The Yukon Green party wants the government to end funding for Catholic schools in the territory and instead use the money to fund public secular schools.
“Every child should be offered the same education as any other child in the Yukon,” party president Kristina Calhoun told the News on Tuesday.
“It’s an equality, social, and environmental issue.”
Students going to Catholic schools end up being raised in their own “bubble,” she said.
“If you start dividing kids along religious lines and language lines, what you’re doing, you’re creating little pockets where the true diversity of your community is not represented,” she said.
In a press release on Friday, the party called the funding “morally indefensible.” The party says only Catholics can be hired as full-time teachers.
The Department of Education told the News preference is given to Catholic candidates but didn’t say it was a requirement.
“Non-Catholic staff are also hired at these schools, including for permanent positions,” said spokesperson Holly Fraser.
“To identify as a Catholic candidate, an applicant provides a faith letter, a pastoral reference and a baptismal certificate, which are reviewed and approved by the local diocese.”
The Green Party’s call to end the funding is not targeting Catholics specifically, said Calhoun.
“It has nothing to do with Catholic schools as much as it has to do with equality and the environment,” Calhoun said.
She also noted that Catholics are the only religious group that gets public funding for schools in the Yukon.
“If we can’t fund them all, we shouldn’t be funding any,” she said.
But it’s also about the traffic created by parents dropping off their children from one end of town to another, and the impact it has on the environment.
“It would be a much greener solution to have kids go to schools in their catchment area and encourage the Department of Education to have more diversity in the curriculum at each school,” said Calhoun.
“It would be impossible to have enough staff to have full French immersion (programs) at every school, but it’s a goal worth striving for (so) each school can offer similar services.”
Calhoun recognizes the added impact of traffic on climate change is not significant but still worth addressing.
“Every action we take that does anything to slow down climate change is an important action to take,” she said.
“We shouldn’t not take action because it’s not a significant one.”
There are three Catholic schools in Whitehorse: Christ the King Elementary and Vanier Catholic Secondary in Riverdale and Holy Family Elementary in Porter Creek.
As of February, 899 students were enrolled in those schools.
All combined, they receive more than $200,000 a year from the Yukon government just to cover religious education.
“The Catholic schools receive a comparable amount of funding as other Yukon schools based on student enrolment,” Fraser said.
On top of that, the government also funds the Catholic Education Association of Yukon to the tune of $28,700.
What Calhoun proposes is that the government ends the funding agreement with the Catholic schools and instead directs that funding to run secular schools.
The Yukon government owns and manages all three schools, but it’s not clear how feasible how ending the funding agreement is.
The issue of publicly funded Catholic schools in the territory came under scrutiny when in 2013 Whitehorse’s former bishop Gary Gordon introduced a sexual orientation policy calling homosexual urges a “disorder” and homosexual acts an “intrinsic moral evil.”
After a public outcry and national coverage the policy was overturned and replaced by a department-wide one, allowing the creation of a gay-straight alliance group.
The memorandum of agreement signed between the department and the diocese was to be reviewed in order to clarify what powers the bishop had, especially about hiring, officials said at the time.
In 2014, the Department told the News the review was on hold because Gordon had been appointed to Victoria and a new bishop hadn’t been named.
Last November, Bishop Hector Vila was named the new bishop.
A new memorandum has yet to be signed.
“At this time, we have no updates on the memorandum of understanding (MOU) process between the Department of Education and the new bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Whitehorse,” said Fraser.
“We are in communication with the new bishop’s office to hold discussions and further meetings.”
The Yukon Teachers’ Association was asked whether it had any issue with the preference for hiring Catholic teachers.
Its president, Jill Mason, would only say that the hiring processes are reviewed annually by the YTA and the Department of Education.
The News sought a comment from Education Minister Doug Graham. A cabinet spokesperson said only the Department of Education would be providing responses on the topic.
“They are public schools that provide a Catholic learning environment,” said Fraser.
“They follow the same curriculum as other Yukon schools with additional religious education instruction such as Catholic values, lessons, prayers and church-related activities.”
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