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Catholic Schools and Gay Students Associations

November 9, 2011 @ 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm

Co-sponsored by Out in Law

Speakers: R. Douglas Elliott, Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Robert Keel

Monday, November 28, 2011
12:30 – 2:00
Bennett Lecture Hall, Flavelle House
78 Queen’s Park

Recently, gay students within Ontario’s Catholic school system have encountered problems that raise legal and constitutional concerns. When students at a high school in the Dufferin-Peel school board district in Mississauga tried to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA) in their high school, their principal prohibited it. At the nearby Halton Catholic District School Board, trustees removed the term “sexual orientation” from a draft text of the board’s anti-discrimination policy. After intense public pressure, they returned “sexual orientation” to the policy, but they still refuse to allow GSAs. What options are available to gay students under these circumstances? Do the students have rights to form these clubs? Do they have other options to make their lives easier as do their peers in non-Catholic public schools? Do the Catholics schools have any responsibilities to these students as gay students or can they take the positions they have taken without repercussions? What is the legal framework for the Catholic school boards’ position? What arguments support this position? What arguments support the gay students’ claims?

Bob Keel is a senior founding Partner of Keel Cottrelle LLP. Bob is qualified in both Ontario and New York State. Bob has appeared before all levels of the Courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as numerous administrative tribunals. At present, his practice is primarily focused on Education Law, including First Nations Governance issues. In particular, Bob has acted on a number of constitutional and human rights cases involving the Charter and/or Human Rights Code. Bob is also presently acting for a number of Catholic District School Boards with respect to the Ministry of Education’s Equity Initiative and, in particular, the issue of Gay and Lesbian Clubs and/or Associations. Bob has spoken at more than 100 conferences and has published more than 100 papers or articles. In addition, Bob is the President of Edu-Law Consulting Services Limited, which provides Conflict Resolution programs for the education sector. Bob is the Executive Editor of the Keel Cottrelle LLP Education Law Newsletter, Human Resources Newsletter, and Public Sector Procurement Law Newsletter. He is also the author of Student Rights and Responsibilities: Attendance and Discipline (1998), the co author of An Educator’s Guide to Managing Sexual Misconduct in Schools (2003), An Educator’s Guide to Parental Harassment (2005) and An Educator’s Guide to the Health and Safety of Students, (2010).

Douglas Elliott is a founding partner in the law firm of Roy Elliott O’Connor LLP. As one of Canada’s leading human rights lawyers, he has helped to win many important cases for Canada’s LGBT communities, including Vriend v Alberta, M. v H., Halpern v Canada, Hislop v Canada and the Reference Re Same Sex Marriage. In the case of Marc Hall v. Durham Catholic School Board, Douglas represented the Coalition in Support of Marc Hall, a diverse group that included, among others, Egale, Canadian Auto Workers and Catholics for Choice. In 2010 Douglas became the first lawyer to be honoured with the Law Society Medal for advancing LGBT rights.

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Director, Equality program, Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA). As Director of CCLA’s Equality Program, Noa works on such issues as protections for migrants and refugees; healthcare; LGBTQ rights; race and gender issues; mental health and prisons; and generally the rights of persons who are marginalized or disadvantaged. Noa has also served as CCLA’s Freedom of Expression Project Director, and dealt extensively with free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. In the effort to promote and protect rights and freedoms in Canada, Noa has been involved with numerous CCLA interventions in the courts – including the Supreme Court of Canada, and has made submissions to various governmental, legislative and public bodies. She has also addressed various groups and has spoken out frequently in the media. In addition, Noa is an integral member of CCLET’s public education project, engaging students at schools and faculties of education in discussions on the challenges of civil liberties.

A light lunch will be served.


November 9, 2011
12:30 pm - 2:00 pm