Politics aside, it is entirely reasonable to expect that the exchange of ideas would be commonplace within any academic setting in Canada. In reality, it is this freedom to discuss and debate that supposedly sets us apart from so many other countries around the world.
The punishment given to a handful of students in Thunder Bay, Ontario is completely unwarranted and a major disappointment.
Even if we set aside the fact that when it comes to the issue of abortion, more than half the country is pro-choice… or even if we forget to mention that the school in question had permitted a “pro-life” event the same day… students at St. Patrick’s Catholic High School should have never been suspended for sharing their views.
This story, combined with others, will once again spark debate around the funding of Catholic schools in Ontario – an issue which no political party dares to genuinely examine. But a conversation is desperately needed.
Of course, most educators will say that their schools are safe spaces for learning and growing, but, at the end of the day, none of this matters because it really comes down to one simple concept: intention versus action.
So often, we condemn other countries, cultures, and faiths for acting in a manner that is contrary to our own value systems. We wag our finger and shake our heads in disappointment because we believe ourselves to be more civil and fair.
Intent alone is not enough. Just because our intentions are deemed noble, it does not justify our continued inaction in confronting some fundamental injustices within our own institutions.
It really is quite simple – unless one is provoking hate, no individual in this province (or country) should ever be silenced for expressing an opinion of their own. The freedom to speak up and challenge one another is supposed to be one of the pillars of our democracy. If we are comfortable with defending the idea that a student should not be able to pose serious questions in the school environment, our education system is doomed to fail.
The relationship between government and Ontario's public education system is a long-standing one. This is not a new issue, and no one government is to blame for the current state of affairs. In fact, today's reality in Ontario is constitutionally ingrained. But so too was a restriction on voting for women in the early 1900s, and at one point in our history laws existed to limit interracial marriage. Similiar to these injustices - which we corrected by speaking to one another candidly - we need to come together and provide a safe space to have this difficult conversation.
A just society requires the constant ability for all of us to challenge and ask questions of our institutions and traditions, especially those that attempt to censor or regulate our thinking.