Ontario: Niagara School Board’s Christian Bias

Rene Chouinard
Rene Chouinard

A Grimsby father is again challenging the District School Board of Niagara over a violation of human rights.

Rene Chouinard, who successfully challenged the board’s policy for distribution of religious materials in 2012, will have a second day before the tribunal in January once again based on the board’s ties to Christianity.

This region of Ontario may be very religious. I remember seeing a federal statistic that showed that the Niagara-on-the-Lake region was the top region that voted for the Christian party in a recent election. Niagara, being right next store, may or may not share that sentiment.

Chouinard is a non-believer and one of the greater triumphs of his previous case was having non-belief recognized as a creed under the Human Rights Code. He said the board’s preference to Christian-based charities and its operation of a school with Christian ties ostracizes students with alternate beliefs.

“I know it’s there, my children know it’s there,” said Chouinard of St. Catharines-based Eden, an alternative school that the board took over in 1988. “And I know that it’s pro-Christian and the school board is running a school that is pro-Christian. Anything that promotes one belief is saying that you are wrong when you are a non-believer.”

A quick glance at the Eden’s Spiritual Life Centre website illustrates those ties: “what continues to make Eden a distinct school is the Spiritual Life Centre and its staff which continue to offer engaging programs with a Christian worldview.”

It is possible that those responsible in the school board are merely trying to do good things for the world and believe that supporting or working with these charities will accomplish that. Or, it’s possible that they are motivated by religious purposes. In either case, they are trying to do the right thing.

I believe that having government institutions be secular is the best possible answer. If you let them be openly religious or have a religious opinion, it may change over time. This protects believers. For example, if you are protestant and over the years the government becomes more Catholic or anti-protestant, any protestant can see the problem with allowing government to have a religious opinion at all.

If it’s pro-Catholic, pro-Protestant pan-Christian and pro-Jewish government, that’s great for those people. But the rest of us Canadians who were born here, and our new citizens who have arrived, that do not share those beliefs it quite literally alienates them. Continue reading