Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 20, 2006
Trustee's religion threatens his job
Alberta School Act bars Roy Brassard from his Chinook Edge chair job
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Roy Brassard has long been a devout Catholic. Now the public school trustee from Didsbury fears he might lose his job because of his religion.
Brassard has been chair of the Chinook's Edge School Division for the past eight years, but under the Alberta School Act, a Catholic living in an area where a Catholic school division has been established cannot serve as a trustee on a public school board.
Catholic voters in Didsbury voted last year to extend the Red Deer Catholic School Division to their town, which is within the boundaries of the Chinook's Edge public school system. The province approved the change in June.
Brassard, a former three-term MLA for Olds-Didsbury and an area resident for 30 years, feels the legislation marginalizes him because of his religion.
"What this means is that I can send my kids to the public school system, I can be a teacher in that system or I can be a principal or I can be superintendent of that system but I cannot be a trustee because I'm a Catholic and I feel very strongly that that's wrong," Brassard said March 13.
"I don't see any reason why, as a Catholic, I would not be able to sit on a public system."
The Chinook's Edge School Division has filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission to allow Brassard to remain a trustee regardless of his religion.
Superintendent Jim Gibbons has said the complaint, launched March 8, is aimed at changing the provincial School Act. Brassard said the complaint was an action of last resort.
Change the School Act
"I have no problem with the expansion of the Catholic school system (into Didsbury): that's not the issue here," he said. "I believe that the government needs to change the School Act to allow someone in my position to hold office as a trustee to represent the people of Didsbury."
Education Minister Gene Zwozdesky said he would not comment while it is before the Human Rights Commission.
Unless the legislation is changed, Brassard will not be able to run in the next election and may not even be able to complete his term. "My situation places the board at risk because, I guess, graphically speaking, I'm illegitimate on that board right now."
He said if someone challenged his right to be on the board "they can throw out any decisions that I have been part of. This has put into question all the operations of the school division and that's wrong."
Marilyn Welsh, president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association, said she understands Brassard is trying to serve his constituents, but said the legislation, which is written into the Constitution, is intended to protect the minority religion.
"(According to the law), once the majority of the minority takes a vote and they form a school district, all people of that religion within that district are residents of that district and are no longer residents of the public district."
"Mr. Brassard would have had the ability to vote against forming (a Catholic district) if he didn't want to form."
Welsh agreed the legislation is antiquated and said over the years Catholic boards have joined their public counterparts and the government in discussing ways to do things better. But "the reality is right now the constitution says it is the way it is. It's a protection for a minority."
Brassard said he can't even give his situation a sober second thought because there is no Catholic school in Didsbury and none is planned.
"I could run for the Red Deer Separate School Board, but then I would be representing somebody entirely different," he said. "My children don't belong to the Red Deer Separate School Division; they are going to the Chinook's Edge School Division."
Catholic school planned
There are about 400 Catholics in Didsbury. The Red Deer Catholic School Division is planning to build a new kindergarten to Grade 9 school in Olds to serve Catholic students in both Didsbury and Olds, according to Ken Jaeger, coordinator of planning for the division.
If the government approves funding for the school this year, it could be up and running by September 2008. Didsbury students will be bused into Olds, some 10 km away. It would not be viable to build a school in Didsbury at this time because there aren't enough students, Jaeger noted.
The parents of Catholic students who stay in the Chinook's Edge school system will not have the opportunity to represent their children as trustees, lamented Brassard.
"I feel very strongly that this (legislation) is wrong and must be changed, but at the same time I must admit that this whole thing has been very divisive and very unsettling for me," the former provincial Tory cabinet minister added. "I have been a Catholic all my life and I feel like it has put me at odds with my worship community. I really resent the whole thing to be honest.
"I can't help but wonder if Christ was here today just what side of this whole question he would be on."
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