School Board lawyer bullies faithful Catholic trustees on equity policy stance
TORONTO, May 20, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - About 150 Catholic parents and ratepayers opposed to the draft Equity & Inclusion (EIE) policy of the Toronto Catholic School Board, packed the boardroom where trustees were set to vote on the controversial policy last night. Several parents and trustees expressed outrage upon witnessing the vote being “sabotaged” by a board staff lawyer at the urging of administration.
Prior to the meeting, parents delivered a petition signed by 2,418 Toronto Catholic stakeholders. Petition signers demanded that trustees vote against the draft EIE policy, or amend it with explicit language to protect against a gay agenda that could undermine Catholic doctrine on sexual morality.
At the beginning of the meeting, seven delegations of parents and Catholic stakeholders persuasively laid out the reasons why the draft policy would invite dissenters to undermine Catholic doctrine on homosexuality, due to the vague wording of the policy document.
Following the presentations by parents, Trustee Angela Kennedy read out an amendment to protect Catholic moral teaching and to explicitly affirm that the Catholic Board’s denominational rights “take precedence over human rights protections”.
Director, Anne Perron, then invited board staff lawyer, Eric Roher, to address trustees. Roher claimed “groups” could sue the trustees and that Dalton McGuinty’s government could punish them collectively if the amendments were added.
“The other issue that you should consider is potential legal liability to the extent that groups could take action against the board saying that we are exposing, or are refusing to ensure that our children and students are treated in an equitable and inclusive manner”, said Roher.
Parents were stunned by the intimidation tactics of the lawyer. Trustee John Del Grande echoed the insult felt by parents when he shot back: “The scare tactics, I don’t think are appropriate”.
Trustee Maria Rizzo also rebuked the legal threats from Roher despite her support of the controversial draft policy. “I don’t agree with Mr. Roher, I do believe that it’s within our right to make any amendments and vote on those amendments, especially as it refers to policy,” she said.
The majority of trustees expressed they did not wish to vote on the amendments for fear of liability.
Trustee Kennedy, expressed her frustration with the attempt to remove the discussion from the public eye. “There seems to be a lack of transparency,” she said. “I don’t agree with the fact that we were asked to put our amendments in a non-public meeting. We’re a public board. This is a democracy. We’re representing the people. We’ve got to tell everybody including our trustee colleagues, including our staff and our lawyers, exactly what we want to be considering here. … But to do things undercover, on the telephone, in a non-public meeting, I think is wrong…”
The Chair, Ann Andrachuk, cut Kennedy off, and argued sharply that nothing was being done “under cover” and claimed that making decisions about the amendments outside the board meeting was entirely appropriate.
A spirited rebuttal from Trustee Kennedy caused the parent audience to erupt with applause: “I think that this is the proper way to do it,… it’s the proper place, right here, to put forward our amendments. I don’t agree with deferral. I don’t agree with passing the policy [or] with deferring our amendments”
In spite of the efforts of Trustees Del Grand and Kennedy, the Board passed the un-amended draft policy 7 to 4. Trustees Patrizia Bottoni and Frank D’Amico also voted no. Absent from the vote was Trustee Barb Poplawsi who voted in favour of Del Grande’s amendments at a prior board meeting. Trustee Enverga seemed supportive of the pro-Catholic amendments, but also voted to defer consideration of the amendments until comment can be given by the Director’s legal counsel.
A motion was passed to bring the amendments back again for a separate vote on June 16, after legal counsel review.
One parent who asked that his name not be published, told LifeSiteNews that after watching the intimidation tactics of Eric Roher, he does not trust the advice that will be given to trustees by internal legal counsel. “It looked to me that this guy was determined to push the government agenda, regardless of what rights trustees possess”.
One of the speakers at the beginning of the meeting was former homosexual activist Alan Yoshioka. He is the spokesman for Reclaim the Rainbow - Toronto, a policy group of Toronto Catholics who have experience of same-sex attraction, either in themselves or among their loved ones, and who are loyal to the Catholic Magisterium.
“We are disappointed that the board saw fit to pass a policy that leaves room for interpretations that would undermine schools’ capacity to present, and indeed to embody, the fullness of the Church’s teaching,” said Yoshioka. “Even so, we hope that next month the board will use its authority to pass amendments that would limit opportunities for the community’s abhorrence of bullying to be exploited by parties who, for whatever reason, would deprive students of the life-giving teaching of the Church on chastity and the nature of human sexuality.”