Questions the TDSB Is Not Answering

As many of you are aware, our church plant has been going through a battle of sorts with the Toronto District School Board about some drastic overnight increases to our rent (to the tune of 400+%). Our current response is to pray, appeal however we can, and look for somewhere new to meet as a church as soon as possible.

The story itself has been well documented in Canadian news (National Post, CTV and again, Toronto Star, Toronto Sun and again, CFRB 1010Winnipeg Free Press, etc.), and also in international news (WORLD Mag, Christianity Today, and an upcoming WDCX interview one week from today). Because of the public pressure that has been mounting, the School Board has been scrambling to create canned responses for newspaper reporters and also for people who write the offices of their local Trustees to complain.

But despite all the rhetoric from the School Board, there are still some pretty profound questions that I think need to be answered in this situation:

Why is a government-funded organization using government funds to discriminate against a government-recognized charity?

In their own ‘Community Use of Schools‘ policy document, they state:

The Board will actively collaborate with the governments of Ontario and Toronto to achieve solutions and ensure affordable and accesible use of public space for community-based programs.’

To make the space affordable the TDSB receives funds from the Provincial government which they then effectively pass on to community groups through various subsidies. Some groups are classed at a higher level of subsidization than others, but all not-for-profit groups receive these provincially supplied subsidies.

Back in February when this Policy was adjusted, they singled out one group alone to bump them out of both subsidized categories. ‘Faith based organizations’ alone are singled out as the one charitable group that will not receive subsidies.

My question is this: If it is government money being passed on and we are a government-recognized charity, on what basis does the TDSB determine that we alone should not receive subsidization?

Why is the TDSB content to act in a manner inconsistent with their own internal policies?

Again, according to the TDSB’s own Policy on Community use of schools, there is a distinct desire for community engagement. They say they want to see their schools become ‘hubs of the community.’ This is how they word it:

The use of public assets such as schools and civic buildings should be guided by the needs and priorities of the local neighbourhoods served by these public buildings. Access and equity in use of facilities is particularly important in a community as ethnically diverse as Toronto.

So why (if one of the needs of the local community is more churches) should churches be excluded and denied ‘access and equity in use of facilities’ through higher permit fees?

But there is more. The TDSB’s Human Rights Policy (which itself specifies that it covers ‘permit holders’) details how they should act in this case. They expect that they will:

take reasonable steps to remove any discriminatory barriers in employment policies and practices and in accessing programs, resources, and facilities

And yes, ‘creed’ is specified as one of the bases forbidden for discrimination. So my question, again, here is simple: Why is the TDSB so content with ignoring their own policies in order to raise the rent in a way that discriminates against faith-based groups and limits their access and equity of use to these public buildings?

How does the TDSB justify the dollar amounts they have placed on these faith-based groups?

The case may be stated (and has been) that the School Board has been losing money on these permits, even with the government-provided subsidies. As a fiscal conservative I have no problem with them taking action to eliminate an operational deficit.

However, because the TDSB is a public organization, they ought to make their financial decision-making-process public. How did they decide on these specific amounts?

Let me give you an example. Our permit renewal application came to just under $61,000. Of that, they specified that $25,000 would be for providing caretaking services. I am fine with that. There is a cost and we are using the building, we are happy to cover the cost.

But what is the other $36,000 going toward? Are we really using that much toilet paper and hydro? Did they just grab that number out of the air? The TDSB has committed themselves to ‘report regularly to the community on the fees and costs incurred in using community spaces’ (here), but in this instance, they are mum about the calculation of these permit fees.

They must answer the question: Where did these numbers come from? We are not looking to impoverish the public school system, but as taxpayers we want to know: How are these fees justified?

Why did the TDSB not give its permit clients more than 3 days notice before they increased the fees so substantially?

In their public statements in the press over the past few days the TDSB has been saying that there was a ‘public process’ that was carried out and brought to conclusion in February last year. But unless you happened to attend that ‘public’ meeting of the Board of Trustees on that particular day or read the minutes of that specific meeting randomly for fun, the decision was not so public.

Any by-law changes or zoning changes in a neighbourhood or any rent increases between landlord and tenant require sufficient notice be given proactively. How could it be that the TDSB could make a decision that would so drastically affect so many of their permit holders and then not think to tell them until three days before the permit goes live?

In our case we were informed of our permit rates on August 28 and the first bill was to be processed on August 31. Why did they not give us more notice than that?

