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Ontario Catholic school board faces backlash over controversial donation policy

Ontario’s Education Minister is concerned that a Catholic school board did not properly consult with the community before adopting a controversial policy to only donate to charities that don’t support activities opposed by religious doctrine, such as abortion and euthanasia.

In a statement, Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris said she expects that all fundraising decisions are made in consultation with parents, students and community leaders, and “was concerned to hear that this may not have been the case” when the Halton Catholic District School Board passed the motion last month.

“We have voiced this concern with the board who has assured my Ministry that they will be consulting with their community further on this decision,” she said.

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On Tuesday night, the school board voted to hold public consultations, but it has not backed down on its policy change.

The board has also pulled down a list off its website of charities that signed a declaration saying they would not support activities opposed by the Catholic doctrine.

A spokeswoman for the school board said it heard from several charitable organizations on the list who were uncomfortable with the calls they were receiving from the public and media.

“We have the list internally now for our staff, our principals and teachers … but not placed it publicly,” Andrea Swinden said on Wednesday.

The board passed a motion last month 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.”

More than 30 charities and non-profits have signed a form provided by the board promising not to support those activities in order to continue receiving donations from school events. (Halton Catholic schools raised about $316,000 for charities in the past school year.)

But there has been confusion among charities about what they have agreed to. The form states the charities will not provide “public support,” directly or indirectly, for certain activities, including abortion and contraception. The form defined public support as “support when publicly expressed on a website, in the press material, or in any other public forum.”

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WE Charity is among those who signed the declaration. In an email statement on Wednesday, the organization said it was asked to address whether any school or student fundraising would be used to fund any of the activities listed by the school board.

“The WE Charity answered accurately that the charity was not involved in any of these matters, expressed that these questions were simply ‘not applicable’ to the charity, and shared formally that this statement of policy of ‘public support’ on these issues outlined above does not affect us,” Ms. Gurley said. “The WE Charity is secular, apolitical and does not have a mandate for political advocacy.”

The Canadian Cancer Society did not sign the form. It said that its policies permit funding research involving embryonic stem cells if the research meets specific criteria. The organization has asked that the school board allow funds raised through Relay for Life youth events be directed to research that does not involve embryonic stem cells.

And the United Way of Halton & Hamilton, which originally had signed the form, removed its name from the list this week, citing “interpretation variations.”

The broad nature of the motion has caught many off guard, and trustees heard from several delegates at their meeting on Tuesday, both for and against the resolution.

Ms. Swinden said the board approved a motion on Tuesday evening to send the policy out for feedback. The motion stipulated that a number of references to Catholic teachings be included to provide context in the consultation process.

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