Students challenge Halton Catholic board for cutting off charities over religious values

A group of students and parents is working to overturn a decision by the Halton Catholic District School Board to ban fundraising for charities that indirectly violate Catholic values. Critics say the ban could include organizations such as SickKids and the Canadian Cancer Society.

Canadian Cancer Society, SickKids and the Terry Fox Foundation could be included in ban, students say

Ben Sabourin, student council president at Christ the King Catholic School, says the motion should be amended. (CBC)

Students and parents from the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) are trying to overturn a controversial motion that bans fundraising for charities that run counter to Catholic values.

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

That includes abortion, contraception, sterilization, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.

Owing to the vague language of the motion, students said the change will prevent fundraising for organizations including the Terry Fox Foundation, SickKids and UNICEF, among many others.

Thousands sign petition

As of Thursday, more than 11,000 people have signed an online petition asking the board to repeal the motion.

"The opinion of eight trustees should not outweigh the opinion of over 10,000 students and community members," said Ben Sabourin, student council president at Christ the King Catholic School and a student senator at the HCDSB.

Sabourin said the inclusion of charities that "indirectly" violate Catholic values will make it impossible to raise money for organizations that students have supported for years.

Last year, his school raised more than $100,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society through its Relay For Life event. Sabourin fears that won't be possible again because of the provisions around stem cell research.

"If we're not helping other people, how is that us being Catholic?" asked grade 10 student Ashlee Dixon, who has also signed the petition.

"We're giving money to charity, which I'm pretty sure is a Catholic value," added Becca Wark.

Students say the motion would ban participation and fundraising for the Terry Fox Run. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Language 'overly broad'

While thousands of people rally against the change, trustees who supported the motion are standing by their decision.

"I'm proud of the decision made by our board that will ensure that funds raised and distributed by our Catholic institution from now on, are not going to charities or not-for-profits working at odds with our commitment to life," Oakville trustee Anthony Quinn wrote to CBC Toronto.

Other trustees and parents say the motion needs to be re-worked.

"If we dissect every institution and every large institution, we're going to find fault," said trustee Arlene Iantomasi, who voted against the motion.

"The resolution is overly broad, and does not take into account the large, complex and multinational nature of many of the largest, best known charities in the world," parent David Harvey wrote in a letter to the board.

The HCDSB is now reviewing a list of charities and non-profit organizations that currently receive financial support from its schools to ensure compliance with the motion.

A group of students is planning to attend the board's next meeting on March 10 to challenge the motion again.