Halton Catholic students voice opposition to board's 'sanctity of life' donation policy

Halton Catholic school students attended a board meeting on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the board's decision to stop schools from making financial donations to charities it says run counter to Catholic values.

Trustees banned donations to charities that run counter to 'mission of our Catholic school system'

Students Julia Joseph, left, and Ben Sabourin attended a meeting on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the board's decision to stop schools from making financial donations to charities it says run counter to Catholic values. (CBC)

Halton Catholic school students are speaking out against the board's decision to stop schools from making financial donations to charities it says run counter to Catholic values.

"We're here to make the students' voices heard," student Ben Sabourin told CBC Toronto at the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) meeting on Tuesday. 

Other students joined Sabourin at the meeting, which was held inside the gym of Holy Trinity Catholic Secondary School in Oakville

In February, trustees voted 5 to 3 in favour of a motion to ensure that funds raised through the board's 46 elementary schools and nine secondary schools are donated to "charities and organizations that support activities that are in keeping with the mission of our Catholic school system."

The motion states that donations will not go to institutions that "violate the upholding of the sanctity of life from conception to natural death." That means financial donations will not go to charities or non-profits that "publicly support, either directly or indirectly, abortion, contraception, sterilization, euthanasia, or embryonic stem cell research."

The Halton Catholic board has 33,000 students. They raise about $12 million a year.

SickKids hospital would be included under the ban, prompting student and former patient Julia Joseph to speak out.

Members of the Halton Catholic School Board are seen in the gym of the Holy Trinity Catholic Secondary School in Oakville. (CBC)

"I'm here because I want the kids who shared hospital waiting rooms with me to know that they are important and that their lives matter and that we will support them through anything," said Joseph, who underwent two heart operations at SickKids.

Sabourin wants the trustees to remove the word "indirectly" from the motion, saying it's too broad, and disagrees that the motion upholds Catholic beliefs.

"In essence, this motion is really contradicting our very Catholic values. It does not uphold human dignity," he said. "As Catholics, we're called to help everyone, not just those who we deem to have the right set of values."

Joseph agrees, noting the board's decision is against the Catholic values she was taught.

"We're supposed to treat every life equal," she said. "All of a sudden, our board is deciding which life means more to them."

'Fully aligns' with Catholic values

Supporters of the motion also attended the event, including Halton resident Paul Muller.

Muller, whose three children went through the Catholic school system, believes the motion "fully aligns" with Catholic ideas.

He said a lot of the organizations affected by the ban "do many great things," but notes Catholics should not support an organization if it diverges from their religious values even once.

"If you as an individual knew somebody that 363 days of the year ... they did good but two days of the year they did serious harm — they injured, killed somebody — would you be supporting them?" Muller said. "That's the same principle here."

Halton resident Paul Muller, whose three children went through the Catholic school system, believes the motion 'fully aligns' with Catholic values.' (CBC)

HCDSB chair Diane Rabenda previously told CBC that, in passing the motion, trustees were simply following the tenets of the Catholic faith to the letter.

"This is the motion of the board, the resolution of the board, and whether trustees agree with it or not ... it was passed, therefore all trustees have to outwardly support that motion," Rabenda said in an interview on Metro Morning.

The motion is not the first time that the HCDSB has made controversial decisions.

In late 2010, the board initially banned student gay-straight alliances.

It was also one of the few boards that for a number of years refused to allow Grade 8 girls to receive the HPV vaccine.