Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Canada Snubs U.N. Ruling on Religious School Funding

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Canada Snubs U.N. Ruling on Religious School Funding

Article excerpt


The Ontario government has rejected a decision by a United Nations human rights committee that it must extend public funding to all religious schools, not just Catholic institutions.

A Toronto man, Arieh Waldman, who has spent almost $100,000 to educate his two sons in a private Jewish school, took the matter to the United Nations after exhausting all legal options in Canada. On Nov. 6, the U.N. body found in favor of Waldman. Ann Bayefsky, a York University law professor who acted for Waldman, argued that government funding of Catholic schools violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which has been ratified by 144 countries. The committee ruled that Ontario's policy of publicly funding Catholic schools, but not other religious institutions, violated the covenant. The committee had given Canada 90 days to explain how the situation will be remedied.

Ontario's Minister of Education Janet Ecker rejected an offer by Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy to seek an extension to the Feb. 3, 2000 deadline. "Our position as a province has been totally consistent. We can't abide by this decision," she told the National Post. Axworthy had sought to get Ontario on board for an extension so the province and the federal authorities can formulate a joint response.

Canada's response, delivered in Geneva, said that "within Canada, decisions regarding education are ultimately for the provinces to resolve in accordance with their constitutional authority." The response also stated that Ontario "has no plans to extend funding to private, religious schools, and intends to adhere fully to its constitutional obligation to fund Roman Catholic schools." The document acknowledged that Canada is a signatory to the ICCPR "and takes the rights set out in the treaty very seriously...affirms its commitment to the international human rights regime, and will continue to work with the provinces to this end."

Bayefsky told the Canadian Jewish News that "It's astonishing there would be any suggestion by the federal government that they do not have the responsibility to ensure compliance with Canada's international obligations."

The Canadian Constitution gives powers over education to the provinces, while international treaties fall within federal jurisdiction. …

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