British Columbia

Former Surrey Christian School teacher urges province to quash 'discriminatory' contracts at religious schools

Stephanie Vande Kraats files petition to ask the new B.C. Human Rights Commission to examine worker rights inside faith-based schools.

Stephanie Vande Kraats wants forthcoming B.C. Human Rights Commission to examine worker rights

Stephanie Vande Kraats holds a copy of her petition asking the soon-to-be-created B.C. Human Rights Commission to look into whether there is an issue of systemic discrimination inside teaching contracts at religious schools. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

A teacher who lost her job at Surrey Christian School for living with her common-law husband is pushing for legislative changes targeting discriminatory worker contracts at religious schools.

Stephanie Vande Kraats has filed a petition urging B.C.'s new Human Rights Commission to examine what she calls systemic discrimination against teachers by faith-based schools, in the hope it could lead to changes in the law.

B.C.'s Human Rights Commission was disbanded in 2002, but was reformed by the NDP government through legislation introduced last year. 

"I'm hoping this won't be the norm anymore," she told CBC News. "My interest is not between me and that school — my interest is in trying to find a way to solve this problem which is systemic discrimination at dozens of religious schools, K-12, across British Columbia."

Kraats resigned from her teaching role at Surrey Christian School once administrators found out she was living with her male partner, violating a clause in her employment contract that forbids "any sexual activity outside of a heterosexual marriage."

She had worked at the school for fourteen years as a librarian and a teacher.

"It was my professional community, it was all of my friendships, it was my spiritual community, so to have all of that taken away at once — those were some really dark days," she said.

Surrey Christian School is one of 35 B.C. Christian schools that receive government funding while having policies that forbid sex outside a heterosexual marriage. (Daniel Beauparlant/CBC)

Legal contracts

Kraats opted not to file a complaint with B.C.'s Human Rights Tribunal believing that arbitration with the school likely wouldn't work out in her favour. The tribunal settles individual disputes involving human rights violations and will continue to operate separately from the commission.

​Surrey Christian School is among hundreds of religious schools across the country that receive public funding. Many are allowed to have discriminatory hiring policies because they have religious exemptions from human rights laws.

"The provision that allows the school to do this has been there for a long time, and it's still there. And it's not only in British Columbia legislation, but across the country," said Harinder Mahil, a Vancouver-based human rights expert.

"Her right not to be discriminated against must be balanced against the school's right, which is to promote the interests of Christians," he added.

Harinder Mahil, head of the last B.C. Human Rights Commission, questions whether there will be any end to perceived discrimination against workers because court rulings have supported the rights of faith-based schools to set their own rules. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Human rights commission

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming suggested the case might be better suited for B.C.'s Human Rights Commission — a re-instated provincial body that will examine discriminatory practices and recommend policy changes to government and businesses.

The commission's primary role will be to educate the public and make recommendations to both government and businesses to curb systemic rights violations.

Kraats thinks a thorough examination of contracts from religious schools would be worthwhile for the new commission to consider.

Stephanie Vande Kraats was told she couldn’t continue to teach at Surrey Christian School because she had violated a school contract requiring that employees only have sex within a heterosexual marriage. (Erica Johnson/CBC)

"I'm asking the commissioner to recall all of these contracts from all of our K-12 religious schools, to review them, and if [the commissioner] finds discrimination, to recommend a legislative solution," she said.

A new human rights commissioner is expected to be appointed later this year. 

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