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 Indira Naidoo-Harris / Youtube screen-grab

BURLINGTON, April 13, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Ontario’s Liberal education minister is pressuring a Catholic school board to freeze implementation of its pro-life policy that bans its schools from donating to pro-abortion charities in violation of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life.

“I encourage the board to pause implementation of its new policy and continue with its consultation to ensure the various voices in the school community are heard and considered,” Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris wrote in a letter to Halton Catholic District School trustees Wednesday.

“I will continue to monitor this situation closely to inform potential next steps to ensure the board is acting in the best interests of its students and community,” states the letter, a copy of which LifeSiteNews obtained from the ministry.

Naidoo-Harris said the ministry continues “to receive numerous complaints and concerns from parents, students and stakeholders about the new policy.” 

“I am concerned to see that this issue may be interfering with the board’s ability to effectively carry out its responsibilities and duties.”

Lawyer and Catholic elector Geoff Cauchi said that the minister has “no lawful jurisdiction in this matter.”

Catholic trustees “have authority over denominational aspects of their management of the schools, and it seems to me that ensuring that donations are in accordance with Catholic teaching is an obvious denominational aspect of their general administrative activities,” he told LifeSiteNews.

While her use of the word “encourage” signals Naidoo-Harris knows she has no authority over these denominational aspects, said Cauchi, “still, the letter is pressure. It’s an unconstitutional form of coercion.”

Chair Diane Rabenda told LifeSiteNews in an emailed statement that the trustees “have not yet had an opportunity to discuss the letter, and so there is no official response at this time.”

But they are seeking “feedback from our parents, students, staff and ratepayers on this matter, she added. “The amended policy will be released for stakeholder consultation this week, and will remain open for consultation until June 1, 2018.”

The feedback “will be presented and reviewed by the Board of Trustees at a future Board meeting.”

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The Sanctity of Life policy prohibits Halton Catholic schools from donating to any charities or non-profit groups that “either directly or indirectly, abortion, contraception, sterilization, euthanasia, or embryonic stem cell research.”

The motion has been dogged by controversy since trustee Helena Kerabela tabled it in November. It was passed in January, but Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association representatives claimed it was “unnecessarily divisive” and several parents complained. 

The board revisited the policy February 20, passing it by a vote of 5 to 3. However, after a highly publicized backlash by students, and complaints from parents that they should have been consulted, the board agreed to hear delegations on the motion March 20.

Trustees voted then to send the policy to stakeholders for consultation.

Meanwhile, board vetted the 100 charities Halton Catholic schools donated to in the past by asking them to sign a compliance form. That pared the list down to 30 approved charities, which was posted briefly on the HCDSB website, but which has since been removed.

According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, several organizations on the list “were uncomfortable with the calls they were receiving from the public and the media.”

SickKids Hospital, the Canadian Cancer Society, and Doctors Without Borders are not approved. The United Way of Halton & Hamilton, the Terry Fox Foundation and WE Charity originally signed the form, but have since asked to be removed. 

The minister’s letter also hinted at the charge put forward by some critics that the Catholic board violated regulation 612/00 [19-23] of the Education Act by not consulting school councils before passing the motion.

Board director Paula Dawson suggested at the March board meeting this could be the case.

But Cauchi dismissed the idea as “ridiculous.”

There is “nothing in the regulation that obligates the trustees to actually consult with school councils about board policy on fundraising. Actually, it is the other way around. School councils must obey board policies on fundraising,” he told LifeSiteNews in an earlier email.

Trustee Anthony Danko, who voted in support of the motion, reiterated to the Globe that “the motion is in effect at this time.” 

He could understand some people would be disappointed, he said, but, “we have a duty to uphold our Catholic mission.”