U.N. calls school-funding policy biased

TORONTO, Nov. 9 (JTA) — Canadian Jewish officials are calling on the Ontario government to fund all private schools, including Jewish schools.

The call comes in the wake of a U.N. panel ruling that the province discriminates when it gives money only to Catholic schools.

Ontario’s support for the private schools of only one religious community is unfair and “cannot be considered reasonable and objective,” the U.N. Human Rights Commission said.

Although the panel gave the Ontario government 90 days to comply with last Friday’s ruling, there is no penalty if the province chooses to ignore it.

Nearly four years after Toronto parent Arieh Waldman launched a complaint before the United Nations, the 18-member panel decided that the province was violating a 1976 international human rights convention.

Waldman, who claims to have spent nearly $100,000 to educate his two sons at Jewish day schools, asserts he is entitled to full compensation since he also pays education taxes into provincial coffers.

The Canadian Jewish Congress, which has long objected to the province’s practice of funding only Catholic private schools, hailed the ruling.

Its legal challenge of the practice ended three years ago when the Supreme Court of Canada found that Ontario was within its rights to fund schooling for only one religious group.

Keith Landy, chair of CJC’s Ontario Region, called upon the province to correct the unfair situation by “immediately and in earnest beginning the process of providing access to government funding for all independent, religious schools.”

Roughly 2 percent of Ontario day school students attend private schools, a percentage that would account for only $280 million of the province’s annual $14 billion educational budget.

“That’s a drop in the bucket,” Waldheim said.

Anne Bayefsky, the Toronto lawyer who argued Waldheim’s case before the U.N. panel, said Ontario “cannot choose not to comply” with the ruling because Canada’s moral authority in the international arena would otherwise be diminished.

Canada, she noted, is a leader in international law, especially in the area of human rights.

If Canada ignores the decision, “We cannot then presume to lecture countries like China and Indonesia on human rights,” she said.

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