It’s time to bid adieu to the publicly-funded Catholic school system.
Year after year, secularists make a valiant effort to raise this point with provincial governments, and provinces, especially in Catholic-rich Ontario (currently helmed by a Roman Catholic Premier who’s married to a Catholic school teacher), want nothing to do with what they perceive as a political and constitutional nightmare.
In Ontario — where the Catholic school system was controversially extended by former Premier Bill Davis to cover grades 11 to 13 — religious school campaign promises are hazardous to one’s political ambitions.
In the 2007 Ontario general election, Conservative leader John Tory pondered public funding for religious schools funded on the taxpayer’s dime.
There was a hue and a cry and John Tory kissed his aspiration to be Premier goodbye.
As much as I disagree with the public funding of faith-based schools, Tory had a point. Either we fund none or we fund all. Premier McGuinty stammered and dodged his way through a CBC interview that asked him why if he was opposed to Tory’s plan, did he continue to support the Catholic system? Only the Ontario Greens had the courage to openly declare its support for a single, secular, public system.
I understand the historical and constitutional underpinnings of why we have two separate school systems, but to put it bluntly, those days are over. Canada is no longer a binary nation of Catholic and Protestant, of English and French. We are many faiths and no faiths and myriad cultures.
The United Nations’ human rights committee declared that public money for Catholic schools but not for other religious schools is discriminatory. The UN was right.
And that the constitution is sacred and can’t be meddled with is poppycock. Of the thirteen provinces and territories, only seven allow publicly funded faith-based schools. A province can hold a referendum, as Newfoundland and Labrador did in 1997, and upon a successful vote and a constitutional amendment, the deal is done. Newfoundland witnessed upheaval and protests, but it’s over and the world didn’t end and the moon didn’t crash into the Earth and they have a single, publicly-funded system.
The third largest “belief” in Canada is no belief (and incidentally, if you want to know about the world’s religions, ask an atheist or agnostic). This is a broad category and covers free-thinkers and agnostics and atheists and deists and so on. These Canadians, which represent the fastest-growing group, are united in their devotion to secularism. And I should note that there are certainly religious Canadians who also support secularism — one of the more progressive movements being the United Church.
So why do we continue with this divisive system? Moreover, when a majority of Canadians strongly disagree with women wearing a niqab — a vast majority support the Quebec government’s ban on wearing niqabs when accessing public services — where is the ire toward public funding of a separate Catholic school system, especially when many teachings and doctrines of the Catholic Church run contrary to a progressive and civilized society.
The Catholic Church, through its leadership, marginalizes and discriminates against women (females may not be ordained as priests and in May 2010 a number of Catholic students were bused into Ottawa for an anti-choice rally on Parliament Hill), it’s openly bigoted toward homosexuality, its lies about condoms have helped foster an AIDS epidemic particularly in poorer parts of the world, and its protection of priests who have raped and sexually abused children is beyond contemptible.
Let me conclude with full disclosure and a defence. First full disclosure: I am an atheist, but my absence of belief in gods does not preclude me from arguing against an unfair and anachronistic system. The defence: we must put politics aside (with 34% of Ontarians claiming to be Catholic, politicians from the three major parties won’t touch this issue) and ask ourselves whether the continued public support for Catholic schools is just and if those public schools are an ideal expression of our society.