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Toronto parent files rights complaint over school board’s a capella anthem policy

Students in the Toronto Catholic District School Board began singing the anthem without accompanying music this spring and the policy was fully implemented across the board by September.

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Our national anthem may have never been this controversial.

A Toronto parent has filed a human-rights complaint against the board of trustees of the Toronto Catholic District School Board over a policy that requires students to sing O Canada a capella.

Kevin Morrison, the parent who initiated the complaint, says the board overstepped its boundaries when the motion was approved last April.

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"You're a board of trustees, you're not allowed to take the Maple Leaf off the flag, you're not allowed to take the beaver off of nickels, so what makes you think you have the right to take the music away from the national anthem?"

Mr. Morrison says the basis for the complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario is that since other school boards across the province play the music, it's discriminatory to make Catholic school board students sing without it.

Students began singing the anthem without accompanying music this spring and the policy was fully implemented across the board by September.

The motion to scrap the music was initially brought forward by trustee Angela Kennedy after concerns were raised that pupils had not been singing the anthem at "public gatherings such as graduations, heritage celebrations and school blessings or anniversaries."

The policy essentially bans schools from playing a CD with the music to O Canada over the announcement system.

"People would just stand closed mouth and let whatever was playing play," Ms. Kennedy said. "So I thought it was my duty as a trustee to bring it to the attention of the board of trustees and to rectify the situation so that students would be singing everyday and therefore they would learn the words."

Ms. Kennedy says that both teachers and students have had plenty of positive things to say about the policy change.

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The Ontario Human Rights Code does not protect rights on general grounds, but rather on specific ones. According to the code, "every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability."

Mr. Morrison says his complaint is based on the argument that the board's policy is discrimination based on Canadian citizenship.

Adam Dodek, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, says it is very unlikely that the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal will find the board's policy problematic.

"There are few people who are more supportive of the singing of O Canada than I am … but I don't think the removal [of music] would likely violate the Ontario Human Rights Code," he said. "This is not the sort of discrimination that the Ontario Human Rights Code was meant to prohibit and not the sort of case that the Human Rights Tribunal is likely to find unlawful discrimination.  It may be unwise, but I don't think it is unlawful."

Mr. Morrison, however, says he is determined to bring back the music.

"I've been trying to change it for months," he said. "There are so many other ways for our kids to have a love of their country, and a love of their anthem, and a love of their flag, without having to go this route."

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About the Author
News reporter

Daniel Bitonti is a Vancouver-based reporter with The Globe and Mail. Before joining the bureau, Daniel spent six months on the copy desk in the Globe’s Toronto newsroom after completing a journalism degree at Carleton University. More

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