HAMILTON, January 6, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — A father of two is appealing an Ontario judge’s decision upholding the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board’s refusal to disclose when morally sensitive subjects such as homosexuality and abortion are discussed.
Steve Tourloukis says the decision denied his parental rights, describing it as “a human rights disaster” and “systemic discrimination against Christians.”
Tourloukis took the public school board to court in 2012 seeking an order that the board tell him in advance what his children will be taught about controversial subjects.
He also sought an order that the school board allow him to pull his children from class if he deemed they would be exposed to what would be “false teaching” according to his Greek Orthodox faith.
But four years and $70,000 later, Tourloukis’ battle ended with Justice Robert Reid of the Ontario Superior Court throwing out his application, including his request that the court declare that as a parent, he has final authority over what his children are taught in public school.
Tourloukis’ case dates back to his 2010 request for religious accommodation, when his daughter was in junior kindergarten and his son in Grade 2, which the HWDSB denied on the basis of its Equity Policy.
The board’s refusal, Tourloukis argued, violated his Charter right of freedom of religion and constituted discrimination under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
Now the Hamilton dentist has decided to fight on, and his lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos filed notice with the Ontario Court of Appeal on December 23, arguing Reid made several substantive errors in law in the 24-page decision he issued a month earlier.
“I have to appeal,” Tourloukis told LifeSiteNews in an email.
“This is a judicial endorsement of systemic discrimination against Christians. It’s a human rights disaster right here in Canada.”
What he found especially galling was Reid’s proffered remedy that he simply pull his children from public school, noted Tourloukis.
“I will not have my children cleansed from the school system.”
“The decision to appeal is good news for parents across the province and Canada,” noted Lou Iacobelli, chair of the Parental Rights in Education Defence Fund, which has been bankrolling the landmark case.
“Mr. Tourloukis is fighting for all parents.”
Board’s violation of rights is “not trivial” but “reasonable”: judge
In his November 23 ruling, Reid conceded the board’s interference with Tourloukis’ Charter rights of religious freedom was “not trivial nor insubstantial.”
He also accepted that Tourloukis believed it would be a sin if he did not protect his children from “false teachings,” which include “moral relativism and issues around human sexuality.”
Tourloukis had “demonstrated his religious tenets are significantly at odds with numerous aspects of the Board’s Equity Policy including, but not solely, as regards sexual orientation,” wrote Reid.
But because of the board’s statutory obligations — particularly those outlined in the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy launched by openly lesbian Premier Kathleen Wynne while she served as education minister in 2009 — its decision to refuse Tourloukis’ request struck a “reasonable” balance between his Charter rights and “Charter protected values of equality and multiculturalism,” he ruled.
The board’s decision not to grant Tourloukis’ request was based in its Equity Policy, in which it “committed to ensure that classroom practices are anti-homophobic and anti-heterosexist,” wrote the judge.
Judge’s ruling gives Wynne carte blanche in schools
Left unchallenged, Reid’s ruling will give governments — in this case, the Liberals led by now Premier Wynne, who has been pushing sex-ed and a pro-LGBTQ agenda in the schools — the legal leverage to overrule parents’ constitutional rights, warned Tourloukis.
“There is now NOTHING stopping the radical Kathleen Wynne government. She has carte blanche to teach little kids anything she wants. We have to appeal,” he told LifeSiteNews. “This terrible decision will affect generations of Christian children.”
The Liberal government intervened in the Tourloukis case, as did the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).
With the HWDSB, Liberals and the union lawyers outnumbering him six to one, Polizogopoulos argued the case before Reid on June 23, 2016.
He emphasized that Tourloukis did not object to his children receiving factual information, nor to students talking about these matters. But he did want to know when and how these subjects would be conveyed in the classroom, because teachers are authority figures “and hold a very special place in the eyes of children,” he said.
The ETFO argued that having to give advance notice would place an “undue burden” on teachers.
That’s because the “requirements for gender equity, antiracist….and respect for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities” are “so fully integrated” in the curriculum it would be virtually impossible to know when these matters would come up, wrote Reid.
Reid ruled that whether Tourloukis’s request created undue hardship or not “may well be a question” for the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, over which, he claimed, he had no jurisdiction.
Reid sided with the Liberal government and the ETFO in ruling that having Tourloukis’ children leave class would “be contrary to the values of inclusion and well-being, and could lead to feelings of exclusion or marginalization by students.”
Isolating children was “antithetical to the competing legislative mandate and the Charter values favouring inclusivity, equality and multiculturalism,” he wrote.
“Inclusivity” not a Charter value: appeal
In his notice to appeal, Polizogopoulos argues in part that Reid erred in law by concluding that “inclusivity” is a Charter value; that allowing Tourloukis’ children to leave the classroom would “engage competing Charter values” and that the Tourloukis children’s Charter rights were in competition with those of merely “hypothetical children.”
He also asserts Reid erred in law by concluding he had no jurisdiction to rule the school board decision was discrimination under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
Reid further erred, Polizogopoulos contends, in providing no interim accommodation for Tourloukis other than “proposing the harsh option to exit the public system.”
Indeed, Reid’s suggestion smacks of hypocrisy, according to Tourloukis.
Even though the judge admitted the board violated his Charter rights, Reid ruled that its decision was reasonable “because allowing opt-outs would be antithetical to inclusivity, equality and multiculturalism,” observed Tourloukis.
“And then this hypocritical judicial guardian of inclusivity, equality and multiculturalism suggests that I should opt my kids out of the public school system.”
Appeal could cost $30,000
PRIEDF’s Iacobelli also blasted the ruling in an Every Day for Life Canada blog post.
“The judge essentially failed to respect the applicant's right to religious freedom and parental autonomy,” he noted.
“He said to Mr. Tourloukis, and by inference to every parent in Canada, that he should send his children to a private school or to homeschool. The judge tells the applicant that the public school system can no longer serve him. But wait a minute! It is parents who support public education through taxation.”
Iacobelli estimated that the appeal could cost up to $30,000.
“One of the big roadblocks to an appeal is the cost. Government and school boards have lots of taxpayer money while an individual parent or family must fundraise,” he added.
He urged those who could donate to do so through the PRIEF website. “Those who have already donated, we thank you for standing up and defending parental rights and religious freedom,” Iacobelli noted.
“We also thank and pray for Steve Tourloukis and his family for leading the battle to defend parental rights and Christian values (religious freedom) in Ontario and Canada for all parents.”
To donate to PRIEF or for more information go here.
Correction: The original version of this article erroneously stated Reid concurred with the ETFO argument that having to give advance notice would place an “undue burden” on teachers.