Monday, July 11, 2011

Oh, Canada

by Edd Doerr
Canadians, it is generally agreed, are on balance more liberal than Americans. One compliment I have heard is that Canadians are English-speaking Scandinavians. But one thing that Canadians do not have is a clear constitutional guarantee of religious liberty and separation of church and state. As a result, several Canadian provinces compel their citizens to pay for sectarian private schools.

Perhaps the worst example is generally liberal Ontario, which funds Catholic schools to the same extent as public schools while refusing to fund Protestant, Jewish or other faith-based schools, in violation of simple fairness and also of Canadian international agreements. In recent months Ontario Catholic schools have disciplined high school students who wore pro-choice ribbons to school events while allowing anti-choice ribbons to be worn. Ontario Catholic schools have also banned Gay-Straight Alliance groups, which are common in public schools. Further, enrollment in Catholic "separate" elementary schools requires presentation of a baptismal certificate.

Long a leader in the campaign to end tax support for Catholic schools in Ontario, which dates to the 1867 British North America Act, is the group Civil Rights in Public Education, Box 491, Pembroke, ON K8A6X7 (;

But hurrah for Newfies! Newfoundland, Canadia's easternmost province, visited by Vikings a thousand years ago and by John Cabot in 1497, was a separate British colony until it joined Canada in 1949. It had no public schools ever until the 1990s, only five tax-supported faith-based school systems, which were responsible for the worst education in Canada. Finally, Newfies (a term of endearing disrespect) tired of the backwardness and, as a result of two referenda in the 1990s (a three to one vote in the second) eliminated tax support for religious schools and went to US-style religiously neutral public schools. I have a set of the textbooks that are used in Newfoundland elementary and secondary schools to acquaint students with the various religious traditions represented in the province, including the (native) Inuit and humanists. It is amusing, and sad, to note that US public schools would probably not be able to adopt similar texts.

While we are on the subject of Canada, let me utter a word of tribute to Dr Henry Morgentaler (humanist, Auschwitz survivor, Belgian-educated, Quebec province obstetrician-gynecologist), who singlehandedly brought abortion rights to Canada before Roe v Wade in the US. Henry is a dear friend and an outstanding example of positive humanism in action.

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