The arguments for and against the funding of Catholic schools in Ontario


The Catholic Church’s jaded reaction to the discovery of 215 unnamed children’s graves at a former Kamloops residential school site earlier this month has made many wonder where Canadian tax dollars are going – mainly, if the country and its provinces should continue to fund religious schools and hospitals.

On Thursday, June 24, the Cowessess First Nation reported finding 751 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan, founded by Roman Catholic missionaries in 1899 and operated until 1996.

The debate continues on public support for Catholic institutions.

In 1999, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) declared Ontario’s policy of funding Catholic schools “discriminatory” because it denies full funding to other religious schools. The policy is still in effect with 37 Catholic school boards in Ontario alone.

The UN suggestion at the time was that Ontario extend funding to schools of other faiths – or end the practice for Catholic schools.

So why haven’t we made the switch yet?

Why exactly is there funding?

Catholic schools

Currently, Catholic schools in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the three territories are publicly funded.

At the time of Confederation in 1867, the right of Catholic schools to exist and to be funded was enshrined in section 93 of the Constitution of Canada.

“These institutions continued to have deep historical roots, including health care,” said Mark McGowan, a University of Toronto professor known for his research on the Catholic Church in Canada.

McGowan says we still have Catholic schools because there is constitutional protection, many Catholics still want them, and they provide a “different”, more holistic educational environment.

Teachers who apply to work in these schools must be of the Catholic faith and require a letter from a priest as proof that they have been baptized.

Health facilities

Health facilities are also protected by the religious rights of the constitution, which is why they continue to receive public funds.

McGowan says religious health facilities that receive public funding meet the province’s health standards, but tensions arise when governments enact laws that religious institutions might not be keen to follow.

“This is why there have been difficulties in the past between some religious hospitals and government policies that hospitals may choose not to promote… for example, assisted dying,” McGowan said.

However, Michelle Cohen, an Ontario family doctor, maintains that Catholic hospitals follow a guide called Health Ethics Guide prepared by the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada where treatment is supported by Catholic principles.

For example, the Guide to Health Ethics points out that Catholic healthcare organizations are not allowed to engage in what the guide calls “immediate material cooperation”, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and direct sterilization, even though these procedures are legal. in Canada.

Immediate material cooperation can refer to procedures or results of procedures that could be considered morally reprehensible according to Catholic principles.

“They follow a separate guide to healthcare that limits them, but they’re still publicly funded like every other hospital in Canada,” Cohen said.

What would the financing of Catholic institutions look like?

Funding would first require a constitutional amendment. It would have to be approved by the federal government, the Senate and at least seven provinces representing 50 percent of the population of Canada.

The Center for Inquiry Canada is an organization that believes that no religion should dictate educational policy or medical care for Canadians.

He said Canada would look a lot like what it is today if Catholic schools and hospitals were funded.

The only difference is that health care – such as reproductive services and physician-assisted dying – would not be rationed due to religious taboos, and there would be one secular school system for all in each official language ” said Leslie Rosenblood, Treasurer and Secular President of the Center for Inquiry Canada.

McGowan adds that for historical and constitutional reasons, it would be difficult to fund Catholic institutions as this forms the basis of their permanent rights.

“Governments couldn’t do this arbitrarily without risking a constitutional challenge,” McGowan said. “If anyone has to suspend their rights, it would have to be the Catholic taxpayers themselves… That is, they would give up their constitutional rights.”

There has been no official campaign to fund Catholic schools in Ontario since the late 19th century, when Ontario Conservative leader William Meredith campaigned against Catholic and French schools in the provincial election where he failed to win Ontarians’ votes.

They should all use the same rules and regulations. There shouldn’t be a concept of a religious hospital that accepts public funds.Michelle cohen

Would that save the province money?

Arguments in favor of the cost savings of having a single public system in the province are mixed.

McGowan says the cost savings would be minimal as students will always exist and there will always be a need for schools, resources and teachers.

However, the Center for Inquiry Canada argues that Ontario alone spends about $ 10 billion a year on its separate school system and that merging the public and separate systems in Ontario would save $ 1.6 billion. dollars per year.

When it comes to hospitals, things get complicated.

Since all Canadian hospitals are publicly funded, Cohen says it would likely be more legally and ethically complicated to fund them because of Canada’s universal medical care law.

Rather, Cohen argues for removing the use of a separate health guide that would limit people’s access to services even if hospitals receive funding from the same taxpayer fund.

“Sure, if you want to continue to have a Catholic saint in your name and have a Catholic history, that’s wonderful, but they should all use the same rules and regulations,” Cohen said. “There shouldn’t be a concept of a religious hospital that accepts public funding.”

Cohen explained that the situation for Catholic schools is different because people generally choose to go and the schools are open to their teachings and practices. For hospitals, however, patients access care when and where it suits them. In small towns, limiting access to care and patient options is less than ideal.

“There is a certain type of health system common sense that you need to be aware of,” Cohen said. “What kills me about Catholic hospitals is that they feel a lot more hidden.”

What happened in the other provinces when they funded Catholic schools?

Neither Quebec nor Newfoundland faced opposition from the federal government when changes were made because education is under provincial jurisdiction. When a majority of people wanted change, the federal government did not challenge them.

Manitoba and British Columbia continue to partially fund Catholic schools, but Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have ceased. Newfoundland also converted to a public, non-religious system after a referendum on the subject in 1997.

Should the government take a stand?

Education funding declined during Ford’s tenure. With Ontario’s largest deficit in history, education faces cuts of more than $ 1 billion, and plans to build two Catholic schools in Etobicoke may or may not come true.

Given the deficit and the fact that Ontario could save $ 1.6 billion a year, Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star reported that now is the time for politicians to take their chances and end the funding. public service to Catholic schools in Ontario, which will save taxpayers a lot.

Organizations such as the Center for Inquiry Canada continue to urge the government to end religious funding for institutions and encourage Canadians to make their voices heard with their MPs and MPs.

When it comes to Catholic hospitals, Cohen believes that a specific state-funded religion isn’t fair because the healthcare system is supposed to be secular. People should not be limited in accessing services.

McGowan does not believe governments will address the issue of funding Catholic institutions given the challenges mentioned, primarily the strong public support for institutions in Ontario.


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