For nine years, Jan Buterman has been seeking justice in Canadian courts, after he was fired as a substitute teacher in a Catholic school district because he chose to transition from male to female. A recent court decision seems to indicate that justice will not be served.
The transgender man was fired in 2009 from the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District, Edmonton, Alberta. Since that time there has been negotiations with the district’s administration, and several motions in court, but according to CBC-Radio Canada, a recent decision by a judge seems to have brought a close to the case, though no decision on the substance of the situation was reached.
The news outlet reported that the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that Buterman had given up the right to bring his case to the provincial human rights commission because supposedly a few years ago he reached a financial settlement with the school district. Buterman contends, however, that he did not accept the settlement. The news report gave a synopsis of events:
“In October 2008, Buterman was removed from the board’s roster of substitute teachers after he notified them he was a transgender person in the process of transitioning from female to male.
” ‘Since you have made a personal choice to change your gender, which is contrary to Catholic teachings, we have had no choice but to remove you from the substitute teaching list,’ the board wrote at the time.
“A year later, Buterman filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
“The next day, the board offered him $78,000 if he’d agree to withdraw his complaint. The board asked him to promise not to make any further complaints to the human rights commission and agree to keep the deal confidential.
“Buterman rejected the offer.
“In Sept. 2010, the board made a different offer to Buterman. That offer was also rejected, but Buterman’s lawyer replied in writing that his client was willing to accept the original offer.
“The same day, the board confirmed the original offer still stood, and the two parties went back and forth about making minor changes to the wording.
“In January 2011, Buterman’s lawyer returned the money and the unsigned settlement documents, noting it had taken longer than expected to consider and discuss the issues with his client. By April 2011, Buterman was without a lawyer, so the board sent the draft documents directly to him.
“Buterman never responded directly to the board. Instead he told the media he had rejected the board’s settlement offer due to the confidentiality clause.
“More than three years passed. Then the school board applied to the human rights commission to determine if it still had jurisdiction to hear Buterman’s complaint. The board argued the parties had entered into a settlement agreement.
“After a three-day hearing on that point, the commission determined it had no remaining jurisdiction over the complaint because a deal had been reached and Buterman ‘had relinquished his human rights complaint in favour of a settlement.’ “
Buterman is disappointed in the decision, especially since none of the substantive issues of the case were discussed, and the court’s ruling hinged on procedural topics. Buterman stated:
“It is surprising, I think, to many that this has been kind of all on procedural side issues. But those side issues are more than enough to derail the ability to actually interrogate the question of whether or not someone has the right to be fired for being trans.”
He and his lawyers have not decided what their next move is.
Buterman’s case highlights the fact that true justice in cases like his won’t come from law courts but from church officials acting justly. At the very least, they can act in an informed manner. For instance, there is no church doctrine prohibiting gender surgery, as they claimed when they fired Buterman.
The Sisters of Mercy were able to retain a transitioned transgender teacher (and a full-time one, not a substitute) last year at one of their schools in San Francisco. Justice was served in that case. Other church leaders should follow their example.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 6, 2017