06.22.2010 06:49 AM

Don’t mess with the Jebs


In a decision that sets back Quebec’s efforts to strip religion from the province’s institutions, a judge has ruled that the government showed Inquisition-like intolerance in the way it imposed a secular ethics course on a private Roman Catholic school.

The ironic reference to religious zealotry in the pursuit of secularism came in a ruling that handed a victory to Montreal’s Loyola High School. The Jesuit boy’s school went to court for the right to keep teaching its ethics course from a Roman Catholic perspective.

In a decision handed down Friday, Superior Court Judge Gérard Dugré said that not only did Quebec violate Loyola’s religious freedoms by insisting it teach the secular course, but also it went about it in a “totalitarian” manner.

“In this age of the respect of fundamental rights, of tolerance, reasonable accommodation and multiculturalism, the attitude adopted by the [education] minister is surprising,” Judge Dugré wrote.

“The obligation imposed on Loyola to teach the ethics and religious culture course in a lay fashion assumes a totalitarian character essentially equivalent to Galileo’s being ordered by the Inquisition to deny the Copernican universe.”

I have a personal interest in this important decision. My father graduated from Loyola High School, and supported it for his entire adult life. I went there, too, for two wonderful years, with boys who came from all faiths. A Jesuitical education – as brief as it was in my case – deeply shaped my later views on politics, trade unionism, social justice and plenty of other subjects. For us, the Jesuits were the greatest teachers one could have.

Here, I suspect the unpopular Charest government’s target wasn’t actually the Jesuits, it was something else – a grubby, cynical manoeuvre to capture some xenophobic/Islamophobic votes. (The manoeuvre is not without its enthusiasts, unfortunately.)

In taking on the Jesuits in a “totalitarian” manner, however, the Quebec Premier has made a big mistake. The order has been around for centuries, and has seen many governments come and go. It won’t simply abide a ruling that requires it to denude itself, and its teachings, of any meaning.

I fundamentally believe in the separation of church and state, as regular readers will know. Most of the time, the threat to civil society involves religious figures attempting to impose the tenets of their faith on government. But, sometimes, it also involves government bureaucrats attempting to impose their misanthropy on religion. Neither should be allowed to stand.

What’s your view? Comments are open, as always. Keep it civil, please.


  1. Catherine says:

    In April, a controversial political float depicting Sikh ‘martyrs’ showed up in a parade. Resulting in the need for the Surrey city council to review if the float complied with city policy.

    It takes true conviction to speak the truth, when confronted with pressure from all sides.

  2. JH says:

    I too went there Warren. My father thought I needed a little discipline in my life and the Jesuits would provide it. He was right and they tried. ‘Nuff said. I can thank them for the start of a broad- based education, a love of history, the ability to read latin and instilling in me a life-long curiosity about the world around me. When I see the educational curriculum of today compared to ours, I want to cry with sadness for our young people. In my opinion they are missing so much of the richness a well-rounded learning experience provides.

  3. Tybalt says:

    Would we similarly support a private Islamic madrassa in the same circumstances, I wonder?

  4. Michael Behiels says:

    The ruling of Quebec’s Superior Court Judge in this matter is merely the beginning of this crucial and long overdue debate. Judge Gérard Dupré’s use of language is farcical and quite dangerous. The Quebec government is not acting in a ‘totalitarian’ fashion. This is inappropriate language. This dispute over Church-State relations in Quebec will be pushed, and quite rightly so, by the Charest government all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Once there, this important matter will be argued vigorously and then a reasonable ruling will be made. Judicial review of very tough rights cases is after all one of the two central roles of Canada’s Supreme Court and its learned justices.

    Why? Because there are competing rights at stake and no right – individual or collective – is absolute. The Supreme Court will attempt to strike a reasonable balance between these competing rights. Religious rights are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Religious rights compete with the rights of society, as formulated by our legislators, to ensure that all of our children receive a comprehensive education unburdened by excessively religious or secular bias.
    It is important that everyone remain calm and allow this matter to be adjudicated in a formal way by the learned justices of the Supreme Court of Canada.

