Catholic school fires teacher for changing God-given gender

22 posts / 0 new
Last post
Catholic school fires teacher for changing God-given gender

[url=Teacher">][col... launches complaint over gender-change firing[/url]


An Edmonton teacher has filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission after he was fired by a Catholic school board for telling it he was changing his gender.

Jan Buterman, who worked as a substitute teacher for about six months, was removed from the Greater St. Albert Catholic school board's substitute teacher list last year.

Born as a woman, Buterman is transitioning to become a man and told the school board he had gender identity disorder.

In a letter, Steve Bayus, deputy superintendent of schools for Greater St. Albert, wrote that in discussions with the archbishop of the Edmonton diocese, it was their view that "the teaching of the Catholic Church is that persons cannot change their gender. One's gender is considered what God created us to be."


M. Spector M. Spector's picture

If the church's position is that his gender is permanently fixed by God, then what's their problem? Tongue out

OL12 OL12's picture

He will lose his complaint.  Catholic school boards have an absolute and unfettered right to terminate teachers they believe through their example are setting an un-Catholic example to the children in their care.  Non-fundamental denomination rights have trumped fundamental equality rights whenever the two have collided in publicly funded Catholic schools in Canada.  The institution is more important than the individual in this case.  Publicly funded Catholic school boards are the only institutions in Canada, to my knowledge, that receive public money but are not subject to generally accepted human rights norms.

Catholic school boards in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada have been successful in terminating teachers for pregnancy out of wedlock (a penalty that to my knowledge has only been applied to female teachers where the sin is obvious) or even for marrying in a civil ceremony.
- The Walsh Case, 1988. A Catholic school teacher employed by a Newfoundland Catholic school board was dismissed for marrying a woman of another Christian denomination and for adopting her faith. He was considered to have repudiated Roman Catholic doctrine by example.

- The Casagrande Case, 1986. A Catholic school teacher employed by an Alberta Catholic school board was dismissed for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. She was found to have failed to have lived up to Roman Catholic doctrine by engaging in pre-marital sexual intercourse. The decision indicated male teachers can be dismissed for the same cause.

- The Porter-Podgorski Case, 1978. Two Catholic school teachers employed by an Ontario Catholic school board were dismissed for marrying in a civil ceremony, actions which constituted "serious departures from denominational standards."

And all of the big 3 Ontario policital parties support the the continued existence of publicly funded Catholic schools, despite their frequent contempt for the human rights norms that govern any other publicly funded enterprise in this country except them.  And they do it with YOUR tax dollars.  You support this sort of discriminatory institution with your tax dollars?  How does that make you feel?


Pesronally I say strip them of all public funding. But I've been saying that for years and I can't see it happening.


M. Spector wrote:

If the church's position is that his gender is permanently fixed by God, then what's their problem? Tongue out

Good point, but surely attempting to undo God's work is also reprehensible?

I hope OL12's prediction is wrong, but I'm not so sure. Do you (Spector) think this will go like [url=]Vriend v. Alberta?[/url]



Stargazer wrote:

Pesronally I say strip them of all public funding. But I've been saying that for years and I can't see it happening.

I agree with this. I still can't understand why there are provinces that still fund religious schools with taxpayer dollars.

I heard the complainant on CBC radio this morning and that sounds like the gist of his complaint. He said that was not an employee of the Catholic church, he was an employee of a taxpayer-funded schoolboard.


What difference does public funding make to this story? Should private schools with no public funding have the right to fire trans employees? How about a supermarket or a hair salon? Let's avoid the "public funding" debate here, if possible.


If it was a private religious school than I think the human rights commission would have to weigh the religious freedom component more heavily. Don't private religious schools have the right to teach based on their religion? A Muslim school would have the right to fire a female teacher not dressed according to their dress code would they not?


Sorry to hear you say that, Ghislaine. Especially the part about comparing dress code with a person's gender identity. But also the suggestion that any employer could cite religious freedom to fire trans employees, and the courts would have to "weigh" that in 2009. Why don't you read the Supreme Court decision in Vriend, please, when you have a moment.



I think it is time for the SCC to make it clear that Human Rights trumps religious freedom.

