By Hilary White

  HAMILTON, April 23, 2007 ( – Although separate Catholic school boards in Ontario are guaranteed under the Canadian Constitution, a series of recent motions by public school board trustees has called their continued existence and distinctive religious nature into question. 

  The Ottawa Citizen reports that the public Ottawa Carleton District School Board voted ten to one on April 10 to eliminate their separate English and French publicly funded schools. The vote reaffirmed a 2001 motion in favour of a unified non-Catholic school system.

  In the last municipal election, in order to bring attention to the issue, Brantford resident Peter Jones ran for Catholic school trustee and based his campaign platform on the assertion that the Catholic school system should be eliminated. Although he didn’t win, Jones received 1,147 votes and promises to run again if the separate school system still exists by the next election.

  Last February, in response to Jones’ campaign, the Grand Erie District School Board passed a motion to ask that the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association renew a previous petition to end the separate system. The Hamilton public school board has joined with that of Grand Erie in calling for the elimination of a separate Catholic system.

  A trustee of the Hamilton board, Stoney Creek trustee Robert Barlow, told his colleagues earlier this month that the four systems maintained in Ontario are unnecessary since both systems accept students of any faith.

“There is nothing different between us and the Catholic system,” Mr. Barlow said. “It’s a waste of money, money that could be put into the classroom.” The Hamilton Spectator reported today that Barlow has since said that he did not intend to “kill off” Catholic education.

  Ontario’s government funded Catholic high schools are required by law to accept students of any or no religion, although elementary schools in the Catholic system may reject non-Catholic pupils.

  On April 16, Assumption College School in Brantford hosted a meeting of 300 parents, clergy, students and the staff and trustees of the Catholic system in order to assert the distinctive Catholic nature of the separate school system. Theresa Harris, director of the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board, told local media, “Our task is to ensure it’s a very distinct education in our Catholic schools — and it’s seen to be distinct — or the threats will continue.”

  Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty denied that the government had any plans to scrap the Catholic system whose existence is protected under the Constitution. Section 93 of the 1982 Constitution Act guarantees to Roman Catholics in Ontario the right to have a publicly-funded separate denominational school system.

  Ontario Public School Boards Association president Rick Johnson told the Hamilton Spectator that only a “handful” of the boards in the Association have petitioned for a merging of the systems.

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