OTTAWA, ON February 17, 2012 – The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) provides this comment on today’s decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Quebec parents who sought an exemption for their children from the mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) course. The League intervened in the appeal as part of the Christian Coalition for Parental Rights in Education (RCDPE), in support of the right of parents to exempt their children from the course.
“The Supreme Court has denied the request for exemption in this case, on a finding that the Appellants could not meet the evidentiary burden of how the course was delivered to support a finding of interference with their right to religious freedom” said Philip Horgan, President of the Catholic Civil Rights League. “In part, that evidentiary burden could not be met because the parents had removed their two children (one of whom was six years old when the program was introduced) from the course.”
The court found the evidence submitted by the parents to be insufficient, without acknowledging that this process was initiated in 2008, and the parents could only introduce the original curriculum and the only textbook that had been produced at the time they commenced this process.
In effect, the court has asserted that all Quebec parents must expose their children to this course (including the more than 2,000 parents who sought such exemptions), obtain an evidentiary record for their concerns or their allegations, and return to the process of seeking an exemption from their local school board.
The court leaves open the possibility that such an application with the proper evidentiary support could be mounted in the future.
The court’s determination is contrary to the finding of the Quebec Superior Court in the case involving Loyola High School (currently under appeal), which decided in June, 2010, that the efforts of the Quebec Ministry of Education to impose the ERC course on a private boys high school violated the freedom of religion of its stakeholders.
In that case, Justice Gérard Dugré stated: “Canadian democratic society is based on principles recognizing the supremacy of God and the primacy of the law – both of which benefit from constitutional protection,” wrote Justice Dugré in the 63-page ruling. “In this age of the respect of fundamental rights, of tolerance, reasonable accommodation and multiculturalism, the attitude adopted by [Education Minister Michelle Courchesne], is surprising.”
As a result of today’s decision, Quebec parents will need to maintain a serious vigilance on these issues, and secure their own evidentiary record, presumably from their experiences from the first three and a half years of the implementation of the course, in order to return to the process of seeking exemptions if they find that their religious beliefs are being compromised in the classroom. That process engages every Quebec parent in a process to inquire, demand information, and submit requests for class plans on what teachers are proposing, how the content of their classes will be delivered, and then obtain from their children reports on what they received in the classroom each day.
The overall impact of the court’s decision enlarges the state’s role into family autonomy. The denial of the exemption in this case merely invites thousands of Quebec parents to seek exemptions, as they are entitled to do under the province’s public education legislation, in order to maintain the right to chart the course of their children’s moral upbringing.
The rights of parents as first educators of their children are upheld in numerous documents in international protocols as well as within Canada. These documents include the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Quebec, the Civil Code of Quebec and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 12 and 26), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 18).
Today’s decision is also contrary to some international trends, such as a decision two weeks ago by the new government of Spain to pull a controversial social studies program to which many parents had objected.
The League urges the government of Quebec to take the concerns of parents seriously, and to provide an alternative delivery of a program which accords with their religious rights, which numerous surveys have indicated a majority of Quebec parents would prefer.
Link to SCC decision
League supports SCC appeal in Quebec schools question, League press releases, October 21, 2010
Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization and has chapters across Canada. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
Mrs. Jean Morse-Chevrier, ACPQ President and CCRL Director, 514-276-8068 or 819-661-7140, firstname.lastname@example.org (bilingual)
Joanne McGarry, Executive Director, CCRL, 416-466-8244, email@example.com