OL12 OL12's picture

A Christian clergyman once asked me "Why shouldn't a Catholic school be allowed to discriminate against non-Catholic teachers who don't share their religious views?"  My answer was "because they receive public money -- a lot of it."  Publicly funded Catholic schools are fully funded with money from all taxpayers, not just Catholics.  With the exception of Roman Catholic school boards, any organization that receives any public money must adhere to human rights legislation.

If a private Catholic school wants to discriminate in admissions, hirings, and firings, the situation is not at all the same.  The government is not party to the discrimination through financial support in the case of truly private organizations.  Governments are not favouring some citizens and supporting discrimination against others in the private religious school case.

Private organizations are free to impose their own arbitrary rules -- even if they are in conflict with societal norms in some areas.  If they want to enforce shaved heads or green neckties, they are free to do so.

The Boy Scouts in the United States also discriminates against homosexual and trans-gendered persons.  A Scout leader turfed out of Scouting for homosexuality challenged that all the way to the US Supreme Court and lost.  The court said that as a private organization, they have a right to discriminate against homosexuals.  The thing is, many Scouting organizations in the US received municipal and state government funding and those governments are bound by human rights legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  Many (I'm not sure if all) Boy Scout organizations that stuck to their guns and exercised their "right" as a private organization to discriminate lost their government funding.

That is how it should be in Canada.  If an organization receives any (nevermind full) funding or assistance from any level of government (and therefore all taxpayers), that funding or assistance should be cut off if the organization does not fully comply with human rights legislation.

Catholic school boards in Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan (the only provinces where publicly funded Catholic schools remain) are 100% funded by the taxpayer.  They get a free pass to discriminate against homosexuals and other "sinners" (those who engage in pre-marital sex, marriage outside the Catholic Church, etc) on account of their denominational "rights" in the Constitution.  Non-fundamental denominational school rights trumping fundamental equality rights.

Boy Scouts of America 2004 policy statement wrote:
"Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed."

The US Supreme Court affirmed the Boy Scouts' right to discriminate as a private organization, but US governments that funded them then pulled their support citing inconsistency with the human rights laws that govern them.

In Canada, Catholic school boards take public money with no such strings attached -- and they get a heck of a lot more of their money from the taxpayer.  Is everyone OK with that?


Ontario should amend the Constitution so that no publicly funded organizations, including those that existed prior to the BNA, can treat people unequally on the basis of Race, Sex, Colour, Nationality, Place of Origin, Sexual Orientation, Age and/or Religion. The Catholic school system been legally able to discriminate because the Ontario legislature has neglected to close this gap. Most catholic school supporters already believe that all their schools accept all applying resident students, or that they pay more for their special schools, or that only Catholics' taxes fund catholic schools, and they all look down and shuffle their feet when you ask them about teachers and religious discrimination. Catholics value their school system, but I've never met one who openly admits to, and supports, that system's discriminatory practices. Any party that makes a policy of ending discrimination in all publicly funded schools will recieve overwhelming support. It's not disruptive, it's pro-equality- it's a winner. All Catholic people with whom I've ever spoken either deny that they discriminate, or they agree that they ought not discriminate- who would disagree with this??

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Unionist wrote:

I hope OL12's prediction is wrong, but I'm not so sure. Do you (Spector) think this will go like [url=]Vriend v. Alberta?[/url]

A closer Supreme Court analogy would be the 25-year-old case of [url=]Cal... et al. v. Stuart et al.[/url] in which a unanimous Supreme Court upheld the right of a Catholic high school in B.C. to refuse to renew the teaching contract of Margaret Caldwell, who went against the Catholic faith by marrying a divorced man in a civil ceremony.  Surprised

If Caldwell had instead had a sex-change, I suspect the 1984 court would have ruled the same.

In failing to renew the contract of Mrs. Caldwell, the school authorities were exercising a preference for the benefit of the members of the community served by the school and forming the identifiable group by preserving a teaching staff whose Catholic members all accepted and practised the doctrines of the Church. In my opinion then, the dismissal of Mrs. Caldwell may not be considered as a contravention of the [B.C. Human Rights] Code and the appeal must fail.

