Alberta’s 17 Catholic school boards have been asked to send copies of their employment agreements after teachers said they had to sign clauses pledging to live a “Catholic lifestyle”
Education Minister David Eggen’s office has asked Alberta’s 17 Catholic school boards to send him the terms of their employment agreements after teachers raised concerns about clauses requiring them to live a “Catholic lifestyle.”
Eggen told reporters at an Edmonton school Friday that stories of Calgary Catholic teachers who claim they were told to tattle on their coworkers who were violating a “Catholicity clause” and other tales of teachers who felt insecure in their jobs are “unsettling.”
Catholic teachers in Edmonton and Red Deer have also said they feared for their jobs because of their sexual orientation or for living in a common-law partnership because they signed forms compelling them to live according to the principles of the Catholic church.
At least two teachers have filed human rights complaints against the Calgary Catholic school district, including a school principal who alleges she was forced out of her job because of her sexual orientation.
Some LGBTQ teachers have said they fear being open about their sexual orientation at school because they worry it would put their job at risk. An Edmonton teacher also said he feels his sexual orientation prevents him from advancing to an administrative position.
Eggen said Friday he wants to see the forms school districts ask employees to sign to see if there’s anything “out of step with the law.”
“You can have attestations of faith, that’s one thing. But to deny someone employment or termination based on their sexuality or other factors is definitely not acceptable,” Eggen said.
Alberta labour and human rights legislation protects Albertans from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Amendments to the School Act that took effect in June 2018 also reaffirm school employees’ rights to freedom from discrimination.
Earlier this week, a Calgary Catholic superintendent also said the employment agreement its teachers must sign implies a same-sex or common-law relationship could be considered a breach of contract.
However, what constitutes a “Catholic lifestyle” remained unclear Friday, as Alberta’s Catholic bishops reneged on their plan to issue a statement on the issue.
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith will not comment on Catholic school district employment contracts, an archdiocese spokeswoman said in a Friday email.
Earlier this week, Edmonton Catholic Schools declined to elaborate whether teachers in same-sex relationships, who use birth control or live in a common-law relationship, would be in breach of their contracts.
Alberta school employees who may have signed historical employment forms that prohibited same-sex relationships — as Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools workers did — should bring those agreements forward in confidence, Eggen said.
“You cannot discriminate this way in the province of Alberta,” he said.
Although the controversy has renewed some calls for the abolition of the province’s fully publicly funded Catholic school system, Eggen reiterated his support for separate schools.
“Catholic education is protected constitutionally, and, I believe, has served our province well for a long period of time,” he said.
In a statement Wednesday, the Alberta Teachers’ Association said it would vigorously defend teachers who face discrimination from their school board as a result of religious clauses in their employment contracts.
However, spokesman Jonathan Teghtmeyer said the association is powerless to tell school boards how to word individual employment contracts.
“However, if a school board ever used these clauses to justify discriminatory practices or to disregard human rights, we would vigorously assist, defend and protect the teachers involved to the greatest extent possible,” Teghtmeyer said.