UPDATE – MARCH 20 – Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board chair Anna Abbruscato refused an interview when Xtra called at home.
Sounding annoyed, Abbruscato rushed off the phone. “You really caught me in the middle of Sunday dinner. This is family time,” she says firmly at about 2 pm. “Could you call back tonight or tomorrow?”
Asked if she could spare five minutes for a short chat about the St. Joes GSA, she refused. “At a Sunday afternoon during dinner, no I don’t have time,” she says.
Told to call back at 6 pm, Xtra did, but got voicemail.
UPDATE – MARCH 18 – Dan O’Brien, director of operations for Ontario’s NDP, told Xtra education critic Rosario Marchese will raise the GSA issue Monday morning during Question Period at Queens Park. Xtra will be watching from the gallery.
MARCH 17 – Ontario Minister of Education Leona Dombrowsky is staying mum after school administrators denied 32 students of St Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga the chance to form a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at their school.
Ministry of Education spokesperson Gary Wheeler did not provide a reason for Dombrowsky’s silence, saying simply “the minister will not comment.”
Amrit Mangat, the MPP for Mississauga-Brampton South, the riding that includes the school, didn’t respond to Xtra’s request for an interview, either. Nor did Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak, Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) president James Ryan, MPP Glen Murray, Egale Canada executive director Helen Kennedy, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath or St Joe’s education director John Kostoff.
In fact, the only politician willing to talk about the matter with Xtra on March 17 was Ontario NDP education critic Rosario Marchese. It is Marchese’s responsibility to lead opposition to the provincial government’s education policy.
Asked if he plans to raise the issue, Marchese says Dombrowsky doesn’t listen to him either.
“The questions we ask don’t get answered, and sometimes they don’t even get covered [in media],” he says. “If the students want a club with the title “gay-straight alliance,” then that’s what it should be.”
Marchese says Dombrowsky and the provincial Liberals are “afraid” of the issue because public opinion is so divided across Ontario.
“It raises concerns for many of them, especially in areas where this could become an issue, and they’d rather not talk about it,” he says. “I don’t think anyone will make this an election issue.”
Marchese says no Liberal will stand up and hold Catholic school boards’ feet to the fire. “This is not one of their bread-and-butter issues. This is a human rights issue.”
All publicly funded school boards in Ontario are required to follow the government’s equity and inclusive education policy.
“One way to achieve equity and inclusivity is to create these alliances,” says Marchese. “Where students want them, they should have them, and because it’s a guideline written by the ministry, the minister should be defending it.
“The minister should be taking a much more active position to ensure these things happen. There’s no point in having a policy if you don’t do anything to defend it… Having a gay-straight alliance is something that students have a right to do, and that’s what we should insist on.”
When asked what should happen if Catholic school boards refuse to bring their policies in line with the Ministry of Education, Marchese stopped short.
“I’m not going to be put in a position where I’m questioning the funding of Catholic schools,” he says. “I think it’s interesting that not many provincial Liberals are stating their views publicly on this. We have to make everybody accountable.”