All dressed up – and a place to go

Oshawa teen wins prom case

In a white tux and a pale blue tie that matched the colour of his hair, 17-year-old Marc Hall went to the prom. And thanks to a last minute decision by an Ontario judge, he got to bring his boyfriend.

Just hours before the May 10 prom at Monsignor John Pereyma High School in Oshawa, Superior Court Of Justice Robert MacKinnon granted Hall an injunction preventing the Durham Catholic District School Board from barring the gay couple from the prom. The board had argued that Hall was setting a bad example for other Catholic students.

“It was pretty fun,” Hall told jubilant supporters at a victory rally in Cawthra Square Park the following day.

Hall’s cause attracted the attention of the national media, labour unions and politicians of all stripes including federal Industry Minister Allan Rock and Liberal MPP George Smitherman, who organized the Coalition To Support Marc Hall.

“I’m ecstatic and overjoyed. Not only did Marc Hall get to go to the prom, he went and had a really good time, so I’m really happy for him,” says Smitherman, who represents the Toronto Centre-Rosedale riding.

But while Hall won the battle over the prom, there’s a much larger battle lurking around the corner, one on the issue of homosexuality’s place – or lack of it – in the Ontario’s Catholic school system.

“It’s a two-stage battle,” says Smitherman, “and success in the first stage is terrific. Now we need to make sure that no other kid in the Catholic education system will have to go through what he did. There’s still a lot of work to be done here.”

The judge’s decision, made in less than a week, was merely an interlocutory injunction, requesting that Hall be allowed to go to the prom before the actual trial is heard. So the ruling does not judge the board’s policies, though it was critical of them.

“If individuals in Canada were permitted to simply assert that their religious beliefs require them to discriminate against homosexuals, without objective scrutiny,” wrote MacKinnon, “there would be no protection at all from discrimination for gays and lesbians in Canada because everyone who wished to discriminate against them could make that assertion.”

That larger discrimination case will be heard by the Supreme Court Of Ontario (a date hasn’t been set yet). Hall is seeking $100,000 in damages. As well, the Durham Catholic District School Board could appeal the ruling of this injunction.

“The board wants that clarified because while this interlocutory injunction decision doesn’t have the [precedent-setting] value of a ruling that it’s unconstitutional,” says lawyer Jonathan Strug, who worked on the case with lawyer David Corbett. “They essentially want a ruling of the court saying that they’re allowed to do this. The trial will determine whether or not it is constitutional to not allow a same-sex couple to a prom.”


Beyond prom-going, the issues are important because protection against discrimination is guaranteed in Canada’s Charter Of Rights And Freedoms and protection of the Catholic school system is guaranteed in Canada’s Constitution (though Quebec had the constitutional protection of the Protestant school system there removed in 1997).

“It is a very important case and it is still being carved out exactly what a Catholic school board – who are subject to the charter because they do receive public funding – can do which would be seen as discriminatory,” says Strug.

And if Hall wins a case at a higher court, Strug says it will be a lot less likely that another gay kid at a Catholic school will be told they can’t bring their same-sex partner with them to the prom.

“Generally speaking if the court finds that barring someone’s date from the prom simply based on the fact that that date is of the same-sex is unconstitutional it is less likely to happen in the future.”

But if Hall loses his discrimination case, it could make it easier for Catholic schools to get away with controlling the what queer students can do at school – be openly gay, talk about their relationships or bring dates to functions.

Corbett has said that he and Hall are willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court Of Canada, if necessary.

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