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Catholic faith bars Taberite from Horizon elections

Posted on September 25, 2013 by Taber Times

Serving her community is nothing new for Tamara Miyanaga when it comes to Taber.

A former Citizen of the Year and Max Gibb Award winner, Miyanaga can be seen in many places around town giving a helping hand to numerous good causes including the Catholic church she attends regularly to practice her faith.

Miyanaga wanted to take that community service a step further upon learning there would be some vacancies on the Horizon School Division board of trustees. Willing to take a leave of absence from her position at Ace Place Learning Centre to run for a trustee position, the dust settled for nomination day on Monday, in which there will be no nomination paper with Miyanaga’s name on it. Miyanaga cannot run for Horizon School Division because she is a practising Roman Catholic.

“It was  a surprise to me that my faith would prohibit me from running in an election in Canada,” said a beleaguered Miyanaga.

“Unless you have read the School Act and interpreted it, I don’t think anyone knows about this. My feeling is people who have their kids in a particular system feel probably they should vote in that system. If their kids go to public school then I should be voting in the public system, if my kids go to Catholic school then I should be voting in the Catholic system.”

Miyanaga has three daughters — Katrina, Tea and Skylar, who are currently attending public schools in Taber.

The Miyanaga’s taxes go towards the public school system — yet Tamara cannot run for public office for Horizon School Division because of a clause in the Alberta School Act. Section 44 (4) reads, “where a separate school district is established, an individual residing within the boundaries of the separate school district who is of the same faith as those who established the district, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, is a resident of the separate school district, and is not a resident of the public school district.”

In the Taber area ward there has been a separate school district in Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Separate Regional Division No. 4, meaning any person of Catholic faith can only run for a trustee position in that school division or vote in that school board election for Holy Spirit.

As Miyanaga was preparing her nomination papers in which you are asked your religious affiliation, she noticed you had to sign an affidavit that you know and understand the School Act. Miyanaga could have simply of said a white lie in her papers to run for office, but her Catholic faith is dear to her and she does not believe there should be laws that clearly discriminate or restrict based on religious affiliation.

“I’d be lying and would never do that. It was disappointing to me for sure because I felt like I had something to offer Horizon School Division,” said Miyanaga. “It was quite overwhelming and I’m wondering if school districts in Alberta, are they really aware of their voting lists and are our separate schools really aware of their voting lists? They know who lives in their ward, but what’s their religious affiliation? If person ‘A’ goes to vote and their kids go to public school and they are Catholic, is it just on an honour system? Do people even know? If you vote in the public system, you have to be of a different faith than the separate system. If you are of the same faith of the separate school system, you are required to vote in that system regardless of where your land taxes go, regardless of any other factor.”

Children have flipped school systems for various reasons, be it a family move, maybe a school has particular programs that are more appealing, maybe it’s simply that’s where all their friends are for social context.

There are currently Catholics that attend the public school system in Taber along with non-Catholics attending the separate school system at Holy Spirit.

The situation makes it that much more baffling to Miyanaga of the discriminatory nature of the current Alberta School Act.

“Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario are the only three provinces that fall under this same legislation, the other provinces have gotten rid of it,” said Miyanaga.

In Miyanaga’s research, the law which Miyanaga deems as archaic has surprisingly been challenged only once in the province with Roy Brassard in the Chinook Edge School Division back in 2006. Brassard had been chair of the school division for eight years when Catholic voters in Didsbury voted in 2005 to extend the Red Deer Catholic School Division into town, making Brassard ineligible to serve on the public school board in the process, meaning any decision he helped make on the board could be thrown out from that point on. Because of his religious affiliation, Brassard could not seek re-election in 2007.

In March 2006, Brassard and the Chinook’s Edge School Division filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission citing discrimination on the basis of religion.  Brassard passed away on Oct. 17, 2008 before the decision came to resolution on appeal as the School Act was originally upheld citing the Constitution Act of 1867 noting ‘Nothing in any such law shall prejudicially affect any right or privilege with respect to separate schools which any class of persons have at the date of the passing of this Act, under the terms of chapters 29 and 30 of the Ordinances of the North-west Territories, passed in the year 1901, or with respect to religious instruction in any public or separate school as provided for in the said ordinances.’

Miyanaga has spent hours upon hours on the phone with Alberta Education, the Human Rights Commission, her lawyer and the Alberta School Board Association to seek clarity on the situation and explore her avenues.

Miyanaga was advised to submit her nomination for the Horizon School Division board of trustees regardless because of the ambiguity between the Local Authorities Election Act 48 (2) and (#) versus the School Act Sec. 44 (4). But upon her further investigation, the Human Rights Commission advised her it is a constitutional matter where human rights would not win in a tribunal.

Miyanaga did not want to risk winning an election for a Horizon School Division trustee position only to jeopardize board decisions at a later date because of her religious affiliation if appeals were rejected. Instead, Miyanaga has issued a letter to Premier Alison Redford, Minister of Education Jeff Johnson, Minister of Municipal Affairs Doug Griffiths, Taber-Cardston-Warner MLA Gary Bikman and Horizon School Division Superintendent Wilco Tymensen to expedite the Province of Alberta Education which received royal assent on Dec. 10, 2012  which addresses the religious discriminations in the old School Act.

“They are aware of the problem, but quietly aware of it I believe,” said Miyanaga. “I was appalled that my faith would limit my democratic ability to influence change. To me it’s a voting list more than anything, our voting lists do not say are you Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, we don’t do that in Canada.”

Miyanaga stressed she takes her faith very seriously and her letter to the premier and affected parties is not to undermine the Catholic school system.

“That is not the issue, it is how in 2013 does Alberta have an act on the books that denies people because of their religious affiliation to be part of the democratic process,” said Miyanaga.

“I believe Alberta is a province of tolerance and acceptance. I live in a community which gives countless hours and financial support to help people overcome tragedy and make a better life for themselves. I believe in religion and culture and that we must respect and nurture each so we become an understanding and compassionate society,” noted Miyanaga in her letter to Premier Redford. “Anytime faith or culture is discriminated it can create animosity and distrust. As a citizen of Alberta I believe we are a leading example of acceptance; we do not want laws that clearly discriminate or restrict based on religious affiliation.”

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