“The road to Hell
is paved with good intentions”

di Joe Volpe del March 3, 2021

TORONTO - In the schools I attended, this maxim was often repeated by teachers to drive home the point that we should think before we act, if for no other reason than to limit unforeseen consequences. In the political arena where I engaged to discharge my civic obligations there were “minefields galore”.

Believe it or not, “training sessions for newbies” in Ottawa are relatively new. Legal counsel was available but with one legal practitioner for some 300 members of parliament. Committees were different. There was always legal counsel attached – for the work of the committee. For anything else, MPs were on their own, so to speak.

One need only look at some very “local” events occurring in the last two weeks to be struck by the enormous cost of “loose lips”. They deal with procedure and substance and involve our most precious investments: our children and the schools to which we entrust their care.

On February 25, in the Theodore case, the Supreme Court of Canada (SOC) dismissed an appeal by Public School boards to reverse a Provincial Court decision that recognized the arrangements struck by non-Catholic parents and a Catholic Board to educate their children in a Catholic environment.

Litigation had been on-going for seventeen years. Non-Catholics preferred to send their children to a Catholic environment rather than subject them to a daily 80 km round-trip highway drive to a public school.

It seems that religious freedoms and common sense occasionally coincide. For the parents involved, the safety/security of their children and additional costs in time and money for transportation were not a preferred alternative to the Catholic ethic of their neighbours. The SOC decision supported that view.

Constitutionally, the decision reaffi­rmed the rights of Catholics to their own system of education and access to public funding in providing it. At the same time, it validated, yet again, the religious freedoms of parents under the Constitution.

The money follows the students the government is obligated to educate. The public-school trustees – who had squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars in pursuing the issue, at public expense – proffered that the right of existence for Catholic schools had never been an issue.

The Premier added, meekly, that the government always supported the religious freedoms and rights of parents.

The SOC decision also a­rmed the primacy of the magisterium Constitutionally in a Catholic system of education. It alone can determine what constitutes “Catholicism”. To paraphrase how Pope Francis put it, to be Catholic you must follow the guidelines outlined in the Catholic Catechism; you are free to follow something else, but then you are not Catholic.

That logic seems to be at the base of a detailed application for Judicial Review (JR) by trustee Del Grande against questionable procedural decisions by his Board – the TCDSB – resulting in what another trustee called “abominable” consequences visited upon him for upholding Catholicism, a’ la Pope Francis.

One of the foundational tenets of that Catholicism pertains to human sexuality and sexual practices. Opponents of the Church’s guidance on those matters have taken to accusing supporters of those tenets as practitioners of systemic homophobia and transphobia. They do so publicly at risk of defamation, libel and slander. But in doing so they go beyond their recognized responsibilities.

As in the Theodore case in Saskatchewan, the province is also implicated in the JR. The costs so far must be extravagantly high and likely to go higher. Meanwhile, the trustees at the TCDSB who prompted this legal action may be facing personal legal consequences of their own. They will try to have their costs covered by the School Board. That would be akin to adding insult to injury.

The TCDSB has two lawyers on staff: each earned $176,000 last year, according to the most recent Sunshine List. In addition, the Board also has (1) the law firm BLG on retainer for an unlimited amount, (2) another lawyer/Integrity Commissioner for an undisclosed sum, (3) a full time Human Rights and Diversity Advisor – also a lawyer – on staff, (4) the ability to spend tens of thousands for special investigators to report on specific issues, as in the Bird Report.

Children at St. Raphael and other schools will have to wait for clean air environment.

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