 

13 thoughts on “Questions the TDSB Is Not Answering

  1. Did you read the whole policy. The permits are not suppose to generate revenue. Is that not the reason for the increase?

    • You're absolutely right, BJ! Thanks for pointing that out. I had planned to include that but I didn't want to have the article go on forever. It's ludicrous. In the letter they sent to religious groups with permits they said that the reason was to recover costs. If they're recovering costs, I'd like to see how much they're actually recovering compared to what their costs actually are (and how those numbers are calculated). On the other hand, if they would be making money charging us $61,000 per year, then that is a source of revenue… even profit! Which, again, is explicitly against their own policy.

      • Had a talk with Rick Daigle. He's their lead person in dealing with "religious organizations". Apparently they had hired a consultant to analyze the Permits Policy. They found that the TDSB was losing $12M. That's after the province kicks in its $3.8M. I did warn him though that the way the policy is worded and currently implemented a judge would have no problem ruling that they are discriminating against churches (funnily enough the YMCA is being left alone) based upon the language on their own website: "although religious organizations are mostly "registered non-profit" bodies, the Board has determined that the cost of running religious services will no longer be subsidized. Therefore, these permits will fall into the "non-subsidized" category." And yeah, I brought up the Charter, the human Rights Code AND the TDSB's Human Rights Policy

        • Thanks for the update, Martin! I'm glad to know that people are voicing these concerns to the right people. We've got a couple more natural opportunities for the TDSB to reverse some of these decisions before we start considering legal action.

          Please continue to pray about this as well!

          • Been praying about it. I don't think anyone really wants legal action. It could tarnish the church's reputation (that being said if you talk to people on the street about it they will say that the Board is wrong). But if it does reach that stage it is better to have it documented that all steps were taken to avoid court.

            From what I gather a bunch of baptist? pastors will be meeting next Thursday in Etobicoke to figure out how they will approach the situation. The pastor who told me all of that is trying to get in contact with Dr. McVety so that it can be held over at Canada Christian College, and so that the walls come down. Too many fellowships are going their own way on this issue (there is a huge failure to communicate – thanks for going on WDCX by the way). And too many think that putting their name on a petition does enough.

            What happens if we actually do confront them with the truth in love? My talk with Rick was fact finding. It also had to happen before I go talk to the Human Resources Department (that is the department tasked with enforcing the Human Rights Policy).

            SOME of the facts and figures Rick gave me were correct, but others were sketchy. The hourly rate that Rick gave me for the custodian fees was supposed to be average, but that rate is average for a high-tiered Head Custodian working at time and a half. $56/hour. I'm asking their union if they have had a hard time with churches, or if there is anything they would like to say about the entire situation.

            This will be resolved. Oh yeah, he wasn't in on Wednesday when I visited the Permits office, so I left for him highlighted copies of: the Charter (highlighted the comments about God in the preamble) sections 1,2, 7; Ontario Human Rights Code, Preamble and highlights of sections 1-3, the Human Rights Policy, and the Permits Policy. They even stamped it to acknowledge receiving it. Also included was most of what you wrote in this blog post. So for the record what you wrote was put into their hands.

  2. The tragedy here is that it is usually one or two people – usually with influence – on a board like this who cause the problem.

  3. Surely they must know this will backfire on them and they will lose the income they now receive from these renters and will actually be worse off, receiving no rent at all. It's such obvious religious discrimination meant to drive the churches out.

  4. Hello Julian,

    I came across a blog article by Tim Challies about your church's plight with the TDSB.

    I am a congregant at East Toronto Chinese Baptist Church which is just 5 mins away from your current meeting location at Lawrence & Victoria Park.

    I believe we might be able to help your congregation out with our facility. However, it would mean that your meeting time would have to change to sometime after 1-2 pm when we finish our own service.

    If you are interested in furthering this discussion, please email me some details as to what your space and equipment requirements would be. I can then forward that info to our church leadership who are having an executive board meeting this Sunday and this issue can be brought up with them there.

