Halton Catholic school board suspends policy banning fundraising over religious values

The Halton Catholic District School Board has voted to suspend a controversial policy that banned fundraising for charities that run counter to Catholic values. The charities included SickKids, The Terry Fox Foundation and UNICEF.

A final decision will be made next school year after a series of community consultations

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

The Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) has voted to suspend a controversial policy that banned fundraising for charities that run counter to Catholic values.

At their board meeting Tuesday night, trustees approved a motion to delay the policy until a series of community consultations wraps up in June.

"Hopefully our students will feel a little more comfort in knowing they can go through with the various activities they have planned for the next two months," said HCDSB chair Diane Rabenda.

"This is what we've been pushing for all along," added Ben Sabourin, student council president student at Christ the King Secondary in Georgetown. "This is a huge win for the students."

Policy aimed to preserve 'sanctity of life'

In January, trustees passed a motion that would see the board no longer provide or facilitate donations to organizations that violate "the sanctity of life from conception to natural death."

The original motion called for a ban on any charities that directly or indirectly support abortion, contraception, sterilization, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.

The decision came under immediate fire from many students and parents, who criticized the language as overly broad and vague.

If the policy were adopted, students feared they would no longer be able to fundraise for a wide range of charities including SickKids,The Terry Fox Foundation and UNICEF.

Sabourin said students at Christ the King were forced to withdraw from the upcoming Relay for Life, organized by the Canadian Cancer Society, due to the policy.

A group of students will still participate in the event, he said, but without any official HCDSB affiliation.

Uphold, amend or eliminate?

While the policy is likely to remain suspended for the rest of the school year, some trustees are holding out hope that a revised motion could be approved for the fall.

"I remain concerned about a Catholic institution collecting and distributing funds on behalf of organizations, that despite their prosocial efforts, are also engaged in activities that are at odds with the fundamental Catholic understanding of the innate value of human life," said Anthony Quinn, the board's trustee for Oakville, who voted against the decision to suspend the policy.

Sabourin agrees that the board should do what it can to support charities that promote Catholic values, but that any policy enforcing that position should be more carefully worded.

"As a Catholic board of education, we should not be supporting organizations that directly contradict our Catholic values," he said. "However, when you include the word 'indirectly' it becomes very vague."

The board's chair says upcoming community consultations will ultimately determine the fate of the policy, but her choice would be to simply wipe the rule off the books.

Halton Catholic District School Board Chair Diane Rabenda said she would like to see the policy repealed by the next school year. (Diane Rabenda/Twitter)

"I would go back," said Rabenda. "I would let the students do their wonderful work in fundraising for the charities that they feel is appropriate."

The community consultations will wrap up on June 1, after which HCDSB staff will recommend a new policy to the board.

Ontario's Ministry of Education will be following the process.

"Fundraising activities enrich the experience of Ontario students and help build a sense of community outside school hours," said Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris in a statement.

"I, along with many, will be watching closely to make sure that the student voice along with various community voices are heard and that the board listens to this important feedback."