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More on Hiring Discrimination in Catholic Schools

I did a post last week noting the case of a lesbian teacher at a Catholic girls school in B.C. who had been refused the right to come to work after the school learned of her sexual orientation.

In the Globe and Mail today there is a story about how teachers are pretending to be Catholic in order to get jobs in the Catholic education system in Toronto.   In last week’s post, I asked whether religious-based schools should be permitted to discriminate against employees if the religion itself discriminates.  For example, if the Catholic Church shuns lesbians and treats them as sinners, should that give a Catholic school the right to be exempted from human rights laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?

This new story gets at the right of the employer to simply weed out applicants on the basis of their religion.  Catholic schools in Ontario (and in other provinces) make applicants fill in forms attesting to their Catholic faith, and also require a priest to complete a form that describes the applicants role in the Church.  You can see the forms form the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board here, for example.

There is no doubt that this would amount to discrimination on the basis of religion under Section 5 of the Human Rights Code.  In fact, a non-Catholic teacher in Guelph recently challenged the Catholic school board’s discriminatory hiring practices.  However, the question is whether the discriminatory hiring practices are ‘exempted’ under some other section(s) in the Code.  So what sections allows the Catholic School Boards to behave this way?

Well, look first at the general exemption in Section 24(1)(a) that applies to “educational” organizations.  It reads:

The right under section 5 to equal treatment with respect to employment is not infringed where,

(a) a religious, philanthropic, educational, fraternal or social institution or organization that is primarily engaged in serving the interests of persons identified by their race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, creed, sex, age, marital status or disability employs only, or gives preference in employment to, persons similarly identified if the qualification is a reasonable and bona fide qualification because of the nature of the employment;

Do you think that sections protects a religious-based school board who hires only teachers of that religion?

The other relevant section in relation to Catholic schools in particular is Section 19, which preserves for Catholic school boards those rights that were protected in the Constitution of 1867.  Back then, Catholics were a minority and the Constitution protected the right in Canada for Catholic schools to exist with the support of Canadian governments.  Section 19 clarifies that the ban on discrimination in employment on the basis of religion in the Code is not intended to limit the the special status conferred on Catholic schools under the Constitution.

These legal issues were explored in the case Daly v. Ontario in the late 1990s, in case you are interested in more reading on the subject.


6 Responses to More on Hiring Discrimination in Catholic Schools

  1. Yosie Saint-Cyr Reply

    May 11, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    You stated: Catholic schools in Ontario (and in other provinces) make applicants fill in forms attesting to their Catholic faith, and also require a priest to complete a form that describes the applicants role in the Church…

    However, this requirement is not applied consistently in catholic schools… as long as you can provide a catholic baptismal certificate… it is usually satisfactory. They will only question and ask the form be filled if they feel there is a need for it. Like someone of a different culture or colour, or a recent immigrant.

    Being part of a French speaking catholic church linked to four catholic schools in Ontario… none of the teachers are required to fill the form because they badly need teachers who speak French, and none of those teachers are in church on Sunday morning.

    To tell you the truth, the context providing the catholic schools with such an exemption no longer exists and should be repealed.

  2. Donna Seale Reply

    May 12, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Hi David. These are very interesting issues, indeed.

    Your readers may also wish to have a look at Schroen v. Steinbach Bible College ( a 1999 decision of the Manitoba Board of Adjudication. It’s a case I was involved in as co-counsel to the Manitoba Commission. Although not involving teachers, it did deal with the firing of a woman who had been hired by the College as an accounting clerk. She was terminated on the basis of “religious non-conformity” after it was discovered that she was of the Mormon faith, the College being of the Evangelical Anabaptist Mennonite faith. The adjudicator determined that Ms. Schroen had been discriminated against on the basis of religion but concluded that the College’s requirement that any employee of the College (accounting clerk, teacher or otherwise) had to be of the Mennonite faith was a BFOQ. Expert evidence came forward at the hearing which showed that the Mormon and Mennonite faiths were diametrically opposed to one another. Couple that with the evidence that the College was a very close, tight-knit community where all staff were expected to involve themselves in the lives of the students (by attending Bible study, Chapel prayer meetings, retreats, etc.), the adjudicator concluded that the religious objective of the College would be irreparably jeopardized by having Ms. Schroen as an employee.

  3. Michelle Reply

    May 13, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    I think that Catholic schools have the right to insist that they can only hire Catholic teachers. It is under the Ontario Human Rights Code. You can check this website Even Mormon organizations prefer to hire Mormon applicants. My husband was discriminated too while he was applying to a job where Mormons are the CEO and the managers, but what can we do? It is their rights. This is not bigotry nor prejudice. Would you like to hire a babysitter, who is a stripper or a prostitute, for your children? The logic is the same: we all have the human right to refuse.

  4. Melvin Reply

    June 1, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    In reply to Michelle’s comment of 2010.05.13, she states that “…we all have the right to refuse.” I reply by saying that an organization should NOT have that right when it is largely funded by taxpayers’ money, as many school boards are. Being on the wrong end of these hiring policies myself, and being married to a Catholic teacher, I can tell you that it is EXTREMELY frustrating to attend mass more than many of the Catholics in our school district, who must have been hired on the basis of simply being born Catholic. My job applications to the board are in the “non-Catholic” pile, to be considered only if an ‘acceptable’ (note: not ‘suitable’ or ‘qualified’!!!) candidate is found. THAT is a crock of you-know-what!!!!!!! My opinion?…f you’re going to DISCRIMINATE on the basis of religious affiliation, make sure your employees live the faith.
    Furthermore, our school district invites (yes…INVITES, not just ‘accepts!!’), students from ALL faiths. How’s that for hypocrisy?!???! More students mean more money to the board, right? Yeeesshh…

  5. John Reply

    December 2, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    I think that this discussion is missing a very large piece. While I think that discrimination based on the exemption provided in Section 24(1)(a) of the Human Rights Code is reprehensible, it appears to be defensible in purely the legal sense. However the crux of this matter is that Catholic school boards in Ontario obtain virtually all of their funding from the province and public funds. This fact should over-ride the protection given in Section 24(1)(a) and Catholic school boards should be made to conform to the Human Rights Code as it applies to public sector employees. It is baffling how this one small and specific segment of Canadian labour law has not been challenged more vigorously. If Catholic school boards should be offered two very simple choices; continue being publicly funded and stop their discriminatory hiring practices, or stop being publicly funded and continue their discriminatory hiring practices.

  6. James Reply

    January 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    As a Catholic school board volunteer in the Manitoba system, this issue looms large in my thoughts. I must immediately take issue with the unchallenged statement that “the Catholic Church shuns lesbians and treats them as sinners.” In reality, the Church’s position on homosexuality is far more nuanced and ultimately encourages them to answer the call to chastity that applies to all of humanity, regardless of orientation.

    I could also (with tongue in cheek) make a case that Catholics are a minority today, if you count only those who believe what the Church teaches and attend Mass weekly, and as such should have Charter protection extended to them. I say this in mild jest, but in all honestly as one of those Catholics I definitely feel like I’m in the minority in Canada these days.

    Aside from that, here’s another take on the question of funding, further to John’s argument. Catholic schools in Manitoba receive less than half of the funding of the public schools here. Does the percentage of public funding matter when deciding which hiring policies are to be allowed?

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