Ontario is ratcheting up pressure on a Catholic school district to suspend its controversial charity policy, arguing that the board has not listened to its parents and students.
Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris said on Wednesday she is monitoring the situation at the Halton Catholic District School Board, where trustees have passed a motion that forbids students from donating to charities that support activities opposed by the church. She said she plans to speak with the board’s chair.
“Most boards do their due diligence. Most boards listen to their communities. Most boards are in line with their policies of reflecting those voices. In this instance, I just want to ensure that that is the case and that is happening,” Ms. Naidoo-Harris told reporters at Queen’s Park.
“I do have concerns about whether or not the board did its due diligence in listening to those voices when they came up with this motion,” she added. “Their motions have to reflect the needs of the people on the ground.”
Asked about the board’s motion, Premier Kathleen Wynne said, “There are very, very concerned students and teachers at the board. I think that it will mean that we will have to have another conversation with the chair of the board and the director.”
Their comments follow a Tuesday night board meeting at which trustees stood by their resolution on charitable donations, effectively ignoring a letter from Ms. Naidoo-Harris that encouraged them to delay the implementation of their policy until they received feedback from parents, students and the community.
The board passed a motion in February stating it would no longer provide or facilitate financial donations to non-profits or charities that publicly support, “either directly or indirectly, abortion, contraception, sterilization, euthanasia, or embryonic stem cell research.”
Board chair Diane Rabenda, who said she is not in favour of the policy, does not know what the Education Minister can do about it. “What she said last time [in her letter] did not change the vote [on Tuesday],” she said.
Five trustees have consistently voted in favour of the motion and they form a majority on the board.
“I have tremendous respect for the Education Minister. It’s unfortunate that it went that way, but that was the will of the board. While I may have my own personal opinion, I have to, as chair of the board, go with what the resolution happens to be,” Ms. Rabenda added.
The broad nature of the policy caught many off guard and many students and parents have complained that they were only asked to provide feedback after the resolution came into effect.
The policy has also caused confusion among charities. Several large organizations, including WE Charity, the Terry Fox Foundation and the United Way Halton & Hamilton, have removed their names from the board’s list of approved charities.
It is unclear what steps Ms. Naidoo-Harris can take. The government can only investigate and then assign a supervisor if it finds the board is not providing good governance or carrying out its duties.
Ms. Naidoo-Harris, who represents the riding of Halton, said she heard complaints from parents that the proper process was not followed.
The board moved another motion last month that its “Sanctity of Life” resolution be sent out for feedback, but the policy remained in effect, meaning schools can’t raise funds for certain charities.
Ms. Rabenda said this new fundraising policy is “distracting” the board from other education priorities.
Two students who spoke to trustees at the meeting on Tuesday called on the Education Minister to take control of the board.
Ben Sabourin, a Grade 12 student, said the board had “failed to uphold Catholic values, that you are operating outside of the Education Act, leaving board meetings mid-session and failing to represent the staff, students and parent communities of our schools.”
Meanwhile, parent David Harvey has filed an application for a judicial review and said he hoped the court would suspend enforcement of the policy until after the community has been consulted.