Stuart Svonkin and Sarah Whitmore argue before Human Rights Tribunal regarding a school board’s policy for distribution of religious materials, in Sun News

Niagara Schools Policy Questioned Over Human Rights

February 05, 2013

A Grimsby, Ont., atheist looking to strike down a school board policy on religious materials took his fight to human rights court Tuesday.

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in St. Catharines opened hearings for Rene Chouinard, who is seeking to quash the District School Board of Niagara policy that allows distributing religious materials under strict conditions. The case hinges on a 2009 incident in which Chouinard refused to sign a consent form allowing his elementary school-age daughter to receive a Gideons International Bible at her school. The tribunal heard Nelles School Council ultimately decided not to allow it or the Gideons bible for distribution.

Following the Nelles incident, a revised February 2010 board policy states, in part, that no student shall receive a publication without a signed parents' permission, that any religious publication distribution should not be during instructional time, and that attendance is optional. It further states no religious instruction or indoctrination is allowed, and the distribution will be supervised.

At the hearing, lawyers Stuart Svonkin and Sarah Whitmore representing the Canadian Civil Liberties Association argued the provincial human rights code — as interpreted by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — makes it clear the board policy is discriminatory.

People have the right to be free from religious "coercion and indoctrination," said Svonkin, invited by the tribunal as an intervener.

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