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Legal wrangling delays deal on Catholic education

It looks like Vanier Catholic Secondary School won't have a Gay-Straight Alliance after all. At least, the group won't go by that name.

It looks like Vanier Catholic Secondary School won’t have a Gay-Straight Alliance after all. At least, the group won’t go by that name.

Student Liam Finnegan told CBC radio earlier this week that six students had formed a group at the school, and they were calling themselves a GSA.

But this morning, Finnegan said that Vanier vice-principal Kyle Janzen told him that was incorrect, and that he’d been spreading misinformation.

“He said Vanier doesn’t have a GSA. That name had only been temporary because students weren’t coming to the group because we didn’t know what to call it. He said the school is worried that we’ll promote sex before marriage,” Finnegan said.

There is a group in the works as part of the renegotiated Catholic schools policy. The current working title for the Vanier group is “One Heart: Gay-Straight Catholic Allies,” said Valerie Royle, deputy minister of education.

The department’s current policy - the only one currently in effect - states that if students request a GSA, the administration must make best efforts to provide one.

The name of the school’s new group is just one of many contentious issues up in the air at the school, which became engulfed in controversy earlier this year when its school council put online a new policy, penned by Bishop Gary Gordon, that described homosexual urges as a “disorder” and labelled homosexual acts an “intrinsic moral evil.”

That policy was later pulled down, after the Education Department declared that it conflicted with its own policy to create a welcoming environment for gay students.

Last week it came to light that Vanier’s principal, Ed Frison, had been reassigned to a new job within the Education Department. Now it turns out that the school’s vice-principal will also be replaced for the next school year, leaving some parents concerned that time is running out to find a new administration team for the Catholic high school.

Frison’s transfer was not specifically because of the same-sex policy controversy, according to Royle.

“Sometimes, you just need a change,” said deputy education minister Valerie Royle.

“We made that decision here, that we needed a change. What I consider the vilification of Ed Frison is unfair and unfounded. Could he have done things differently? Yes. Could I have done things differently? Yes, but I think it’s really unfair that everything has been put on the principal,” Royle said.

Superintendent Mike Woods gave an update on the current staffing situation to members of the Catholic Education Association of Yukon at a meeting last night.

He said that the hiring policy is still being reviewed, and that the department is working on an agreement to more clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the bishop.

Woods said he expects the deal to be in place by Aug. 30.

Bishop Gary Gordon, on the other hand, wasn’t so optimistic.

“It’s slow. It’s painfully slow,” he said, sounding exasperated. “It will not be finished by Aug. 30.”

When Gordon ordered his new sexual orientation policy be posted on the Catholic schools’ websites, he told principals that it had been officially vetted and approved by the department.

It wasn’t, and eventually the document was pulled off the schools’ websites.

Although the department knew about Gordon’s document, and that there were significant concerns with it, Royle said at the time the department felt it was powerless to stop him because no one had thought to question the bishop’s authority on the matter.

The document remained online for almost three months after parents first complained in November.

“Nobody had ever questioned, or maybe ever had reason to question, what those roles and responsibilities were. There were assumptions made that that was something the bishop could do, and that we could ask, but that we couldn’t require (him to take it down),” Royle said.

The agreement is an attempt to clarify some ambiguous language in the 1962 agreement that grants Catholics the right to religious education on the public dime.

For example, the agreement says that the bishop will have a role in recruitment and deciding the Catholic nature of the school.

“OK, that’s great. But what does that mean?” Royle asked.

“The bishop will say, ‘Of course I’m involved in recruitment’ and people go ‘Ah ha! The bishop is hiring people.’ But he’s not. The only hiring panel the bishop is on is for the principal and the religious education co-ordinator. He doesn’t interview and hire teachers.”

Royle said that when she first promised that a new sexual-orientation policy for the Catholic schools would be finished by the end of May, she was confident the department could meet the deadline.

But the department has since fallen into haggling with the bishop’s lawyers over the exact wording of the agreement and the new policy.

“I am quite confident that we could have had something finished by April if we’d just sat down as individuals and not had to get legal involved,” Royle said.

She said that Education Minister Scott Kent made it clear that any new policy for the Catholic schools must meet the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as human rights and other legislation.

“The minister has said we are not compromising on the legislative compliance piece. Because I’m not a lawyer, every draft that we’ve had we’ve had to get the Department of Justice to review.

“I want to get this right. I’m not going to sacrifice getting it right in the name of getting it done fast. Every draft goes to our lawyer and then to the bishop and he gets his lawyer. Lawyers are not making the process quick,” Royle said.

“I think we’re getting close. I’m not a lawyer. I think we’re getting close,” the bishop said in an interview after the meeting.

“When you’re developing documents and policy, every word is analyzed. That doesn’t happen quickly. It isn’t quite like banging off copy for the next edition,” Gordon said.

Gordon had not spoken publicly since the uproar in February. When asked for comment on the controversy, Gordon replied, “well that depends on how you define controversy.”

“Remember, the Catholic Church started on Calvary. There is nothing more controversial than the cross. How’s that for a quote?” he said, chuckling.

Contact Jesse Winter at