Daycare religion ban challenge still pending
MONTREAL — A constitutional challenge by Jewish and other parents of Quebec’s ban on religious instruction in publicly subsidized daycares has yet to be heard one year after it was first launched.
“My understanding is that our case is still working its way through the courts,” said public relations consultant Jonathan Goldbloom, who speaks for the coalition of Jewish, Catholic and Coptic Christian parents and organizations that on May 31, 2011 – the day before the government policy went into effect – announced the challenge.
“The government has to file its expert report by mid-June, then we have to respond. We expect that the paperwork will have been finalized by the end of the summer, and the issue will then be ready for trial,” Goldbloom said.
“Thus, our sense is that the trial is still a ways off.”
The coalition thinks the directive, issued by Family Minister Yolande James in December 2010, is discriminatory against parents who want their particular religion to continue to be the orientation of the $7-a-day centres de la petite enfance (CPEs) their children attend.
CPEs that don’t comply with the new rules were warned that their government funding (which represents about 80 per cent of their budget) would be suspended or eliminated.
Quebecers for Equal Rights to Subsidized Daycares, as the coalition is called, also filed a request in Quebec Superior Court for a temporary injunction to delay the implementation of the policy while the case went through the judicial process.
Goldbloom said the injunction has not been heard either. Last Dec. 6 was the date scheduled for the injunction request to be heard, but it was postponed indefinitely.
The legal challenge is being endorsed by Federation CJA, which contributed to the legal fund, and the Association of Childcare Centres of the Jewish Community.
The association represents 16 CPEs, with a total enrolment of more than 2,800 children, located in synagogues, Jewish schools, the YM-YWHA and other community institutions.
It does not represent perhaps an equal number of CPEs under the chassidic and other haredi communities, nor private or in-home daycares that are partially subsidized by the government and are also supposed to be subject to the regulations.
In the one year since the policy came into effect, there have been no public complaints by any Jewish CPE about the new regulations, and it appears the policy is not being enforced rigorously so far.
“It is being enforced, but there is a lot of leeway in the law for adaptation,” said Mordechai Antal, president of the Federation Teachers of Jewish Schools (FTJS) and a parent.
The FTJS is the union representing educators at the CPEs at the Snowdon and West Island branches of the Y.
“Different CPEs are taking different approaches [to abide by the law or not]. Some of the Orthodox ones decided to go private. Other CPEs are fulfilling the law to the letter,” Antal said. “Others are using the leniency in the law to do the minimum. It requires work and creativity.”
He said he had not heard of any Jewish CPE being advised by the government that it was not in conformity with the new rules.
Under the regulations, any educational activity the government considers to be the inculcation of a belief or dogma, or the practice of a specific religion, is not permitted.
“Cultural” activities or symbols that are part of a religious tradition are allowed. When the directive was introduced, CPE directors admitted that they were unclear on where the line between religion and culture can be drawn.
Last fall, parents at some of the Jewish CPEs were asked to contribute to the coalition’s legal fund. They received letters suggesting a $120 donation.
The network of CPEs in the province was created in 1997.