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MEDIA ADVISORY: ONTARIO'S BILL 13 VULNERABLE TO LEGAL CHALLENGE
HAMILTON, September 27, 2012—Ontario's new Accepting Schools Act is vulnerable to legal challenge for its violation of the rights of the province's Catholics, leading constitutional practitioner Eugene Meehan says in the latest issue of LexView.
"Elements of (the Act) disregard Catholic doctrine and ignore constitutionally afforded denominational protection. They open the door for a "one size fits all" model that fails to respect Catholic differences and the purpose behind having separate school systems," Meehan writes in the legal review published by Cardus policy institute.
"By encroaching denominational aspects of a school's functioning for the purpose of preventing prejudice, Bill 13 oxymoronically risks prejudicing minority religious groups. Instead of fostering respect for diversity of beliefs and school choices, it risks encouraging and endorsing a single point of view and nullifying the purpose of denominational schools," he adds.
Eugene Meehan, Q.C., is a partner of Supreme Advocacy LLP in Ottawa, and author or co-author of 14 books on Canadian law. He is a former Executive Legal Officer of the Supreme Court of Canada and has been National President of the Canadian Bar Association.
Cardus, a Hamilton, Ontario based think tank dedicated to renewal of Canada's social architecture, engaged him last summer to research the legislation for LexView.
The Accepting Schools Act, or Bill 13 as it is popularly known, was passed by Ontario's legislature last June and came into effect September 1. Media attention has focused on its mandating of Gay Straight Alliance student clubs even in the province's Catholic schools.
Meehan cautions, however, that the so-called GSAs are a side issue to the genuine challenge the new legislation presents to denominational rights protected by Section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and to religious freedoms guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He notes affected Catholics could even petition the federal cabinet to overturn the legislation under Section 93.
The success of such a petition is naturally impossible to predict, he writes, as is the outcome of court action. But he points out that:
Courts have recognized that the constitutional rights granted to denominational schools involve more than a guarantee of the right to establish denominational schools - the right to establish denominational schools necessarily includes the right to maintain the religious character of the schools. Specifically, courts have consistently recognized that Catholic denominational schools can function according to distinct Catholic philosophy and tenets.
The full version of Meehan's opinion is available at to the public at www.cardus.ca/lexview.
Requests for interviews with Cardus president Michael Van Pelt, Cardus director of research Ray Pennings, or Supreme Advocacy's Eugene Meehan can be made by emailing Kathryn de Ruijter, firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning (905)528-8866 x30.