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January 22, 2000
Ethnic groups demand funding for non-Catholic schools in Canada
A P Kamath
Canada proclaims its commitment to multiculturalism, but when it comes to funding religious schools, at least one Canadian province, Ontario, would do so only for Catholic schools. The province also gives aids to public schools.
Despite a spirited effort by a number of religious groups including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, Jews and Orthodox Christians in recent weeks, Ontario is refusing to change its policy. Education Minister Janet Ecker is not persuaded by the argument that several other Canadian provinces give money to other religious establishments to start schools.
Ecker points to the British North America Act that prohibits the funding of non-Catholic and private schools. If the protesters want to have their way, she suggests, the law should be changed first.
The protesters recently formed the Coalition for Justice in Education Funding and urged Ottawa to comply with a recent United Nations ruling that Ontario discriminates by funding Catholic schools, and not the schools of other faiths.
Advocates of support for religious schools argue that such funding would cost Canada about $ 300 million. They also point out the province's budget for education is over $ 14 billion.
The coalition represents about 50,000 students who attend independent religious schools in Ontario.
By international agreement, Canada must respond by February 3 to the UN's Human Rights Committee, which said that, 'if a state chooses to provide public funding to religious schools (as required by the constitution for Roman Catholic schools), it should make this funding available without discrimination.'
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