mercredi 13 mai 2009

The room was full, the mother and two witnesses called to testify

The room was full. Cameras lurked in the corridors of the court house. The big day had arrived for parents requesting that their rights as primary educators be respected and their two children be exempted from the ERC course.
First witness to be called, the mother of two children, Mrs. Lavallée, registered nurse. Mrs. Lavallée did very well during the cross-examination by the four attorneys for the school board and the attorney-general of Québec.
Mrs. Lavallée seemed very well informed, sensible, but also emotional and very preoccupied by the well-being of her children, all the while letting her 16-year-old son decide if he wanted to follow the course or not.

We chuckled at the coverage given by Radio-Canada, who tried to summarize the mother’s grievances by taking an example out of context, from among a dozen mentioned by the mother: "the role of the wise men is not explained at Christmas-time". Incompetence or specific intent to harm by taking the less convincing example? In our opinion, Mrs. Lavallée’s sincere faith was obvious.

“I cannot imagine that my 6-year-old child (grade one) being taught that there are many gods, that Jesus is on the same level as the others, that his birth is a story among other tales and legends, that the idea of the divine is denatured in this way. I believe in one God and that’s the way it is at home”, she establishes with eloquence.

Mrs. Lavallée based her defense on two official documents: the textbook used in class, which she borrowed from a teacher, and a copy of the Ministry of Education’s official program, that she found on Internet. How many parents do as much?
Mrs. Lavallée brought attention to paragraphs showing that the vocabulary and content are"tendentious, superficial, complex, and sometimes disrespectful" and that "improbable tales, the mice’s (yes, yes, rodents) secular Christmas eve is placed on the same level as the story of the birth of Jesus". The defendant, represented by two attorneys for the Ministry of Education, including Me Benoit Boucher, tried to convince the judge, Hon. Dubois, that the mother, not being a psychological expert, could be lacking credibility in her testimony regarding her children. But Justice Dubois considered that a parent “may answer for her child without that becoming an expertise”. “At the most, this course is for cégep (college) students. My child is not capable of coping with other values presented this way”, says Mrs. Lavallée.

Ô Canada

This courageous mother ended her testimony by evoking one of her relations, Calixa Lavallée, and the words of the national anthem to recall the historical values of Québec and Canada: « … Et ta valeur, de foi trempée, protégera nos foyers et nos droits… » (free translation : “… and your value, strengthened by faith, will protect our homes and our rights…”)

Following are some of the arguments brought by the following expert witness: Mr. Guy Durand.

Mr. Guy Durand, theologian and specialist in ethics, professor for 35 years, identified and supported the parents’ four grievances very well: the program contravenes their sincere faith, because it imposes upon the student a polytheist view of the religious phenomenon; it is relativist, dissociates ethics and morals and claims to be neutral in questions of ethics, and interferes with the capacity of the parents to transmit their faith to their child.
We do not believe that the petty arguments and criticisms often mean of the State’s and the school board’s attorneys really weakened the obvious value of Guy Durand’s testimony.

Guy Durand expertise here (in French).

Following Mr. Durand, theology professor and ex-minister Louis O'Neill testified in favour of the rights of parents to choose their children’s education.
Mr. O’Neill recalled that, for the Catholic Church, this role is so important that it refuses to baptize children who are minors without their parents’ authorization, even if baptism is a spiritual gain.

Louis O’Neill then insisted on precautionary principle that should apply here; he recalled that there are other ways of doing things. In Belgium, for example, public schools offer 6 options for religious confessional courses and secular morals.

Finally, Mr. O’Neill insisted on the fact that a religious culture and ethics course will be presented in a very different manner depending on whether or not the person teaching it is a believer.

Louis O'Neill expertise here (in French).

The day ended with repeated efforts by the Attorney-General and school board lawyers to completely disqualify sociologist Gary Caldwell’s expertise because, according to them, it constitutes legal advice. Thankfully for the parents, the judge said he wanted to read Mr. Caldwell’s expertise. This visibly did not please Me Jacob of the school board who sunk into his chair. After this judicial quibbling, it seemed that the State lawyers’ defeat was total: Me Boucher, lawyer for the Attorney-General, was now ready to concede that Mr. Caldwell present the main section of his expertise: “Was there an urgent and pressing need to impose this course?”, but he wanted that to be before Mr. Gérard Bouchard. Finally, it will be after the testimony of the co-president of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission and this will allow to better invalidate Mr. Caldwell’s arguments. Also by this time, the judge will have already read Mr. Caldwell’s expertise that they were trying to reject. The defeat was complete, Me Jacob’s appearance was progressively sloppier, shirt hanging out. Me Boucher emaciated face was closed, slightly inclined upward, jaw tight. We could feel that the opposing party was not happy with this first day of the proceedings.

"Atheism is a philosophical conviction that is perfectly legitimate. A parent in Québec can and must have the right to bring his child up in this philosophical conviction. With the new mandatory ERC course, every child in Québec, even the atheist child, is exposed to this religion as early as the age of six and for all of his elementary and high school education. We are not fighting here for Catholics or Christians; we are fighting for citizens who want to regain freedom of choice, atheists included,” declared Me Jean-Yves Côté, one of the two lawyers for the parents, to the reporters pressing him with questions.