BURLINGTON, Ontario, May 3, 3018 (LifeSiteNews) – A Catholic lawyer along with Canada’s leading pro-life organization are calling foul after an Ontario Catholic school board suspended a pro-life policy that bans school from donating to charities that support abortion, euthanasia, and other activities that violate Church teaching on the sanctity of life.
Halton Catholic District School Board voted five to four Tuesday to put the Sanctity of Life policy on hold until the beginning of the next school year, and the completion of a community consultation that closes June 1.
But lawyer Geoff Cauchi warned trustees in a letter that voting to suspend the pro-life policy put them in danger of breaching the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, based on the active lobbying by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) to bring down the policy.
Three of the trustees — Paul Marai, Arlene Iantomasi, and Jane Michael — received OECTA donations for their 2014 election campaigns, and OECTA is now campaigning to defeat the trustees who supported the pro-life motion in October’s municipal elections.
“I was very disheartened to think that OECTA has finally achieved its goal, and that is total political control over the Halton Catholic school board,” Cauchi told LifeSiteNews. “At least five members of the board are in the back pocket of the union.”
Cauchi’s comment was echoed by Jack Fonseca, Campaign Life Coalition’s senior political advisor.
“Five Catholic trustees are now on record giving material cooperation with evil, and have proven themselves unworthy to serve in the role of Catholic trustee, a role which mandates the safeguarding and advancement of Catholic teaching,” he told LifeSiteNews.
“These trustees need to be removed either by court order for having contravened the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, or by Catholic voters in the next election,” Fonseca said.
Trustees Marai, Michael, Iantomasi, John Mark Rowe, and chair Diane Rabenda voted in favor of suspending the policy, with Anthony Danko, Anthony Quinn, Susan Trites, and Helena Karabela voting against.
The pro-life policy passed in February and bans funds generated in the board’s 53 schools going to any charity or non-profit that directly or indirectly supports abortion, euthanasia, contraception, sterilization and embryonic stem cell research.
Halton OECTA representatives Keith Boyd and Nina Marsh sent the board a letter opposing the policy as “unnecessarily divisive.”
And as well as OECTA, a number of parents and students were upset students could no longer donate to such charities as Canadian Cancer Society, Sick Kids Hospital, WE Charity and United Way of Halton and Hamilton.
The board heard from some 16 delegations protesting the motion, as well as eight in its favour, while students launched a petition, staged school walkouts, and parent David Harvey filed a motion in court to have the policy repealed or suspended on the grounds trustees violated the Education Act by not consulting school councils.
Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris also encouraged trustees in a letter to hold off on the policy until it consulted with stakeholders.
The board agreed in March to get feedback, but not to pause the policy.
Marai, who voted for the Sanctity of Life policy in the past, brought in Tuesday’s motion to suspend, which he described as “very much my genuine attempt to uphold my fiduciary duty to the board.”
“I think the greatest thing I’ve learned from this is the importance of communication over entrenchment,” he said.
“And for those of you who felt ignored during this process, I’m sorry and I hope this is just the first step we take to make this right.”
Karabela told the board she received “a lot of support from those parents who are grateful” for the Sanctity of Life motion, which has “shone a light on things we didn’t know before, before we had the list.”
Indeed, when the policy came into effect, board administration asked the 100 charities Halton Catholic schools donated to in the past to sign a declaration that their activities complied with Catholic teaching, the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star reported at the time.
As a result, the list was reduced to 30 approved charities. The names of these were briefly posted on the HCDSB website, then removed.
“We’ve discovered something,” Karabela said, who received sustained applause from public spectators after she spoke.
“And we have to act on that, and that’s Catholic teaching as well. We don’t continue cooperating if it’s not the good, and the good here is the life of the child, the right to life in all stages from conception to natural death.”
Had the board adopted a policy that “shone light on an issue of fraud, would we continue to fundraise and work to promote that?” Karabela said.
“I think the life issue is a lot more serious.”
Ben Sabourin, who spearheaded the student campaign against the pro-life policy, claimed victory.
“This is what we’ve been pushing for all along,” Sabourin, student council president at Christ the King Secondary in Georgetown, told CBC. “This is a huge win for the students.”
With the policy suspended, Halton Catholic schools could take part in the Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life on June 15.
Minister Naidoo-Harris released a statement after the vote that “I, along with many, will be watching closely to make sure that the student voice along with various community voices are heard and that the board listens to this important feedback.”
Board chair Rabenda told CBC these consultations will decide the future of the policy, but she hopes it’s done.
“I would go back,” Rabenda said. “I would let the students do their wonderful work in fundraising for the charities that they feel is appropriate.”
Fonseca urged Halton Catholics to write in their support of the policy, or Resolution #61/18, before the consultation process closes on June 1.
The consultation is done through the HCDSB website here.
Campaign Life will be campaigning for pro-life trustee candidates in the October municipal elections, Fonseca told LifeSiteNews, adding that anyone interested in helping can contact: [email protected]