- from s. 92 of the judgment

The key question is whether having a gender reassignment is contrary to a "bona fide occupational requirement" of the Catholic school. A court could find that, unlike in Caldwell, the requirement that a teacher not be transgendered was not a bona fide requirement of the employer. Or, if the case gets to the Supreme Court, it could disapprove or otherwise overrule the Caldwell decision, which until then is still binding on lower courts.

In the end, the issue may be decided on the basis of differences in wording of the provincial legislation. In Caldwell, the case turned in part on the following section of the B.C. Human Rights Code (as it was at that time; it's now [url= 41[/url], in slightly revised form.):

22. Where a charitable, philanthropic, educational, fraternal, religious or social organization or corporation that is not operated for profit has as a primary purpose the promotion of the interests and welfare of an identifiable group or class of persons characterized by a common race, religion, age, sex, marital status, political belief, colour, ancestry or place of origin, that organization or group shall not be considered as contravening this Act because it is granting a preference to members of the identifiable group or class of persons.

[url= media report[/url] gives more detail than the CBC report, which was unclear on some issues. Buterman was originally hired as a woman, but in 2008 told the board he was planning to become a male. This was not clear in the CBC report - not that it makes any difference to his case. 

He has yet to receive the gender reassignment surgery, apparently for lack of funds. So the board can't say he has changed or attempted to surgically change his gender yet; he has merely stated an intention to do so. The article also notes his "background" is Lutheran, which apparently didn't bother the board when they hired him.


There is more to transition than sex reassignment surgery. 

Though I agree it is absurd that any religious institution receives public funding at all, I also agree with Unionist that there is more to this than the public funding issue.  Most workplaces are "private organizations"; should they be allowed to discriminate however they please?  Scouts (for example) can't do that in Canada, can they?

Also troubling is the notion that teachers are expected to set an example of any kind.

OL12 OL12's picture

Boze wrote:
Most workplaces are "private organizations"; should they be allowed to discriminate however they please?  Scouts (for example) can't do that in Canada, can they?

Scouts Canada does not permit discrimination of this sort.

Scouts Canada FAQ page wrote:

10.  Are homosexuals allowed to join Scouts Canada?
Scouts Canada does not discriminate for reasons of gender, culture, religious belief (see above) or sexual orientation.

I don't think they'd be allowed to even if they wanted to.

I think protection from discrimination is better in Canada.  Ontario's human rights code definitely extends to the workplace.  In Ontario, it seems pretty iron-clad, except for permitted discrimination on prohibited grounds (now there's an oxymoron), which you discover means the free pass given to Catholic school boards when you dig into the Code.  Catholic school boards get to ignore the discrimination protections that apply to every other type of employer.

Ontario Human Rights Code wrote:

(emphasis added)


5.  (1)  Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 5 (1); 1999, c. 6, s. 28 (5); 2001, c. 32, s. 27 (1); 2005, c. 5, s. 32 (5).

Harassment in employment

(2)  Every person who is an employee has a right to freedom from harassment in the workplace by the employer or agent of the employer or by another employee because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 5 (2); 1999, c. 6, s. 28 (6); 2001, c. 32, s. 27 (1); 2005, c. 5, s. 32 (6).

Separate school rights preserved

19.  (1)  This Act shall not be construed to adversely affect any right or privilege respecting separate schools enjoyed by separate school boards or their supporters under the Constitution Act, 1867 and the Education Act. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 19 (1).


23.  (1)  The right under section 5 to equal treatment with respect to employment is infringed where an invitation to apply for employment or an advertisement in connection with employment is published or displayed that directly or indirectly classifies or indicates qualifications by a prohibited ground of discrimination. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 23 (1).

Application for employment

(2)  The right under section 5 to equal treatment with respect to employment is infringed where a form of application for employment is used or a written or oral inquiry is made of an applicant that directly or indirectly classifies or indicates qualifications by a prohibited ground of discrimination. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 23 (2).

Questions at interview

(3)  Nothing in subsection (2) precludes the asking of questions at a personal employment interview concerning a prohibited ground of discrimination where discrimination on such ground is permitted under this Act. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 23 (3).

