Teachers at a Mississauga Catholic school are encouraging students to sign a petition that supports a federal motion to reopen the abortion debate, Xtra has learned.
In an email sent out to all teachers at St Joseph Catholic Secondary School, teachers are encouraged to ask students to sign. Xtra obtained a copy of the email from a source at the school.
Michael Payton, interim executive director of the Centre for Inquiry, says the school is manipulating students to lobby the federal government on behalf of Conservative causes.
“This is a clear example of indoctrination and pernicious lobbying that is being funded by taxpayers in Ontario,” Payton says. “Why is this allowed in a publicly funded school? This is not education. It’s vile and manipulative.”
The Life Canada petition can be seen here. It supports Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth’s motion in the House of Commons to establish a parliamentary committee to study whether human life begins before birth; the motion will be debated for the first time in Ottawa April 26.
Administrative staff at St Joseph’s previously blocked student Leanne Iskander when she wanted to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA). At one point students were banned from using rainbows in anti-homophobia posters. The principal deemed the rainbow image “too political” because of its association with Pride.
Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA), has maintained that GSAs will remain banned at all Ontario Catholic schools because “a GSA signals to students that the group is focused on activism.”
Payton says the school is abusing its position of power. “There’s no real way a student can disagree if asked to sign a petition by their teacher,” he says. “Students get the message that they are expected to take a political stance, and that’s absolutely unacceptable.”
In addition, the Right to Life Association of Toronto’s Debbie Fisher spoke to students about abortion at an April 19 assembly. Fisher was invited as part of an annual push to get students to sign up for the anti-choice March for Life in Ottawa from May 12 to 14.
Every year students are bused to Parliament Hill for the march, which attracts approximately 20,000 Catholic and evangelical anti-choice protesters.
Fisher, who refused to comment about the content of her speech, says her presentation “is between me and the school. I am not going to talk to you . . . I can’t give information on this to protect the student’s confidentiality and the confidentiality of my own presentation.”
Bruce Campbell, general manager of communications and community relations for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB), says Fisher spoke to about 200 students in grades 10 through 12, including 17 students who will attend the march in Ottawa.
“This is very scary,” Payton says. “These students are not old enough to understand what is essentially an ethical problem.”
Campbell says there’s nothing inappropriate about preaching to youth in Catholic schools about abortion, adding that more than 700 students from 19 schools plan to attend this year’s March for Life.
While activism that supports gay students is banned, Campbell says Catholic activism is okay. “In Catholic schools there is a culture of faith-related social justice activism.”
“[Catholic schools don’t support] activism that is not in keeping with the tenets of the Catholic Church,” he says. “If you come to a Catholic school you would expect that would be something you would be exposed to . . . We believe this is an appropriate use of students’ time.
“A fundamental component of the catechism of the Catholic Church affirms life from conception to natural death,” he adds.
However, Campbell says [DPCDSB] administrators did not direct teachers to ask students to sign the petition.
Yet at least four teachers have taken the petition to their students, according to Xtra’s source, who also says students are being encouraged to raise $20 each for Share Life, a Catholic charity that funds the Right to Life Association of Toronto. The school has a goal of raising $17,000, the source says.
Payton says the school has moved beyond activism to lobbying. “Having hundreds of students sign a petition is a form of lobbying.”
Here’s a clip of Debbie Fisher at the March for Life: