rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

St. Albert Catholic school board has spent more than $367,000 to defend firing of transgender teacher

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Photo: KT King/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

The St. Albert Catholic school board has spent at least $367,188 of taxpayer money to keep a transgender former teacher named Jan Buterman from ever working there again.

Whatever the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine is on the question of whether people should be able to transition from one gender to another -- and that's vague enough to argue this isn't a theological question, let alone a moral one -- it hardly seems like a good use of what are really public tax dollars.

Buterman was a woman before 2008, employed as a substitute teacher by Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools in a bedroom suburb just northwest of Edmonton. When he transitioned genders to become a man in 2008, he was removed from the board's substitutes' list and fired. Not long before, he had received a letter from the school board lauding his abilities as a teacher.

Buterman complained to the Alberta Human Rights Commission about his treatment in 2009.

Ever since, the board has been spending taxpayer money on lawyers to prevent him from teaching at its schools again -- $63,878 in 2009, $118,803.50 in 2010, $27,503 in 2011, $21,239 in 2011, $58,831.50 in 2012, and $98,172 in 2013.

So if you're a St. Albert Catholic school taxpayer, this is what a goodly amount of your tax dollars are being used for.

We know this much, by the way, thanks only to a Freedom of Information request filed by Duncan Kinney, executive director of the Progress Alberta advocacy group and author of commentary at ProgressAlberta.ca.

But while the nearly $370,000 Progress Alberta discovered the board has spent is a significant sum, it's far from the end of the matter, because the board continues its fight, as Kinney put it in his blog, "to ensure that a 100 percent publicly funded school board really can fire a teacher for being trans."

So there will be more bills for St. Albert Catholic school supporters to pay for the simple reason the legal battle is not over. Given the costs to date, it is easily possible the bill will rise above half a million dollars.

According to a 2014 report of the Canadian Press, the board's arguments were initially upheld by a Human Rights panel, then overturned by the chief of the commission. The board sought judicial review of that decision, but did not get the answer it wanted from Justice Sheila Greckol of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench.

"Five years have passed since the school board terminated Mr. Buterman. The voluminous and continual retreading of arguments at the commission, as well as this application for early judicial intervention on thin grounds, has served only to delay the hearing on the merits," Justice Greckol wrote in her judgment.

"Human rights process is not only for the lion-hearted and well-heeled conversant with litigation, but also for the timorous and impecunious -- for all Albertans," she wrote in her ruling. "The expeditious resolution of complaints becomes an issue of access to justice; justice delayed is justice denied."

That hasn't stopped the board's maneuvering in the case, however.

According to Kinney, "the legal strategy of the St. Albert Catholic school board and their lawyers seems to be to delay the process, bully the defendant, say as little as possible and continue to appeal." He noted in his blog that the board has requested highly personal documents from Buterman, including all medical records from his family physician, the entire clinical file from any psychologist, psychiatrist or psychotherapist he ever dealt with, and income tax returns from the completion of his education degree to the present.

What's the basis for that strategy? Well, we won’t find out from the board now, because superintendent David Keohane says the board won't comment since the appeal remains before the courts.

Aside from questions of legal strategy, the theological and moral foundations of this fight are murky. According to information included in Justice Greckol's ruling, reported by the Canadian Press in January 2014, a letter sent to Buterman by deputy superintendent Steve Bayus after he had conferred with the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton said that "the teaching of the Catholic Church is that persons cannot change their gender."

While Christian Scriptural doctrine on this topic is really pretty skimpy -- presumably because the matter didn't come up very often any time between the Iron Age and the Roman Empire, the approximate span of the Old and New Testaments -- this appears to be true. Leastways, if you believe everything you read on the Internet, there's a confidential Vatican document out there somewhere that argues a sex-change operation can't really change a person's sex, plus a passing reference in 2014 to the essential nature of the gender one is born with by Pope Benedict XVI.

Well, OK. So wouldn't the sensible way, the legal way, the morally defensible way, for a religious school board to deal with a transgender teacher be simply to say: "You think you're one thing, we think you're another, we'll just have to agree to disagree while you get back to the classroom and continue teaching"?

Seriously, any church is welcome to worry about the essential nature of man and woman if it wishes to, but there just ain't no Eleventh Commandment dealing with this topic!

That wouldn't satisfy everyone on either side, of course, but at least it would stanch the flow of tax dollars to wasteful litigation and redirect them back to education, not to mention bring the school board into compliance with the law of the land. Indeed, as someone said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they marvelled at him.

Alas, that is not what passes for wisdom in the offices of Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools. 

"The letter went on to say that the school division was bound by the teachings of the church and that it intentionally hired teachers who were models of those teachings," the Canadian Press report explained. "Bayus wrote that Buterman's sex change was not aligned with the teachings of the church and would create confusion with students and parents."

The first sentence must have caused a ripple of laughter in Catholic school teachers' lounges. The second underestimates the ability of students and parents alike to cope with change.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: KT King/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.