TORONTO – The Ontario government respects the constitutional rights of Catholic education and is committed to its continuation, said Education Minister Laurel Broten.
Speaking to The Catholic Register in the wake of Cardinal Thomas Collins calling the Liberals' amended version of Bill 13 an infringement on religious freedom, Broten also rejected calls from some politicians and media for a single, secular education system.
"I've been very clear," she said. "The premier's been very clear. We respect the constitutional protection of Catholic education and that conversation is not on the table."
Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod has suggested the Liberals are deliberately provoking a backlash against Catholic schools as a first step to creating a single educational system. Broten said that is untrue.
"My focus on Bill-13 has nothing to do with funding for Catholic education," she said. "It has everything to do with support for students.
"We have been firm in our commitment that Catholic education is an important part of the wonderful education we have in this province."
Broten said she was persuaded by students and teachers to amend Bill-13 to give students the sole right to call anti-bullying clubs gay-straight alliances if they choose.
The amendment lost her the support of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association but the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, in the midst of contract negotiations with the government, reaffirmed its support for Bill 13.
As president of the Association of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, Collins came out swinging against the amendment, calling the sudden shift bizarre.
"This idea that any student would be able to override the principal or the trustees, . . . that's an unusual way to do things," said Collins. He called the policy shift an affront to religious freedom, saying he was very troubled by "this narrowing, this hardening, this inflexibility."
Gay-straight alliance is more than a name. Conceived in the United States in the 1980s, GSAs have an approach to sexuality and human development at odds with Catholic teaching, Collins said.
Broten believes Catholic schools will have no trouble living with GSAs. "I feel so confident that Catholic education can operationalize Bill 13," she said.