MONTREAL — Parents of children at some of the $7-a-day daycares in the Jewish community are being asked to contribute to a fund for a legal challenge of the Quebec government’s banning of religious instruction in the subsidized centres.
In May, a coalition of Jewish, Catholic and Coptic Christian parents and organizations announced that it would be taking the government to court.
Jonathan Goldbloom, the public relations professional acting as spokesperson for the Association of Childcare Centres of the Jewish Community (ACCJC), a coalition member, confirmed that parents did receive letters suggesting a donation of $120.
“Asking parents to contribute to a legal fund was always part of it,” he said. “Federation CJA is a significant contributor, but they want a wide base [of support].”
The letter is signed by parents and the solicitation is presented as an initiative of parents.
The ACCJC represents 16 daycares, mostly located in synagogues, schools and the YM-YWHA, with a total enrolment of 2,875 children. It doesn’t include subsidized daycares under the chassidic and haredi communities, nor private daycares that receive a lower rate of public funding but are also subject to the new regulations that came into effect June 1.
On Dec. 6, the first phase of the challenge – a request for an injunction to suspend application of the government directive – is scheduled to be heard in Quebec Superior Court.
The coalition intends to eventually mount a case that the prohibition of religion in these daycares, known as Centres de la petite enfance (CPE), is unconstitutional. They say it discriminates against families that want their particular religion to continue at the CPE their children attend. They say all citizens should equally benefit from the government’s subsidization of daycare.
The CPEs rely on public funding for about 80 per cent of their budget. The program was created in 1997, and this year the government spent $2 billion in subsidies.
Failure to comply with the directive, announced in December of last year, could mean a loss of funding.
The coalition contends that the directive is “vague and arbitrary” because it allows for “cultural” expressions of religious traditions, but not lessons in their beliefs or doctrine or practices, such as prayer.
Family Minister Yolande James has defended the new regulations saying, “The transmission of faith is a responsibility that parents, not government-subsidized child-care services, must assume.”
She points out that private, non-subsidized daycares are free to offer religious teaching or have a specific religious orientation.
“Tolerance, inclusion and respect for individual freedoms are the key principles that have guided us in the elaboration of the directive.”
Goldbloom said he’s not aware of any CPE being told by the government, which sends inspectors to the centres, that it is violating the new regulations.
The Association des Parents Catholiques du Québec, which is supporting the legal challenge as well, has not launched a fundraising campaign among parents.