    I, too, Warren attended a private Catholic College for five years. I was taught the history of the Catholic Church each year for five years!! I then went on to a Catholic University. No other religion was ever mentioned in either the College or the University!! But it was a private College and a private University and they did not receive public funding so their administrators had the right to set the curriculum.

    A constitutional amendment between Quebec and Canada, negotiated by Lucien Bouchard’s separatist PQ government, ended the constitutional right to publily funded denominational schools in Quebec in 1998. I might be mistaken, but I think Loyola College, like most private colleges in Quebec, continues to receive substantial public funding. The Quebec government has every right to end the public funding for all private schools and colleges in Quebec. If Loyola College’s administration insists that it be able to determine the college’s curriculum and reject the curriculum of Quebec’s Ministry of Education, then it should forgo all the state subsidies. Parent who want their children to have a purely religious education should be willing to pay the freight. Taxpayers should not be expected to pick up the tab.

    Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberal Party were right when they refused to accept the demand by Ontario’s private religious schools and their promoters and supporters in the Conservative Party of Ontario for public funding while retaining their right to determine their respective curricula.

    Many Ontarians think that the continuation of public funding for Catholic separate schools is unfair and unjust. Perhaps Ontarians will insist on a widespread public debate over this issue at some point down the road. At the moment, our Constitution protects the rights of Ontarian Catholics to publicly funded Catholic separate schools and this right must be protected by politicians and by the Courts.

    • maria says:

      Loyola is not refusing to teach the moral and religious education or any other curriculum set by the government. It has argued that it retains the right as a Jesuit school to teach it from a Catholic perspective. My self-declared, atheist son is starting there next September, so we shall learn first hand what that means in practice.

      From our point of view, we are thankful that the private Catholic schools, (both French and English) exist. They provide a more affordable option to the unpredictable education offered by public schools and the hyper-expensive Westmount private schools.

  5. keyrocks says:

    I agree. Separation of church and state is an important principle that should apply throughout Canada… though it is a constant battle to maintain it.

  6. Mark Dowling says:

    Don’t want state values, don’t take state money – either in tax subsidy or via tax deductible donation.

    I’d tell the Premier of Ontario to take note (i.e. request removal of the Constititional requirement to fund Catholic schools from Ontario tax dollars) but that’s not going to happen for family and votecatching reasons.

  7. crf says:

    The decision is just begging to be struck down.
    The opinions of the Judge on the idea that Canada is a country recognizing the constitutional supremacy of God, is in this day and age, farcical. The preamble to the charter is just that: a preamble. “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law” doesn’t mean that Canada’s laws must be compatible with any interpretation of God’s laws: this preamble is just a history lesson about the evolution of the principles that make our law.

    First, this is going to the Supreme court quickly.

    Second, I assume the Quebec Legislature will use the notwithstanding clause to suspend this judgement in the meantime, given its obvious impropriety. I’m pretty sure this will pass close to unanimously.

    Third, I bet this judge will retire. The judgement’s editorializing gives the impression of him penning a final manifesto.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:


      This hot potato is destined for The Quebec Court of Appeal for a start. It will likely be overturned there and I expect the SCC will uphold whatever decision the QCA reaches.

  8. Jerome Bastien says:

    “Most of the time, the threat to civil society involves religious figures attempting to impose the tenets of their faith on government. But, sometimes, it also involves government bureaucrats attempting to impose their misanthropy on religion.”

    That may have been true as recently as 50 years ago, but today, with religious institutions being severely weakened and lacking any real influence, the threat is unambiguously from government imposing its dictates on churches. This may be warranted in some extreme cases (e.g., Bountiful, BC), but most of the time, as in this case, it is ill-advised.

    Also, I would bet dollars to donuts on a Jesuit education (rigorous and thorough) versus a public education (vapid and politically correct).

  9. Brian says:

    My view is something like this:

    “I fundamentally believe in the separation of church and state. Most of the time, the threat to civil society involves religious figures attempting to impose the tenets of their faith on government. But, sometimes, it also involves government bureaucrats attempting to impose their misanthropy on religion. Neither should be allowed to stand.”

    I think I’ve even used those words myself once, except I might have added an expletive or two.

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