Education Minister Stephen Lecce has condemned a proposal by the vice-chair of the Toronto Catholic board that would have added a number of sexual behaviours — including bestiality, pedophilia and attraction to stuffed animals — to the code of conduct.
The board was in the process of updating its code, as required by the Ministry of Education and human rights law, to add protection from discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and family and marital status, when Michael Del Grande brought forward his 12-page amendment listing the bizarre — and in some cases, criminal — acts.
“I find the comments made by the trustee to be quite unacceptable and quite disturbing, actually,” Lecce said Monday at Queen’s Park.
Lecce said the board’s own internal processes will continue, but he “will make it clear that the government finds those comments unacceptable in this province, for any child who already feels victimized or stigmatized in the classroom.”
He said not including gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination “is not an item that is for discussion, and so we will look to the board to demonstrate leadership and consider the options they have before them.”
“For myself,” he added, “I will just add my voice in condemnation of that language.”
Del Grande, however, in a text message to the Star, said “with all due respect to Minister Lecce, it is clear that he does not understand that Catholic school boards in Ontario have the constitutional right … to reject any government mandate which would require a Catholic school board to contradict the religious beliefs of the Catholic church.”
The former Toronto city councillor said “that’s what I was doing — protecting our religious schools from a secular ideology that is totally at odds with the Christian faith.”
Del Grande said Lecce — who attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools — “does not seem to appreciate that Catholic schools are a faith-based system and that trustees have fiduciary obligation to keep our Catholic schools authentically Catholic, which is precisely what I was trying to do by illustrating to my colleagues that they must not vote for ideas that undermine our Christian faith.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called on Lecce to urge Del Grande to resign.
“It may be that the minister doesn’t have the capacity to have that person removed, but he should make it very, very clear that that person should be resigning from his role,” Horwath told reporters. “That is completely unacceptable — it is beyond the pale when it comes to using that kind of opportunity to try to link the LGBTQ community with these kinds of things.”
“It’s shameful,” she also said. “It’s a disgrace and I’m shocked that the minister has not asked for this trustee to do the right thing and step down.”
At a Nov. 7 meeting, Del Grande introduced an amendment listing a number of unusual and offensive sexual practices, and has argued he was demonstrating how trustees were on a “slippery slope” by including gender identity. It was ruled out of order.
Some have come out in support of Del Grande, with one writing to Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees that he and a handful of other trustees “voted to uphold Christian teaching.”
Current Chair Maria Rizzo said she was “disgusted” and noted the board had received scores of complaints. An online petition calling for Del Grande to be removed now has more than 1,500 signatures.
However, Del Grande cannot be forced to leave.
At the meeting, the four new terms — which had the approval of the Archdiocese of Toronto — were ultimately added to the code of conduct.
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Meanwhile, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association took the unusual step of publicly rebuking Del Grande, saying “regrettably, the actions of one of our colleagues failed to meet the high standard of behaviour and good example expected of and provided by Catholic trustees throughout Ontario. The actions were unacceptable, hurtful and completely inappropriate. We without reservation repudiate them.”
The statement went on to say that “throughout their history, Catholic school boards have implemented legislation, Ministry of Education regulation and requirements under the Ontario Human Rights Code.”