on appeal by Mr. Del Grande, will have one more opportunity to right a wrong. I am not holding my breath. This is the same crew that has been in “illegal territory” from the get-go!
In the pic, from left top: Markus De Domenico, Angela Kennedy, Maria Rizzo,
Norm Di Pasquale, Renu Mandhane ed Ida Li Preti
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