An article on the Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG) website written by Eric M. Roher and entitled “Practice and Process Around Religious Exemptions” claims
Central to Catholic education in Ontario is creating and shaping the Catholic identity.
However, it is obvious that Roher’s goal is maintaining and expanding the Catholic identity.
Roher’s article is an extension of the commentary he and Heather Pessione wrote for CanLII Connects on the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling in Erazo et al. v. Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board. In their CanLII commentary, the authors suggest,
Ontario Catholic school boards may wish to consider developing a consistent approach or process with respect to section 42(13) exemption requests from “Open Access” students for events which will occur frequently during the school year (e.g. school masses, religion classes, religious retreats, non-religious retreats, non-religious assemblies, etc.), recognizing that there will be events which will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
It appears that Roher decided to write “Practice and Process Around Religious Exemptions” for Ontario Catholic school’s principals and vice-principals to use as a guide to “a consistent approach or process with respect to section 42(13) exemption requests from ‘Open Access’ students.”
One of the problems with Roher’s article is his definition for “Open Access” students:
Open Access students are students who attend a Catholic secondary school, but whose parents have been public school supporters.
Roher’s definition is narrower than the definition in Section 42 (1) of the Ontario Education Act:
A person who is qualified to be a resident pupil of an English-language public board and to receive instruction in a secondary school grade is entitled to receive instruction provided in a secondary school operated by an English-language Roman Catholic board . . . .
and is more limiting than section 42 (11) of the Act, which says,
On written application, a Roman Catholic board shall exempt a person who is qualified to be a resident pupil in respect of a secondary school operated by a public board from programs and courses of study in religious education. . . .
According to Roher, the only students who are entitled to an exemption from programs and courses of study in religious education are students whose parents are public school supporters. Roher is wrong: all students, including Catholic students, are “qualified to be a resident pupil of an English-language public board”; therefore, Catholic students cannot be refused an exemption if they follow the instructions detailed in section 42 (13) of the Ontario Education Act and submit a written application to the Board signed by
(a) the parent or guardian of the person;
(b) in the case of a person who is 16 or 17 years old who has withdrawn from parental control, the person himself or herself;
(c) in the case of a person who is 18 years old or older, the person himself or herself.
For more information, see “Getting Your Exemption” on the MyExemption.com website.
There are additional problems with the “Best Practices” Roher suggests principals or vice-principals should follow:
Number 1: “Meet with the student and his or her parents,” advises verifying “the tax status of the student’s parents or adult student.” Establishing whether the parent or adult student has checked English-Public or English-Separate on the MPAC form entitled “Application for Direction of School Support” is a distraction to delay granting the student an exemption. The tax status of the student’s parents or the adult student does not affect the student’s right to get an exemption.
Number 7: “Ensure enrolment forms are clear about the mission and objective of the Catholic school,” advises “enrolment documents should confirm that a religious and moral education is not one subject among many in the student’s timetable, but rather it infuses all classes and activities during the school day.” This suggests that the religious and moral education available in Catholic schools is not available in public secondary schools. This is not true: Section 264. (1) (c) of the Education Act makes it clear that one of the duties of a public school teacher in Ontario is
to inculcate by precept and example respect for religion and the principles of Judaeo-Christian morality and the highest regard for truth, justice, loyalty, love of country, humanity, benevolence, sobriety, industry, frugality, purity, temperance and all other virtues.
Most problematic is Roher’s suggestion in his “Conclusion”:
The time spent in meeting with individual students and their parents and educating them about the benefits, values and traditions of Catholic education and the importance of Catholic identity in the school system represents a meaningful opportunity to create a “teachable moment” for both the student and his/her parents.
The idea that parents need a “teachable moment” is an insult. As Ontario Superior Court Justice Ted Matlow pointed out in section 27 of the Erazo et al. v. Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board decision,
the purpose of section 42 (13) . . . is to give relief to students who may respect many Catholic principles and observances but do not wish to participate in Catholic, or perhaps any, form of worship, even at a minimal level of participation.
Matlow goes on to point out, “For some [students] that may well require a betrayal of their own principles.” It is also reasonable to point out that the parents who are asking the school to exempt their son or daughter from programs and courses of study in religious education may be betraying their principles. Roher maintains that “face-to-face meetings with students and their parents require significant preparation and commitment,” but he fails to acknowledge that face-to-face meetings with the principal of their child’s school require significant preparation and commitment from the parents.
Eric Roher’s article, “Practice and Process Around Religious Exemptions,” is designed as a guide that teaches principals and vice-principals how to subvert the process of granting exemptions on request. It advises secondary school principals and vice-principals to do everything they can to refuse to obey subsection 42(13) of the Education Act even though the legality of subsection 42(13) was upheld by a 2014 Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling.