Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees rejected a motion Thursday night that would have banned students from setting up clubs called Gay Straight Alliances in separate schools.
Trustee Garry Tanuan’s motion drew media attention to the school board meeting, with parents and students making passionate arguments for and against the clubs – even though Ontario law says they must be permitted.
The motion failed to pass by a vote of 7 (opposed) to 4 (in favor).
Mr. Tanuan argued that the provincial government forced school boards to accept GSA’s through provincial legislation, but the Constitution protects the rights of Catholics to run their own schools in ways consistent with their religious doctrines.
Another trustee, Sal Piccininni, who supported GSAs, called the opposition to the clubs outdated.
The motion would go against Ontario law. Last June, the provincial government passed the Accepting Schools Act, which stated that students could not be prevented from setting up a GSA in any Ontario school. The anti-bullying legislation made it clear that sexual assault, gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia will not be tolerated in the province’s elementary and secondary schools.
Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals said in a statement last week that no school board is exempt from the Act.
“It is our responsibility to ensure all students feel safe and welcomed at school,” she said in a statement. “I know that Catholic values of tolerance and love make them natural allies in the fight against bullying. I hope the Board will continue to foster an accepting environment for all students.”
Although the Act came into effect at the beginning of the academic year, it was later revealed that a provision in Canada’s constitution could be used to circumvent the Act.
Church leaders have argued that Catholics should be free to design their own methods to fight bullying.
Mr. Tanuan’s motion called for all anti-bullying clubs to adhere to the “Respecting Difference” report issued by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association last January. This report offered guidelines for Catholic schools that included calling groups like GSAs “Respecting Differences” clubs and avoiding discussions of sexual attraction, political activism and gender identity.