To preserve Catholic education,
be Catholic - legal opinion

di Priscilla Pajdo del 18 November 2021

TORONTO - The “debate” on educational issues at the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) is becoming as “toxic” and predictable as that at the TCDSB. Anti-Catholicism “woke” progressives seem determined to have their way, even if the Law says they cannot.

They spend a lot of money commissioning legal opinions - at Board expense – so they can have their way. It does not always work out. The “urgency” of letting a non-Catholic student trustee serve on the Board is a case in point.

At the October 19 meeting, HCDSD trustees resolved to seek legal opinion to ascertain the legal implications for allowing, or disallowing, non-Catholic students to seek, and possibly win, a position as student trustee on the Board.

The motion also stipulated that the opinion should come from legal counsel not affiliated with the HCDSB or with the Ontario Catholic School Trustee Association (OCSTA). One might say they tried to “stack the deck”.

The Board turned to a litigation law firm, Polaire Roland Barristers (PRB), which describes itself as having a broad range of expertise and experience working with academic institutions in managing sensitive legal issues.

In this case, the issue stems from the HCDSB Policy I-26 and certain qualifications that student trustees (nominees) must satisfy to “hold office”: be full-time Catholic students, demonstrate active Parish membership and regular attendance at Mass. They should also exhibit a base knowledge of current key issues that affect Catholic education. It is a Catholic Board.

That legal opinion by PRB, initially delivered to Board members hours before their November 2nd meeting, was included in the agenda on November 16. Andrew Lokan, author of the report, summarized by stating “Catholic Boards in Ontario may insist that their trustees be Catholic”.

Some critics may argue the policy and procedure discriminates against non-Catholics. However, the legal opinion stresses that these policies and procedures “are reasonably related to the special position that Catholic school boards have had since Confederation, as repeatedly reaffirmed by the courts”.

Denominational schools have a right to exist under the Constitution. The author of the report indicated that “legislation that interferes with such a right or privilege is unconstitutional”; not something the trustees who lobbied to commission the opinion wanted to hear.

The HCDSB has spent valuable time, money and resources on a legal opinion to ascertain what exactly? For supporters of the Catholic Education system, the “exercise” calls into question the Board’s motives and “integrity” in their mandate to protect and preserve Catholic education.

That integrity is further tested as one trustee, Nancy Guzzo, is already under scrutiny as she faces a dozen fraud charges in relation to her previous employment with the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) - specifically, in her role as assistant manager with LiUNA Local 3000.

That criminal matter is still before the Court. On Tuesday, counsel representing Ms. Guzzo told the court that a “resolution meeting” has been scheduled for November 29. The case is set to return to Court on December 21. Unless all charges are dropped during that “resolution meeting”, trustee Guzzo’s future with the Board may be at stake.

That is concerning for ratepayers who expect board members to demonstrate a high level of morality and ethics. The Corriere spoke with Annalisa Crudo-Perri, Director of the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education (OAPCE). Its mandate is to be the voice of parents, to promote and to protect publicly funded Catholic Education in Ontario.

On the issue of student trustees, she maintains that it is important for younger generations to get involved in protecting and preserving the Catholic school system and that student trustees should meet similar qualifications as school board trustees, mainly, that they be Catholic.

P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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