Halton Catholic District School Board scraps restrictive fundraising policy

A Catholic school board in southern Ontario bowed to overwhelming pressure and rescinded a policy change that would have barred fundraising for organizations that might support abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research and other activities that run counter to the tenets of the faith.

The Halton Catholic District School Board voted narrowly this week to scrap its new “Sanctity of Life” policy after an outcry last spring prompted trustees to suspend the change to allow for consultations with the school community.

After a spirited debate, trustees voted 5-4 to leave an old non-restrictive fundraising policy in place. The discussion followed fierce criticism of the changes from parents and the province’s former education minister.

Documents provided to trustees show that of almost 1,000 respondents to a survey on the issue, 74 per cent opposed the change. Only 21 per cent were in favour.

“The people have spoken,” board chairperson Diane Rabenda told the meeting. “It’s totally presumptuous of us to think we know better.”

The board responsible for Catholic schools around Hamilton — in Burlington, Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville — approved the change restricting fundraising efforts in March but quickly suspended its implementation amid an uproar that gained national attention.

Critics warned that respected organizations such as Toronto’s renowned Hospital for Sick Children, the United Way, the Canadian Cancer Society and Terry Fox Foundation could have run afoul of the amended policy, thereby becoming ineligible for any fundraising from the district’s Catholic schools.

Common themes among the majority opposed to the new restrictions included those who said a key value of Catholicism is to love and help others without discrimination. Others felt people should be free to choose to which groups they donate.

“Children are taught to look through the lens, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ ” one commenter said by way of feedback. “This policy goes against everything we are taught and teach, and forces us to turn our backs to those who need it.”

Some felt it hypocritical to condemn indirectly organizations from which they or their families had benefited.

The minority in favour of the new policy noted the Catholic Church holds sanctity of life as a core principle that the schools were obliged to obey.

“If people wish to support groups that go against the teaching of our faith, they can do so on their own time,” one person wrote.

That view was heard during this week’s debate, with several trustees decrying the about-turn. One of them, Anthony Danko, cited a news article in which doctors from Sick Kids hospital laid out policies and procedures for helping children die without parental involvement.

“Our job here isn’t to bow to public pressure on these types of issues,” Danko told fellow trustees. “On matters of faith and morals, they’re just non-negotiable.”

Danko’s attempt to include an amendment to the previous policy to reference “fidelity and commitment to Catholic teachings” was ruled out of order.

Critics of the restrictive policy were simply a “vocal minority,” one trustee said, while another called it “shameful” the amended policy was being rolled back.

Ultimately, however, a narrow majority voted to keep the old non-restrictive policy. The community, trustee Arlene Iantomassi said, had spoken.

“This is pretty loud and clear,” said Iantomassi, who moved the motion to leave things well alone. “The system has told us by a very large majority that you never see that they just want to stay the way it was.”

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