A Canadian judge has ruled that a transgender educator fired from a Catholic school should have his case heard in court before the Alberta province’s human rights tribunal.
In 2008, Jan Buterman was fired from teaching in the Greater St. Albert School district [a publicly funded Catholic school district] after transitioning from female to male, which Catholic administrators claimed was a violation of Church teaching. That same letter terminating his employment also praised Buterman as a teacher. Since the firing, Buterman has pursued a complaint against the district in a lengthy legal battle. The Calgary Herald details the recent ruling by Justice Sheila Greckol, who hopes to resolve the matter:
“Justice Sheila Greckol of Court of Queen’s Bench dismissed the district’s request [to dismiss the complaint] in a written ruling obtained Friday by The Canadian Press. She said it is time for a commission tribunal to hear Buterman’s complaint.
” ‘Five years have passed since the school board terminated Mr. Buterman. The voluminous and continual retreading of arguments at the commission, as well as this application for early judicial intervention on thin grounds, has served only to delay the hearing on the merits,’ Greckol wrote.
” ‘Human rights process is not only for the lion-hearted and well-heeled conversant with litigation, but also for the timorous and impecunious — for all Albertans.’
” ‘The expeditious resolution of complaints becomes an issue of access to justice; justice delayed is justice denied.’ “
Initially, the school district offered Buterman $78,000 to drop the human rights complaint and remain silent about his firing. This offer was refused, and the teacher remains committed to the legal process even if there is no guarantee of victory. A hearing will be set in the coming weeks.
An outcome in this case could set Canadian legal precedents, as the St. Albert Gazette reports:
“This is one of the first cases of its kind to go before a human rights board in Canada, said Kris Wells, director of program services for the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, and it deals with a long-simmering issue: does a publicly funded Catholic school have the right to discriminate against someone based on their gender identity? …
“Buterman’s complaint said that his dismissal was discrimination based on his gender and disability (he had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder, a recognized biological phenomenon)…
“The Catholic school board is going to have to prove that Buterman’s transgender identity precludes him from being a good teacher, Wells said.”
Finally, The Edmonton Journal’s recent editorial highlights an important point Catholic schools should be taking note of: that even when legally correct, morally, these firings are wrong. The editors write:
“District officials also should do some soul-searching. Perhaps the human rights tribunal will eventually find such discrimination was technically within the district’s rights as a Catholic organization under Canadian law. But on the simple moral test of right and wrong, the school district was wrong to fire Buterman. The quality of his teaching, the only thing that should matter in a publicly funded school district, was never at issue…
“Anyone who thinks that violates the principles of Catholicism should take a page from Pope Francis, who has talked about the need for compassion, not judgment, and the importance of love.”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry