TORONTO - On June 1, the Corriere Canadese came into possession of a letter that the Ontario Human Rights Commission had sent to the Halton Catholic District School Board, relating to the display of the "flag of pride" in June: a proposal already rejected by the HCDSB itself.
The Corriere Canadese then sent Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) Commissioner Ena Chadha the following letter to ask some questions and write an article about it, but received no answer. Note to the reader that until last night, some "public schools" did not fly the flag of pride.
Dear Commissioner Chadha:
Hoping that this note finds you and yours in good health, I draw your attention to the below letter forwarded to us by an interested party who alleges receipt of same from sources unidentified to us. Having done some due diligence, it appears the note may be legitimate. Accordingly we ask respectfully the following questions, which you may dismiss immediately if the letter attributed to you is a misrepresentation – in which case we would withdraw any statements, observations and attendant implications one might infer from them. We have highlighted in yellow and in red what we think might be of particular relevance. Please feel free to point out differences between opinion and fact in law.
1. Is there a recognition of denominational rights for Catholics in our Constitution?
2. Does the Education Act in Ontario guarantee respect for those rights?
3. Catholics have been operating their schools on the premise that their teachings are consistent with their Constitutional obligations and the Charter as it applies to their schools. Part of that would seem to shield them from “obligations” wished by secular authorities for them.
4. The only interpreter of the “religious teachings”, arguably the reasons for the existence in Law of Catholic schools, is the magisterium (in the archdiocese of Toronto, the cardinal). Do you contest its authority as recognized by the Constitution, the Education Act, and the Charter?
5. Do you hold to the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Attorney General of Ontario when it launched the legislation to create the OHRC wherein it said effectively nothing in the Act was to be interpreted as diminishing or jeapordizing the denominational rights of Catholics?
6. Section 19 of your code says essentially the same thing, does it not?
7. Would you agree that your letter, in the above context, can and will be interpreted as a menacing, even threatening condemnation of a religious groups Constitutional rights?
8. Can you produce data to substantiate claims of stigmatization and violation of rights in Catholic Schools, whether they fly the flag or not?
9. The tdsb has data which I can share, if your researchers are unable to access it. Yet, it is not flying the flag in all its schools. Have you sent them a similar letter?
10. If you have not, can you provide us with a rationale as to why not?
Please know that your answers will for the basis for a story we propose to publish before the week’s end, always assuming that you are the author of the letter in italics below.
The letter sent by the OHRC to the Halton Catholic District School Board was then published on the Commission’s website. Here some passages (you can read the original version here).
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is aware of the Halton Catholic District School Board’s (HCDSB) recent refusal to adopt a motion directing its schools to raise the Pride flag during the month of June.
All schools in Ontario have a legal duty under the Education Act and Ontario’s Human Rights Code to ensure a school environment free from harassment and other forms of discrimination identified under the Code. This includes discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. In other words, under the Code, the HCDSB has an obligation to make sure LGBTQ2+ students and staff can learn and work in a welcoming and respectful environment, free from discrimination.
The OHRC was pleased to see that at its April 26, 2021, meeting, the Board took some steps to address these obligations by resolving to mandate safe space signage to support LGBTQ2+ students and staff, to raise staff awareness around Pride month, and to implement all-staff training on rights under the Code.
Nonetheless, the OHRC was disappointed to hear that the Board refused to accept the request that the Pride flag be raised at all HCDSB schools. While flying the Pride flag is not the only way to show acceptance and respect for LGBTQ2+ people, the flag has become an internationally recognized way for communities and organizations to support and acknowledge their LGBTQ2+ members.
The HCDSB’s refusal to accept this simple request – and the debate surrounding it – risks further stigmatizing LGBTQ2+ members of the Board’s community, many of whom may already feel stigmatized or excluded.
Also, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has recognized that an organization’s failure to symbolically acknowledge Pride events can in some cases amount to a violation of the rights of people who are LGBTQ2+ to equal treatment in services under the Code (see, e.g. Oliver v Hamilton (City) (No. 2), 1995 CanLII 18157 (ON HRT) and Hudler v London (City), 1997 CanLII 24809 (ON HRT)).
This week, school boards across Ontario, including Catholic boards in Ottawa, Waterloo, Dufferin-Peel, Wellington, Niagara, Toronto and Thunder Bay, will raise Pride flags to acknowledge and support their LGBTQ2+ students, staff and community members.
The OHRC urges the HCDSB to reconsider its decision and to join these school boards in welcoming their LGBTQ2+ students, staff and community members by flying the Pride flag. Thank you for your attention to this matter, and if there is any further information we can provide that would assist, do not hesitate to contact us.
Ena Chadha, LL.B., LL.M.
Conclusion: is the OHRC letter to the Halton Catholic District School Board just a polite "invitation" or a threat of legal action? Let the readers judge ...