TORONTO, Feb. 10 (JTA) — Canadian Jewish officials are disappointed after their government shrugged off a U.N. ruling which found that the exclusive funding of Roman Catholic schools violates an international treaty.
In November the United Nations’ 18-member Human Rights Committee decided that Ontario’s practice of funding the private schools of only one religious denomination — while other religious schools, such as Jewish day schools, go unfunded — is unfair and “cannot be considered reasonable and objective.”
In a response released Feb. 3 in Geneva, Canada acknowledged its responsibilities under the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but explained that education was a provincial matter over which it has little influence.
Canada’s liberal government explained that it sought the cooperation of the province of Ontario’s conservative government, but to little avail.
The Ontario government, meanwhile, has declared that it “intends to adhere fully to its constitutional obligation to fund Roman Catholic schools” and public schools that are open to all.
It also said it “has no plans to extend funding” to other private religious schools.
“Canada has abrogated its responsibility in the fields of human rights and religious tolerance,” said Keith Landy, a lawyer and chair of the Ontario Region of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
“Fair-minded Ontarians recognize that funding one religious denomination to the exclusion of others, while sanctioned by the Canadian Charter of Rights, is really an historical anomaly and should not be permitted to continue,” Landy said.
Anne Bayefsky, a Toronto-area lawyer who brought the case to the United Nations on behalf of a parent with two children enrolled in Jewish private schools, said Canada’s failure to comply with the U.N. ruling is “an embarrassment” to the country and may cause it to lose its credibility on the international stage.
An interfaith rally to protest the federal government’s position attracted more than 2,000 people to a Toronto-area conference center last weekend.
Parents of children in Jewish schools are being encouraged to sign petitions and send letters to Ottawa in favor of equal funding for Jewish day schools in Ontario.
According to Landy, more political lobbying is necessary “to raise the consciousness of the Ontario population and of Canadians in general, who will learn that Ontario is the only province that’s out of step with the rest of the country on this issue.”