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Ontario school board cuts off charities not aligned with religious doctrine

Trustees at the Halton Catholic District School Board adopted a motion last week that 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.”

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A Catholic school board in Southern Ontario has banned fundraising for charities that "directly or indirectly" support abortion, contraception, euthanasia and activities that are deemed to not uphold religious doctrine, raising concern among students and teachers that they can no longer support the organizations they choose.

Trustees at the Halton Catholic District School Board adopted a motion last week that 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."

The motion was first moved by trustee Helena Karabela at a meeting in January, and adopted. It was revisited at a meeting last Tuesday and defeated, but then brought back later in the evening and passed.

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Ms. Karabela said in an e-mail statement to The Globe and Mail that the motion ensures donations to charities are compliant "with a fundamental tenet of our faith, the sanctity of life in all stages and the fundamental right to life."

"People today look back on WWII and wonder why no one did anything for the people being murdered by the Nazis … We must not be bystanders to today's gross violations of human life," she said during the meeting and included in her statement after the fact.

The new rules caught some off guard.

Keith Boyd, president of the Halton secondary teacher unit of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, said it was too restrictive. "You're talking about some of the biggest charity institutions in Canada that are caught up in some of this, and it's just a tiny fraction of the work that they do," Mr. Boyd said. "Now we've got a whole bunch of social-conservative ideologues that are punishing charities for what might constitute 1 per cent or a fraction … of the work that they do."

The board will review its list of charities to ensure compliance. It is unclear whether organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society would be taken off the list. The organization said it is not funding any grants or awards that involve embryonic stem cells, but its policies permit funding research using embryonic stem cells when it meets certain criteria.

Diane Rabenda, the board's chair, did not respond to The Globe's request for an interview. A spokeswoman for the Halton school board said on Friday Ms. Rabenda was not available and provided a statement from her instead. In the statement, Ms. Rabenda said that the board wanted to ensure funds raised by schools were directed at activities "keeping with the mission of our Catholic school system."

Mr. Boyd and his counterpart in the elementary-school division sent a letter to the board in January expressing their concerns and asking trustees to repeal the motion that they called "needlessly divisive."

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"Many of the charities and non-profits that could be affected by this motion do incredible work in our communities and around the world, enhancing health, equity, and social justice," the letter stated. "It is unfortunate that you, the trustees, have chosen to take such a narrow view of Catholic values and interfere with this work."

In an interview, Mr. Boyd said the position of Catholic teachers is consistent with the church. "But when you talk about a broad-based motion, our problem is mostly with the wording."

An online petition started by students to repeal the motion had gathered more than 7,000 signatures by Sunday evening. Julia Joseph, a Grade 12 student who attends Christ the King Catholic Secondary School, said that schools should be able to donate as they see fit.

This is not the first time the Halton Catholic board has come under fire. In 2011, the board was criticized for its decision to ban student gay-straight clubs shortly after Ontario's Ministry of Education introduced a new inclusion and equity policy that required school boards to create such clubs if requested by a student. It was also one of a few boards that for several years refused to allow Grade 8 girls to receive the HPV vaccine in school. It has since reversed its decision.

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