News Round-up (February 2022)
Protests, the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, and a challenge to Ontario's Catholic public school system.
I’m posting on a bi-weekly schedule this year, and one benefit of that is being able to offer cool(er) takes. So, perhaps belatedly, here are my brief thoughts on the ongoing protests across Canada, Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, and the more recent news of a constitutional challenge against Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic schools.
I pray and trust that you’re well, and my thoughts and prayers go especially to those affected by ongoing protests across the country. Inevitably, some nuance is needed here. I celebrate the ability to freely and peacefully protest in this country. I understand the tiredness and discontent with government measures that remain unique among developed nations, and which are being questioned by the very scientific authorities the government claims to listen to. The scale of the Omicron problem continues to force all of us to reconsider the scale and nature of our solutions as well.
All that said, I do not support the idea of a protest that seeks to upend the democratic order and legitimately elected authorities. I have no sympathy for a movement that has overstepped from peaceful manifestation into express harm and disruption to communities and the economy at large. I think the movement has been heard, its more reasonable goals have been accomplished, and it’s time to move on.
There remains, however, a fair bit to reflect upon here. Protests are perfectly legal in this country, but they are uncommon. At this scale, they’re almost unprecedented, and have attracted significant international attention. Canadians have patiently endured some outstanding restrictions over the last couple years – a testament to our ability to put common good ahead of individual interests. But it’s undeniable that all levels of government have mishandled this situation in a number of ways, and are now contending with the consequences. They have diluted science by making it subservient to politics. While I’m very much in favor of vaccines, and grateful for them, I don’t appreciate the way mandates and moralist speeches have divided families and communities across the nation. Our vaccination levels are world-leading, yet we continue to suffer various levels of lockdowns and restrictions.
Here’s the larger biblical theme to remind in all this: the nature of sin, the natural human disposition after the Fall, make it very dangerous to concentrate and enlarge power in a few institutions and people. While I’m thankful for our social safety nets, I believe there’s a biblical argument to be made for strict government limits. Of course, Liberals don’t appreciate that idea, and at the moment Conservatives are ill-positioned to effectively wage this argument. It’ll be interesting to monitor and think about these developments in the next few weeks, as governments step up efforts to disband protests, and sides keep weighing in on the best way to handle the pandemic going forward.
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee
On a more global scale, last Sunday Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 70th anniversary on the throne – her Platinum Jubilee. It is her first celebration of this kind since the passing of Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years, last April. Several Commonwealth countries celebrated the occasion through various events.
Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention, but here in Canada the celebration felt somewhat muted. Or perhaps it’s just a sign of the times. The British Crown has taken many hits over the years. The fallout with Harry and Meghan, and the attempts at damage control stemming from Prince Andrew’s association with Jeffrey Epstein, are just two recent examples. This isn’t exclusive to the British Crown either. The idea of monarchy just isn’t what it used to be. Last spring, I explored what this means for the Christian Gospel and the idea of the kingdom of God, establishing a clear delineation between it and the common concept of human monarchies. Those thoughts come to mind as I ponder this anniversary.
A Challenge to Ontario’s Catholic Public Schools
Lastly, I want to comment on a very local issue, one with great relevance to the intersection of faith and public life. The grassroots organization One Public Education Now, or OPEN, has served a constitutional challenge against the government of Ontario on the matter of separate Catholic school boards. OPEN’s complaint claims that public funding of these schools violates Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees equal protection and benefit under the law.
The complaint makes its case through two very different situations, from two very different plaintiffs. One is Hamilton teacher Adrienne Havercroft, who identifies as a non-Catholic Christian. Havercroft claims that she had a very hard time getting a full-time job fresh off teachers' college because at the time only Catholic school boards had suitable positions. Those boards almost always require a reference signed by a parish priest. The media reports that Havercroft struggled with health issues due to irregular employment, going as far as reluctantly obtaining a real estate licence, before finally getting a full-time teaching job at a non-Catholic school in September 2020 – over a decade after finishing teachers' college. The other plaintiff is a Markham father named James Sutton. Sutton identifies as an atheist, and has two kids attending a public school far away from home because he prefers, as a matter of conscience, not to enrol them in Catholic schools that are closer.
I’ve briefly covered the legal status of our public education system before, in the context of a broader write-up on the separatation of church and state. When the Confederation was founded, Catholics were a minority in Ontario (and Protestants were a minority in Quebec). Separate schools already existed, and there was a concern that de-funding them would violate the freedoms of conscience and religion of these minorities. Thus, as a compromise on the principle of separation of church and state, an exceptional provision was made through Section 93 of the Constitution Act of 1867. Education was declared a provincial matter, but the federal government prevented provinces from de-funding separate schools. This was worked into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms under Section 29 when the Constitution was patriated in 1982. However, provinces have a mechanism to opt out of this, and several have.
Here’s my opinion on this. I know that my Catholic friends, and even some evangelical ones, prefer to have their kids in public Catholic school. They prefer this over the public non-denominational system, particularly when homeschooling or private Christian schools are not an option. Philosophically, in principle, I would prefer a unified, non-denominational school system. I think that’s more in line with the principle of separation of church and state as it is articulated in our legal system. Indeed, Section 29 of the Charter is understood to be fundamentally in tension with Sections 2 and 15 – hence the basis for OPEN’s challenge. However, I’m not convinced that it’s practical today to undo this historical setup. It certainly isn’t politically expedient, precisely because Catholics are no longer a voting minority in Ontario, and haven’t been for quite a while now.
The legal challenge isn’t unassailable, either. OPEN’s founder, retired lawyer Reva Landau, attempted a similar challenge in the past. However, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dismissed the case because it deemed that she had no direct interest in it; she was neither a board employee nor a student parent. At the federal level, in 1996 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Adler v Ontario (AG) that Ontario’s Education Act didn’t contravene Sections 2 and 15 of the Charter, and by extension Section 93 of the Constitution. That case was slightly different, however, in that it argued for funding of other separate schools, specifically Jewish Canadian and those of certain other Christian denominations.
This will definitely be interesting to follow. I’m particularly curious as to whether this will register at all in the upcoming provincial election. I suspect not. But I’ll follow it closely anyway, because again, this is intellectually important when considering the intersection of faith, culture and politics in Canada, and its impact on our private, daily affairs – the very essence of Laity Square.