REALity Volume XXXVI Issue No. 2 February 2017
Dr. Steve Tourloukis, a Hamilton area dentist and a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, launched a legal challenge against his local school board, requesting a declaration that, as a parent, he has the final authority over the education of his children. He also asked for an order that the School Board provide him with information, in advance, as to specific curriculum areas which are in conflict with his religious beliefs, so that he would be able to withdraw his children from these classes. He argued that the school board should accommodate his religious views under the Charter of Rights and the Ontario Human Rights Code, both of which protect religious freedom.
In response, the Board argued that parental rights and obligations must be interpreted according to the department’s policy and regulations, established under the Ontario Education Act.
The Ontario Liberal Government, under lesbian Premier, Kathleen Wynne, and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) intervened in the case on behalf of the Hamilton Public School Board. They argued that allowing Dr. Tourloukis’ children to leave class would:
Be contrary to the values of inclusion and well-being, and could lead to feelings of exclusion or marginalization by students.
That is, they argued that the “well-being” of homosexual students or students from homosexual families should be given superior rights over children from Christian families.
On November 23, 2016, Mr. Justice Robert Reid handed down his decision, in which he stated that, although Dr. Tourloukis had genuinely held religious beliefs, there is a “superior level of authority” that trumps his parental rights. Judge Reid concluded, in effect, that the authority of the state represented by the school board and government of Ontario superseded that of parents.
That is, the state has control over everything the children learn and do at public schools.
Judge Reid based his decision on the fact that the fundamental freedom of conscience and religion under the Charter was subject to limitations to protect “public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” (para. 27)
He quoted favorably from two Supreme Court of Canada judges:
1) Madam Justice Marie Deschamps, who stated in the case S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chënes , that:
. . .the suggestion that exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes their religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Québec government’s obligations with regard to public education,
2) Madam Justice Beverley McLachlin in Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36 , who stated:
Children encounter it every day in the public school system as members of a diverse student body . . .
And they see their classmates engaging in behavior on the playground that their parents have told them not to engage in. The cognitive dissonance that results from such encounters is simply a part of living in a diverse society. It is also a part of growing up. Through such experiences, children come to realize that not all of their values are shared by others.
Mr. Justice Reid concluded that, in the context of the public education system, it is preferable that the Board support the values of inclusion and equality over individual religious accommodation. Consequently, he held that the Hamilton School Board had appropriately balanced the competing Charter protections between freedom of religion and parental rights and the mandated Ministry of Education and Board policies.
He went on to state that if Dr. Tourloukis is concerned about public education not meeting his family’s needs, then he can send his children to private schools or home school. Yet, all parents pay taxes to fund public education and many parents do not have the means to send their children to private schools.
Background to Parental Rights in Education
In Canada, courts have consistently given considerable weight to parents’ rights to rear their children in accordance with their beliefs.
However, the state, according to case law, does have a direct interest in intervening in parental rights if the child is at medical risk, such as in regard to inoculations or blood transfusions.
More controversial is the state’s interest in inculcating children with prevailing politically correct social values, which are contrary to the religious views of parents.
Generally speaking, the interest of the state is permitted to outweigh the rights of the parents’ religious beliefs only when the state’s interest outweighs the parental right to rear their children as their religion dictates. This is a difficult question to determine.
In this case, Mr. Justice Reid determined that the presumption in favour of parental autonomy is overruled by provincial policies and legislation on equity and “tolerance”.
This is troubling, since Canada ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that:
Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.(emphasis ours)
Further, the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that the religious and moral education of children must be in conformity with the convictions of the parents.
This does not appear to have occurred in the Tourloukis case.
It is noteworthy that Mr. Justice Reid left it up to the parties to determine how costs would be settled. This means that the two lawyers from the Wynne government, two from the School Board, and two from the ETFO, that is six government-funded lawyers, could submit their costs to Dr. Tourkoulis.
This terrible case has been appealed.
Donations to fund the appeal can be made online by going to the Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund
If you do not have access to a computer, donations can be sent to The Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund, 770 Lawrence Avenue West, P.O. Box 58119, Toronto, Ontario, M6A 3C8.