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Lawyer questions legality of Catholic teachers’ union campaign to oust pro-life trustees

Lianne Laurence Lianne Laurence Follow Lianne

BURLINGTON, October 18, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A Catholic teachers’ union is campaigning for its own slate of trustees in Monday’s Ontario municipal election while the Catholic school board stands by, seemingly unconcerned the union may be abusing its authoriy.

Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) has publicly endorsed its preferred choices for the nine-member Halton Catholic District School Board of trustees. 

Campaign Life Coalition has also endorsed several people in the hotly contested race, making the get-out-the-vote ground game crucial for the pro-life candidates in the election just days away. 

Catholic lawyer Geoff Cauchi decried the situation as “bizarre.” 

OECTA is going beyond the scope of its permissible activities as defined in the Labor Relations Act to “engage in deliberate strategic behaviour” to try and ensure it has people who will act in its best interests “on both sides of the bargaining table,” he asserts.

“No reasonable Catholic elector would think that’s okay,” Cauchi told LifeSiteNews.

“What I find even more bizarre is that for many years, the trustees, bishops, and Catholic electors haven’t been troubled by this phenomenon — or have been troubled by it but haven’t possessed the political will to try to do something to stop it,” he added. 

“Section 5 of the Labour Relations Act says, ‘Every person is free to join a trade union of the person’s own choice and to participate in its lawful activities.’ A series of arbitration decisions has interpreted this provision to mean a union has a right to engage in ‘lawful and protected activity’ but this right is limited and not absolute,” explained Cauchi.

“Permissible activity is limited to the union’s interests in the collective bargaining process, and all related activity necessarily incidental to this purpose,” he said. 

“Arbitrators have ruled that communications connected to concerns of bargaining unit employees as employees — a legitimate union activity — have to be distinguished from their concerns as voters — not a legitimate union activity.”

OECTA’s Halton campaign follows on the acrimonious battle over the Catholic board’s short-lived Sanctity of Life policy, which banned school-generated funds going to charities that directly or indirectly publicly support abortion, euthanasia, sterilization, contraception and embryonic stem cell research.

The Catholic union opposed the Sanctity of Life policy from the outset.

In a January letter asking the board to scrap the motion, OECTA representatives Keith Boyd and Nina March described it as “needlessly divisive” and rebuked trustees for “taking such a narrow view of Catholic values” and choosing to “interfere” in this way.

In the face of huge backlash in March, the board agreed to hear delegations on the pro-life policy. In May they voted to suspend it and seek feedback, in October they killed it entirely.

OECTA’s Boyd: pro-life policy ‘too restrictive’

An OECTA Halton Secondary Unit’s (HSU) September letter endorsing its candidates lists the pro-life policy as first of four proofs the board is “dysfunctional” and pushing a “right wing American agenda” in the classrooms.

OECTA HSU president Boyd insists the pro-life policy is just “one of an array of issues” behind the union’s campaign to “move from a radical group to a more moderate group” of Catholic trustees.

But he opposed the policy as “too narrow an interpretation” of Church teaching, and says Dr. Moira McQueen “backs my opinion up.” 

McQueen, director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute at St. Michael’s University, gave a presentation to the board May 15, at the invitation of Tim O’Brien, a candidate endorsed by Campaign Life Coalition.

“Moira McQueen said the motion is too restrictive, that’s what she said, the motion is too restrictive,” Boyd told LifeSiteNews. 

“She said you can still give to charities like the Sick Kids Hospital, Canadian Cancer Society, and others, and even though a portion, a small fraction of their activities, are inconsistent with the values of Church, you can still donate to those and hold your head up high in that you’re not violating the doctrine and the teachings and the values of the Catholic Church,” he said. 

“Read [her report] for yourself. I’m not going to put words in her mouth.”

But McQueen has a different recollection of what she said that evening. 

“I don’t think I commented on the motion at all. I wasn’t there for partisan reasons but to help explain church teaching on cooperation in evil, and that’s what I did,” she told LifeSiteNews in an email.

“I don’t know Mr Boyd and he is not stating what I said accurately,” added McQueen.

“I did not discuss the motion as such. I know there’s always the possibility statements can be misinterpreted, but I do not make carte blanche statements along the lines Mr Boyd suggests.”

OECTA liable in future lawsuit?

Regardless of whether Boyd interpreted McQueen accurately, he and OECTA have no business interfering in denominational issues or with trustees trying to exercise their fiduciary duty to Catholic electors to uphold Catholic teaching, said Cauchi.

Case in point: OECTA’s January letter chiding trustees on the Sanctity of Life policy.

“OECTA is not a religious organization, and there is clear judicial authority the LRA should not be interpreted in a way that would authorize a union to engage in conduct that prejudicially affects the denominational rights of Catholic electors,” he said.

That’s something “neither the legislature of Ontario nor the courts have the constitutional authority to do themselves.”

If a group of Catholic electors could prove the board breached of its fiduciary duties by nixing the Sanctity of Life policy, they could add OECTA as an additional defendant to a legal action, Cauchi pointed out.   

A breach of fiduciary duty can trigger the imposition of liability on third parties who “knowingly assist” in the commission of that breach, he said.

OECTA endorsed candidates for Halton Catholic school board are: Peter DaRosa, Nancy Guzzo, and Jeff Mamer in Oakville; Brenda Agnew, Jason Crawford, and Vincent Iantomasi in Burlington; Samantha Attew and Marvin Duarte in Milton; and Janet O’Hearn-Czarnota in Halton Hills.

Campaign Life Coalition has green-lighted the following candidates: Anthony Quinn, Ante Skoko, Helena Karabela in Oakville; Briana Hamlet, Benjamin Matthew, Tim O’Brien in Burlington; and Bob Grynol in Milton.

For current information on pro-life views of municipal candidates, go to Campaign Life’s website here.



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