    Thx

    Keith
    meridian.dc@gmail.com

  5. Reading what you have here and it is good. Someone in my family (that works for the board) says that the TDSB can be really political and not really intelligent.
    What is a bit frustrating for me is that the church is responding in a fragmented manner instead of collectively. You point out the Human rights policy. I did a write up where I point out that the Human Rights Policy actually gives recourse to those churches that have been targeted. Here is an extract of what I titled A Peacemaking Approach to TDSB Policy P011
    There are people have no idea how to handle the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) seemingly discriminatory reading of Policy P011.
    We need to comprehend what the TDSB did and/or is doing that is wrong. That means we need to know what laws, statutes, regulations, and policies that the TDSB must follow that the current implementation of Policy P011 is also in contravention of. The current implementation of P011 seemingly contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the TDSB’s own Human Rights Policy (HRP). It unfairly targets and/or discriminates against some registered charitable organizations that use TDSB property. It is understood that the current implementation of Policy P011 discriminates against some registered charitable organizations by insisting that they no longer qualify to be considered in Subsidy Level 2, and are to be charged the Non-Subsidized rates, because those organizations are faith based and are using the space provided to operate educational programs and/or conduct religious services. No other type of organization has limitations placed upon it in this manner. That suggests that the TDSB is targeting those organizations for alternatively having and/or exercising their rights to have freedom of religion and/or have and/or maintain and/or practice their creed.
    We must make it clear that we want to be honorable in our dealings with everyone so we will follow this systematic process. If we reach a step and it works as intended we will let others know so that they can implement change as well. As Christians we know that “Good news is meant to be shared”.
    We will talk to the TDSB’s Permits Department staff (preferably in person) and make good effort to work things out at that level. We need to remind them that the TDSB seems to be violating our rights by targeting and/or discriminating against us (the registered charitable organizations) for having a creed and/or for being faith based. This is the initial phase and it must occur. To remain honorable (and follow Jesus teachings on conflict resolution, see Matthew 18:15 for the applicable principle) we must talk to the Permits Department first and try and resolve the issue there. Questions that must be asked are: is the TDSB contending that we are not a registered charitable organization? Alternatively, does the implementation of Policy P011 only see us as faith based and no longer care if we are a registered charitable organization? If the TDSB subsequently charges us the Subsidized Level 2 rate then something has been mended. But then again the TDSB may insist, even after we point out all of the contraventions in their implementation of Policy P011, that even though we are registered charitable organizations that we must pay the Non-subsidized rate due to our also being faith based organizations.
    What if the Permits Department refuses to budge? Is the process over? What avenues are open to us? The TDSB has policy in place for just such a circumstance. The HRP says that it is the job of the Human Resource Services Department (HR) to ensure compliance with the policy and its procedures. We need call them up and get them to address what we consider the unfair implementation of Policy P011 (see Matthew 18:16 for the applicable principle). The HR phone number is 416-397-3121. Let us tell them it’s about Policy P011 and how we both feel and know that it is seems to be implemented in a manner that is in contravention of the HRP. We (the registered charitable organizations) are being unfairly targeted and/or discriminated against for being faith based organizations and are thus having our rights violated. Ask them what they will do to address our situation and concerns. Following this path keeps us in honor.
    Finally…

  6. Ohh…GOD..another increase.. Effective SEPT, 2014

    COMMUNITY USE OF SCHOOLS
    Definition of community permit categories http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/Community/docs/G0

    COMMUNITY USE OF SCHOOLS
    Permit Fee Schedules effective September 1, 2014 http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/Community/docs/G0

    (check page 12 in below link, for current price vs future price effective Sept 2014)
    http://www.tdsb.on.ca/leadership/boardroom/agenda

    sorry TDSB, we just cannot afford this.

  7. The TDSB is increasing fees for the salaries of their cronies and sex offenders:

    Copied from facebook but has appeared on a number of other forums including canadianparents. Judging by the large number of replies, most of which degenerated to teacher bashing, the thread was quite popular and to a significant extent reflects the perception of many members of the public.

    Having been a teacher at Silverthorn Collegiate Institute for a good number of years I have had an unprecedented opportunity to see a number of principals (and vice principals) [ Also to mention that former VP of Silverthorn Collegiate Vivian Mavrou was having inappropriate relations with a 15 year old school bully inside her car] come and go in their quest of climbing the educational ladder, or just simply waiting for their retirement. Some were good, some were bad, and some were just plain ugly.

    Lets recap the last 10 years at SCI.

    There was Barb MacKenzie, better known as Empire Builder or BM. She had her own little clique and everybody suffered as a result of her inefficient manner of running a school of the caliber of SCI. Fortunately she left, no doubt under duress, for some Hong Kong private school to unleash her incompetence on unsuspecting Chinese students. Latest word there is that she is now in the Middle East somewhere running an all girls school. The most offending part was all those ridiculous post cards she sent back to SCI – as if anybody cared to read them without making negative comments. Her popularity with the students was so immense that her portrait near the auditorium was vandalized.