Court application filed against Ontario school board for refusing to let a grandmother speak at a public board meeting

The Justice Centre has filed an application for Judicial Review in the Ontario Divisional Court against the Bluewater District School Board (the “Board”) for refusing to permit a concerned grandmother to give a brief presentation at a public school board meeting.

The Board holds public meetings, and is required to do so under Ontario’s Education Act, and in accordance with the Board’s own By-Laws. The Board’s By-Laws state that “members of the community will be provided with an avenue to speak” at meetings of the Board. Individuals wishing to speak are asked to provide one week’s notice to the Board and summarize what they wish to speak about.

Dr. Gillies, who is a professional counsellor, has several grandchildren, one of whom is a student in the Bluewater District School Board.

On April 16, 2019, Dr. Gillies wrote to the Board and gave notice of her intent to speak at the upcoming Board meeting on May 21, 2019. Dr. Gillies told the Board that she wanted to speak to Ontario’s mandate to raise a gay pride flag at all schools during the month of June. “I believe that this is a special right not afforded to other interest groups and therefore discriminatory,” stated Dr. Gillies in her notice to the Board.

On May 8, 2019, the Board denied her request to speak, stating: “Your request to present is being denied in accordance with Board Policy 7520-D Human Rights which supports the Ontario Human Rights Code”. The Board did not explain its reasoning.

Dr. Gillies sought further clarity from the Board, sending an email on May 13, 2019 which stated:

Just getting some time to respond. I was surprised by the decision to disallow this conversation. Could you please provide more specifically with the reason for not permitting me to speak? How would I go about appealing this decision?

On May 16, 2019, the Board responded to Dr. Gillies, stating that its decision was final and quoting language, without explanation, from its Human Rights policy, and its “Mission” and “Priority” statements.

In her application, Dr. Gillies is seeking an order to have the Board’s decision set aside, and to require the Board to allow her to present at a public Board meeting. Dr. Gillies’ application further seeks a declaration that the Board’s decision was made without justification and is an unreasonable violation of Dr. Gillies’ freedom of expression protected under section 2(b) of the Charter.