Toronto

Halton Catholic board robustly defends decision to cut off charities over religious values

The Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) is stoutly defending a decision to ban fundraising for charities that run counter to Catholic values.

Board chair says intention is not to cause division, but tenets of the faith must be strictly followed

Halton Catholic District School Board Chair Diane Rabenda said in passing motion, trustees were simply following the tenets of the Catholic faith to the letter. (Diane Rabenda/Twitter)

The Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) is stoutly defending a decision to ban fundraising for charities that run counter to Catholic values.

Students and parents are trying to overturn a controversial motion by the board that supports the ban but board chair Diane Rabenda said, 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 ban covers fundraising for any groups that trustees say are not in keeping with the mission of the Catholic school system.

Under the ban, schools will no longer be able to raise money for groups that directly or indirectly support abortion, contraception, sterilization, euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research. That includes a ban on one of the top student fundraisers for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Students were 'shocked' by the ban

Students in Halton are asking trustees to reconsider the ban, which critics say could also include SickKids.

"When I initially heard about this policy, I was shocked," Ben Sabourin, student council president at Christ the King Catholic School, said on Metro Morning.

"Just pure shock that our Board of Education — the same board that teaches us very important values like the option for the poor and vulnerable — and has been calling upon us since senior kindergarten to act for those in need, carry out acts of charity for the entirety of our lives, is the very same board that is now telling us that we cannot support various charities that could include SickKids Hospital and the Canadian Cancer Society. I was absolutely shocked," Sabourin added.

Ben Sabourin is among students in Halton asking the Halton Catholic District School Board trustees to reconsider the ban on fundraising for charities that run counter to Catholic values. (CBC News)

Fellow student council members like Julia Joseph said she, too, was shocked at the decision.

"I think passing this motion in fact goes against all the Catholic values that we've been taught since we were in senior and junior kindergarten," Joseph said in an interview on Metro Morning.

"One of the principal values that we've been taught is human dignity ... but now the board is deciding which life means more."

Board willing to listen to students

Rabenda did not rule out the possibility of the board's decision being rolled back, but she said for the time being, it must be implemented.

"That was the resolution of the majority of the trustees and so we're implementing that resolution. Now, can it change? Of course it can change. Anything can change and so we're hoping that students will come and tell us how they feel and trustees will decide if they want to do another path or whether they wish to stay with this one but at the moment, we have to support it because it's a resolution of the board," she said.

Students and others opposed to the resolution will be given the opportunity at a March 20 board meeting to make their case for a change.

HCDSB is no stranger to controversy

It's 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.

But Rabenda said board members do not intentionally make decisions, which would be controversial or divisive.

"I think it's trying to follow the tenets of the faith very strictly and we do support our Catholic faith and we do, do our very best, but it has caused division, there's absolutely no question about that," she said.

"Certainly with our student trustees they asked for more time and unfortunately that was not given, so at this particular point in time, we are welcoming conversations. We are hoping that many of our students will come forth and talk to us," Rabenda added.

With files from Metro Morning