Permitted prohibited discrimination?  Hmmm.  Seems incredible one could even write such a thing in a human rights code without laughing out loud.  What a joke.  Except that it is not a joke.  Catholic school boards are different from other employers.  They are special.  Their denominational rights have always trumped the fundamental equality rights of their employees.  Pregnancy out of wedlock (or more broadly, sex before marriage), marriage in a civil or non-Catholic ceremony, and homosexuality can all get a Catholic school teacher dismissed.  I'd wager that if one of their employees dared to support pro-choice or death-with-dignity causes they could be dismissed as well (they'd be considered to be setting a very bad example).

Religions are an interesting case.  When the tenents of the religion are incompatible with homosexuality (i.e. they teach it is wrong), do they get a free pass to discriminate?  Should they?  There is a case in Ontario right now regarding the dismissal of a gay altar server at a Catholic Church.  The Church says they just want to renew their cast of volunteers and allow other people a chance to serve.  What do you think the chances are that the dismissed gay altar server will ever get back into a volunteer position at that Church once he is out?  My money is on never.  I just hope the Church is being honest about their motivation.  Deception and lies are inherently un-Christian.


The most revealing part of this story, for me, is the confession by the deputy superintendent of schools that the firing came after the Archbishop told them the Church's position - not after consulting the parents, or the students, or their lawyers, or the department of education - just the Archbishop.

Gus Williams

Here is an excellent article on the Vriend case. What really impressed me on this case were the intervenors, especially the Jewish community whose closing as presented by Lyle Kanee was very moving


Lyle is actually a wonderful union-side labour lawyer, humble and with a sense of humour. When he joined the excellent Sack Goldblatt Mitchell firm, Toronto's gain was Edmonton's loss. He helped our union out on more than one occasion.

End of thread drift.

ETA: YIKES! I've lost track of Lyle, obviously - look at this from 2008:

In a surprising development on April 30, Minister Hector Goudreau announced the appointment of a leading union advocate to be the next Vice Chair of the Labour Relations Board. Lyle Kanee is to fill the gap created by the recent departure of Les Wallace. The appointment is for a five-year term commencing August 1. This is a part-time position, and it appears that Lyle will be commuting from Ontario to perform the role. This appointment has led to speculation that he could become the next Chair of the Labour Relations Board.

Wonderful! Can't believe the Alberta govt. would do that!

Now my drift is really over, I think.



from [url= cbc story[/url]:


A transsexual is a person who has the physical characteristics of one sex but the psychological characteristics of the other.


I would think the school board would be quite pleased with this strong affirmation of traditional notions of male and female. 


Gus for some reason I cannot download your vriend story. Who was Kanee representing from the Jewish community on this case?

bagkitty bagkitty's picture


Jaku, reproducing the relevant passage in the linked article for your benefit:

On Nov 4, 1997 the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case. Julie Lloyd, an Edmonton lawyer who was co-counsel for the Canadian Bar Association, one of 17 intervenors in the case, remembers the day well.

"I was extraordinarily fortunate to be able to sit in that room; to be in the Supreme Court of Canada and watch this take place was profound. It took pretty much a whole day, and Sheila Greckol and her legal team put together an absolutely extraordinary roster of intervenors, so in addition to their own very able remarks they brought together labour unions, they brought churches, they brought cultural groups, the Canadian Jewish Congress, it was extraordinary to listen to each of these individuals stand up and speak in support of gay and lesbian citizens," Lloyd recalls.

"At that time, gays and lesbians were sort of considered the illegitimate minority: maybe there was actually a reason, maybe it was a sickness, maybe it's a sin, maybe it's a this, maybe it's a that. However, being in that room and listening to Dale Gibson from the United Church stand up and say, ‘We're hearing this is a battle between the churches and the gay and lesbian people. What churches? I represent the United Church, we like gay and lesbian people.' Lyle Kanee [representing the Canadian Jewish Congress] stood up and talked about the common history of gay and lesbian people and Jews, that in what happened to Jews that led horrifically to the holocaust, the first step was merely removing them from human rights codes, allowing landlords to discriminate against them, allowing employers to discriminate against them. And he said that when we see these facts here in Alberta we become very alarmed. But moreover, he said, we have learned that to leave any minority group out of the incidence of citizenship or human rights legislation is a threat to all minority groups, from our past we understand that.

"And he stood up at the end of it and said, ‘The doors of citizenship have been open for Jews, but we can't walk through those doors unless we're hand in hand with our gay and lesbian friends.' So it was such a profound experience of community."