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Abolishing Catholic schools could save province $1B a year, group argues

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Jan 14, 2014 - 12:47 PM |
Justin Trottier, founder of the Centre for Inquiry, speaks at a press conference at Tom Davies Square on Jan. 13 about abolishing the Catholic school system. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Justin Trottier, founder of the Centre for Inquiry, speaks at a press conference at Tom Davies Square on Jan. 13 about abolishing the Catholic school system. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

CFI Canada and CFI Sudbury urging Ontario to follow Quebec's, Newfoundland's lead

If publicly funded Catholic schools were abolished in Ontario, it would save taxpayers on the order of $1 billion a year, says the founder of a group pushing for the change.

“We're talking about largely duplicate costs (like bussing) from having boards in the same geographic area,” Justin Trottier said, speaking to an audience of about 20 at a Jan. 13 question and answer session at the Living with Lakes Centre on Ramsey Lake Road.

Trottier is the founder of the Canadian branch of the Centre for Inquiry (CFI). Headquarted in the United States, since 1991 CFI has encouraged free thought, science and critical thinking in government, schools and everyday life in countries around the world.

Also pushing to end Ontario's two-school system is the Green Party of Canada and some Muslim groups, Trottier told the small group who gathered Monday evening. A group called One School System for Ontario lobbies the government on this issue on both financial and moral grounds.

The roots of Catholic schools go back to Confederation, when a right to Catholic education was enshrined in the constitution.

Quebec and Newfoundland have abolished publicly funded Catholic schools, but needed the federal government to amend the constitution to allow them to do it.

Although polls have shown two-thirds of Ontarians are in favour of abolishing publicly funded Catholic schools, there seems to be no political will to tackle the issue, Trottier said.

He debated Premier Kathleen Wynne on the issue when she was the education minister.

“The only thing she could say was it's in the constitution, and we can't do anything,” he said.

Even Don Drummond, in releasing his 2011 report with recommendations for cutting down the province's deficit, didn't mention abolishing the Catholic school system as a way to save money.

When asked why he didn't tackle the issue, Drummond said it was because making such a recommendation a reality would be a “political challenge.”

“What he's saying, in other words, is the suggestion was useless because it would have been unpalatable to politicians and the public,” Trottier said.

Beyond strictly financial arguments, there are moral considerations as well, Trottier said Jan. 13.

The two-school system segregates children based on religion and that is harmful, Trottier argued, because Canada is a multi-cultural and multi-religious country. Students will have to deal with this reality once they leave school.

“Should they not be taught to understand and appreciate differences of cultural backgrounds and such as the earliest age possible?” Trottier said.

“Our contention is children have rights, and that's one of their rights, to be exposed to those differences.

"The system is playing a very big part in violating that right.”

Supporters of a single school system argue the separate system currently in place must, by its very nature, use discriminatory hiring practices, Trottier said, against non-Catholics, homosexuals and divorced people.

“In any other situation, it would actually violate your human rights,” Trottier said.

The above situation is one Timothy Pella — who attended the Jan. 13 meeting — has experienced first hand, he said.

Pella taught grade levels from kindergarten to Grade 8 in the Toronto area. When he returned to Sudbury several years ago and sought a job with the Sudbury Catholic District School Board, he ran into a road block.

Those applying for jobs at the board need a letter of recommendation from a Catholic priest. Pella is gay.

“I'm automatically excluded from being able to apply for a job,” he said. “They can literally legally discriminate against me because there's no way a priest is going to give me a letter of recommendation.”

For more information on a one-school system, visit the One School System Network at oneschoolsystem.org. To learn more about CFI Canada, visit centreforinquiry.ca.

@heidi_ulrichsen 
Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer

@heidi_ulrichsen

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