Amid continuing legal pressure against Catholic institutions in Canada, the Calgary Catholic School District faces a lawsuit from a former principal who has said she was pushed out due to discrimination on religious, marital, and anti-LGBTQ grounds.
School officials said they are committed to providing “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments for all,” but did not comment on the complaints due to privacy concerns.
“Our school, and student groups within our school, address a number of diversity and justice issues – including issues associated with sexual orientation and gender identity,” Tania Van Brunt, a school district spokesperson, told CTV Calgary.
“We do so in a comprehensive manner that involves the entire school community,” she continued. “We have many student groups that support safe and caring environments through their activities and demonstrate an understanding and respect for the sanctity of human life and respect for the human person which includes, but not limited to, ethnic and racial backgrounds, abilities or disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.”
Barb Hamilton, a longtime teacher and vice-principal in the school district, served as principal from 2015-2017 at St. Joseph Elementary Junior High School.
She has filed two human rights complaints charging that the school district refused her employment on the grounds of marital status, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation.
“Their perspective is I resigned and my perspective is I wasn’t given a choice,” Hamilton said.
She has charged that staff in Catholic schools suffer from a sense of fear and there is an unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach.
The school district’s employment contract of 2017, titled A Catholic Leader’s Covenant, includes objectives such as to know, serve and love God.
“Our evaluations, our leadership quality standards, is an element of Catholicism and faith, and that’s who we are,” Van Brunt told CTV. “In all of our contracts are professional growth plans.”
The expectations include weekly Sunday Mass attendance and “following and modelling to others, both in and out of school, a lifestyle and deportment in harmony with the practices and beliefs of the Catholic Church.”
After Hamilton left St. Joseph she returned to teaching but is now on leave from her position.
While she was principal, she filed an affidavit saying she was aware of 10 students in Grades 8 and 9 at the school believed to self-identify as LGBTQ and had intentionally hurt themselves.
Hamilton said this self-harm was believed to be a response to anti-LGBTQ insults or to family members who had said “they would go to hell if they were gay.”
She has said she didn’t see any changes from the school board after she sought help. She wanted to go public to help others facing similar situations, saying, “I don’t think silence contributes constructive solutions to the problem.”
Her allegations are part of an ongoing legal case concerning LGBT advocacy Gay-Straight Alliance student clubs in Alberta schools.
Kris Wells, an advocate on LGBTQ issues, said the Catholic schools’ contract is “so vague, almost as vague as to be meaningless without specific examples.”
“It’s a form of discrimination if you’re not applying this covenant equitably to everyone who violates it,” said Wells, an associate professor at McEwan University in Edmonton.
Education Minister David Eggen has not read the contract but said knows that such contracts do exist in the province, CTV reports.
Schools must establishment Gay-Straight Alliances at any school where a student requests one, and school supervisory employees are advised to “anticipate, support and value staff diversity, including diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.”
Bill 24 amends the School Act to make it illegal for the school principal to notify parents about their child’s involvement in student organizations, including Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), or activities. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms leading a challenge to Bill 24 in the Alberta Court of Appeal.