10 February 2016, The Tablet

Pupil files human rights complaint against Catholic school in Ontario

The 18-year-old alleges the school discriminated against her when she asked to be exempt from religious activities

A former student of a secondary school in Canada has filed a human rights complaint against her school, the school board and the trustees, claiming she was discriminated against for refusing to take part in the school’s religious activities.

Claudia Sorgini, now a first year university student, requested an exemption from religious courses and activities provided by St Theresa’s Catholic school in Ontario because she wanted to spend more time studying for exams. She says she was granted an exemption but the district school board told her she would still have to attend liturgies or face being barred from all non-academic activities. The demand was revoked when her parents complained in writing that the request was illegal after a panel of three judges in 2014 ruled that students had a right to be exempt from religious classes.

In the complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Sorgini states that despite the agreed exemption she was treated differently from other students.

Sorgini’s case is the latest in an ongoing debate about Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic schools; some question whether the province needs to separate Catholic and secular state schools in its system - the only faith schools Ontario provides funding for are Catholic schools. 

According to the Globe and Mail, the Canadian newspaper that first reported the case, students at Catholic high schools are expected to take four religious courses, one at each grade level, unless they receive an exemption. Sorgini’s lawyer, Paul Champ, told the newspaper: “In some ugly cases, students who try to exercise their legal right to an exemption suffer intimidation and harassment by school officials. That’s what happened to my client.”

A spokesperson from the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board said they wouldn't comment on the details of the case as they will respond to the human rights tribunal. However they said the board had a specific procedure for responding to requests for exemptions from religious classes and that their policy recognised that "faith teachings are fundamental to who we are and are infused into many aspects of a student's school experience. Our board has and will comply with the provisions of the Education Act".

Section 1 of the human rights legislation affecting education in Ontario states that everyone has the right to equal treatment with respect to services and facilities in schools.


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