The Kitchener Centre Progressive Conservative candidate has said he will stand behind any Catholic school decisions involving gay-straight alliances.
At a Sept 21 debate, Kitchener’s Paul Cyr, 23, told PC candidate Dave MacDonald that bullying continues to be a systemic problem in Ontario schools. He pointed to a 2009 Egale report that shows lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans students face regular harassment about their sexual orientation at rates 20 times higher than non-queer counterparts.
“While religious freedom is fundamental to our society, so is the safety of our children,” said Cyr. “Would your party require all schools receiving public funding to comply with all parts of the Ontario Human Rights Code? Secondly, to that extent, would your party allow groups to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer students and their allies?”
MacDonald, a general manager at Faith FM and local meteorologist, said he doesn’t believe the government should override the decisions of local school boards. “I think what you’re asking is whether or not we should interfere in how school boards operate. [The PCs] feel school boards should be an independent entity, and they should run the schools the way they see fit in consultation with parents of the students who go there.”
MacDonald did not answer the second question.
Cyr, who volunteers with the NDP, says he wasn’t satisfied with the answer.
“[MacDonald] actually had to reframe my question. In the answer, he basically said school boards are allowed to do whatever they want regardless of the Human Rights Code,” he tells Xtra. “The fact is, the government does control the school boards, and it’s up to the government to enforce the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC).”
MacDonald did not respond to Xtra’s
requests for comment.
NDP candidate Cameron Dearlove came out strongly in support of GSAs, noting that schools receiving public funding must be required to follow the OHRC.
“A study I read recently on GSAs stated that the suicide rate actually dropped at schools with gay-straight alliances, not just with LGBT students, but all students, because [GSAs] create an inclusive atmosphere. It’s not just about human rights; it’s about the safety of our youth,” Dearlove said.
The Liberal party’s John Milloy said the minister of education has been working hard with Catholic and public boards, and “progress has been made” in establishing GSAs in Catholic schools.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress on the establishment of organizations within the separate schools, which deal with the issue of gay students… I’m proud of our government’s record in terms of gay Ontarians, bullying and creating a safe school environment.”
But activist Leanne Iskander, founder of Catholic Students for GSAs (CS4GSA), has tried repeatedly to start a GSA at St Joseph Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga, most recently this month. However, school principal Jeff Quenneville told Iskander that if she continues to advocate for any queer support group, she will face “disciplinary action.”
In June, Liberal MPP Glen Murray spoke on behalf of Premier Dalton McGuinty, promising that students would be allowed to start queer support groups in September and that students would lead the way on all decisions.
The Ministry of Education equity policy stipulates that GSAs are a requirement in all schools. Throughout the summer activists have lobbied hard for provincial enforcement.
On Aug 31, at a meeting packed with anti-gay parents, clergy and community members, the Toronto Catholic District School Board passed amendments putting Catholic “denominational rights above human rights.”
See the video here. [56:30]
Ontario party leaders will face off in a televised debate on Sept 27 at 6:30pm.