Chris Selley Jan 27, 2012
During an hour-long address at the Ontario Legislature last month, provincial Education Minister Laurel Broten trumpeted support for her government’s anti-bullying legislation from just about every concerned party imaginable. Supporters she mentioned ran the gamut from Egale, the gay rights organization, to the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA). Which was a bit odd, really. On some days, you wouldn’t expect the two organizations to agree on the colour of the sky.
Most gay rights activists weren’t nearly as enthusiastic. They argued that while the legislation claimed to force schools to support so-called “gay-straight alliance” clubs, there was no requirement to allow the use of that specific term. This struck many people as a nod to Ontario’s bizarre, anachronistic, publicly funded Catholic school system, which is exactly what it was.
From an activist viewpoint, I understood the objection: It is the most visible symbol of intolerance. Hence Premier Dalton McGuinty’s reaction, which was to promise to say the word “gay” a lot. “I fully expect that Catholic kids are going to use the word gay,” he said. “I fully expect that Catholic teachers are going to use the word gay, and as a Catholic premier of Ontario I’m going to be talking about gay kids.”
From a practical viewpoint, however, there is a much bigger flaw in the legislation’s approach to these student organizations: It would demand schools support clubs that seek to “promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.” But it doesn’t specify any particular brand of awareness or understanding. Would the clubs promote modern Canadian awareness and understanding, in which same-sex relationships and marriages are commonplace and legally protected, or the sort that wafts up the Vatican’s chimney?
The shoe finally dropped this week, in the form of a long-awaited policy document from the OCSTA. In Ontario Catholic schools, the clubs in question will will operate under the title “Respecting Difference.” Their activities must be “respectful of and consistent with Catholic teaching.” They must not be “fora for activism, protest or advocacy of anything that is not in accord with the Catholic faith foundation of the school.” And because “issues of gender identity” and “sexual attraction” are “complex, delicate and highly personal,” these will be considered “inappropriate issues for open forum discussion.”
As a reminder of what the Church thinks about homosexuality, the document point us to Part 3 of the Catechism, which notes that homosexual acts are of “grave depravity,” “intrinsically disordered,” “contrary to the natural law” and “under no circumstances [to] be approved.” Because sexual acts are only permissible in marriage, and because marriage cannot exist between two people of the same sex — we’re up the Vatican’s chimney, remember, not in Ontario — people afflicted by these moonlight desires must commit themselves to a life of chastity.
I don’t believe Mr. McGuinty believes a word of that rubbish for a second — not as a Premier, not as a Catholic and not as a parent. And yet the self-styled “Education Premier” allows it to stand unopposed. The best he can really argue is — as has been suggested to me — that the reality in schools isn’t nearly so unenlightened. Which would only raise another question: Why is a publicly funded school system ignoring its own policies?
At 3 p.m. on Friday, roughly 20 hours after Toronto’s Xtra! magazine broke the story, Ms. Broten released a statement rehashing her government’s commitment to fight bullying, promising to hold schools accountable to the standards expressed in the anti-bullying bill — which are precisely what’s at issue — and, amazingly, pledging to read the OCSTA’s new policy at some point in the future. The document is all of 11 pages long. The font is large.
I didn’t think Queen’s Park had the stomach for a fight with the Church on this matter, or most any other matter, beforehand. That statement pretty much confirms it. I’ll leave it to gay students in the Catholic system to decide if clubs conducted under the OCSTA’s new policy would constitute an improvement. But politically, this smells to me like yet another attempt to be seen addressing a problem without angering a powerful stakeholder. And it illustrates yet again that when push comes to shove, publicly funded Catholic education, in Ontario, in 2012, makes very little sense at all.