Homosexuality is a never ending perceived societal problem. Like many other rights the Charter of Rights and Freedoms acknowledges, a person is able choose acceptance towards a differing sexual orientation or discrimination against it. The problem arises with sexuality in school, especially denominational schools. In Canada, everyone is protected regardless of their identity, however denominational schools have the tendency to force their religious beliefs on their students and expect them to adhere to these beliefs, regardless of their own. The following case study examines a homosexual student who sought justice for his right to attend, with the date of his choice, his year end high school prom.
Facts for Plaintiff, Marc Hall
Marc Hall is a Roman Catholic grade twelve student attending Monsignor John Pereyma Catholic High School, in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. Hall is also a homosexual male who has identified his sexual orientation to his family, friends, and school peers. Hall is seeking an interlocutory injunction against the School Board for disallowing him to bring his boyfriend of approximately one year to his prom on May 10, 2002. Hall first approached his teacher roughly one year prior to prom to voice his wish of bringing his partner as his date. He understood the matter would be discussed with the principal before a decision was made. On February 25, 2002, the Principal Powers denied Hall’s request basing his decision on the Catholic teachings of the school and the church. Allowing Hall to bring his boyfriend would essentially insinuate that Catholicism recognized and accepted homosexuality as a way of life. Upon receiving the principal’s decision, Hall approached the school board to have them overturn the decision and again was denied on April 8, 2002, based on the same premise. After Principal Powers and the School Board both denied his request, Hall sought a legal ruling on the matter feeling that Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was breached which states that:
“15(1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to
the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in
particular, without discrimination based on…religion, sex, age…” (Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982, para 16)
Facts for Defendant, Principal Powers:
When approached with Hall’s wish of having his boyfriend in attendance with him at prom, Powers denied the request stating that romantic interaction at the prom is seen as form of sexual activity. Allowing a same- sex couple to attend would be seen as condoning homosexuality, which is not what the Roman Catholic religion teaches. The school requests the names of all individuals and their dates attending in an effort to gain contact information, if needed, and know who is in attendance for security and safety reasons. However, the school does not question any other students about their sexual activity with their dates at prom; before, during or after. On April 8, 2002 the School Board refused to overturn Principal Powers decision and stated Hall’s motion should be considered irrelevant and dismissed based on Section 93 of the Constitution Act and Section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which protects the decision made based on the freedom of exercising one’s religious beliefs.
Cause of Action:
The case was brought to legal proceedings based on the differing opinions between the Plaintiff, Hall and the Defendant, Powers. As stated above, Hall felt there was a large infringement of his rights as a Canadian citizen and an individual, whereas, Powers felt he was well within his rights of making this decision based on denominational reasons. The prom is an annual event hosted by the school, planned by a committee of students, and supervised by teachers but does not take place on school property, nor is it part of a religious or educational nature. It is the duty of the school to guide the youth in the Catholic religion but not force them to think or behave in a certain manner.
Decisions and Reasoning:
Before reaching a decision, an interlocutory injunction test, consisting of three areas, must be considered. The three areas of concern are: is the issue serious enough to be tried, will the applicant suffer damage that is irreparable should the injunction be denied, and which party will suffer more harm from the granting or denying of the interlocutory injunction.
In regards to the first issue, it was found that the basis of Hall’s concerns were valid and in need of legal attention. Powers and the School Board had violated his basic human rights by denying access to him and his partner at the prom. It was also found the Catholicism does not have a consistent view of homosexuality. The Catechism states homosexuality is not natural and cannot be approved of; however, these people should be treated with respect, compassion, sensitivity and acceptance with no sign of any unjust discrimination. Principle Powers had unjustly discriminated against Hall based on his sexuality. Catholic schools have limited power to control what subject matter is taught during school hours, however, they do not have control over student’s extra-curricular activities; and seeing as the prom was held off school property, fits this category. Principal Powers’ decision was found to be unprotected by Section 93 of the Constitutional Act because the specific right being questioned in this case was not in effect at the time of Union in 1867 and therefore cannot be considered within the nature of the school. A final reason with respect to the primary issue is that Catholicism states nothing about same sex dancing where students are fully clothed and supervised. To any educated Canadian, this would be considered public dancing which is not a sexual act and is therefore, chaste behaviour.
Issue number two of the interlocutory injunction test refers to damage that cannot be properly compensated. In the case at hand, if Hall fails to attend his prom, it will be a lost opportunity forever. Hall was found to be the party that suffered irreparable damage if excluded from his high school prom. School is a fundamental institution where youth gain context for their social lives. Exclusion from a significant school event and Rite of Passage, such as prom, would mean a restriction from a fundamental institution in a youth’s life, as well as suffer a serious blow to his dignity.
The final part of the interlocutory injunction test found that the damage suffered by Hall, as well as, homosexual people in general far outweighed any damage suffered by the Catholic community. The potential ruling of the case does not intend to restrict the beliefs or teachings of Catholics, or any other Canadians regarding religious or homosexuality beliefs, however it does seek to restrain the conduct in this specific situation. If the interlocutory injunction is denied, the school has the ability to continue restricting homosexual students from certain school activities. Whereas, the School Board can always have the ongoing rights protected at trial, Hall will never be able to attend his prom again.
An interlocutory injunction was issued to Hall against Powers restraining the school, School Board, or anyone else with knowledge of the case from allowing his attendance at prom with his boyfriend or cancellation of the event on May 10, 2002. The judge ruled that Hall’s rights in Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been breached by Powers and the School Board. Hall was not trying to make his homosexuality a public issue, but make use of the only resource left available to him, which was to seek legal guidance. The judge also ruled that both Hall and Powers were to respect the fundamental rights; including expression, association, and religion of one another.
Implications and Applications:
In regards to the case I chose to examine I was happy with the decision made by the judge. I am Roman Catholic and have always attended Catholic schools. As I have grown, I have come to find that the Catholic view of the world is very judgemental and close minded. It seems that strong Catholics feel there is only one way to live and any straying from that results in unpleasant consequences. For example, if a woman has child out of wedlock she is doomed to Hell. I can only imagine how Hall felt being denied his right to attend his prom with his boyfriend and being told he does not fit into the ideals of his school. Many graduates choose dates to attend with that are significant to them for a specific reason and being denied to share that experience with an important person would be devastating. I feel the judge making the ruling to allow Hall to attend prom with his partner is the beginning of change within education. It generally takes a while for new ideas to make the way to Saskatchewan; however it does give me hope that inclusion and equality will be more prominent during my career as a teacher. Currently, based on what I witnessed in my schooling years and what I have heard in my classes, I do not want to teach in a Catholic school division. But, based on the ruling in this case and the justice Hall received, I am confident change will continue across Canada and perhaps my judgements towards Catholic schools and school divisions will subside with it.