A Nova Scotia high school student suspended for wearing a religiously themed T-shirt has vowed to wear the offending garment upon his return next week.
Earlier this week, the South Shore Regional School Board suspended William Swinimer, a Grade 12 student at Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, N.S., for five days for wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Life is wasted without Jesus."
The board justified its decision by saying the shirt offended some of Swinimer’s teachers and fellow students.
He responded by telling the CBC, "I need to stand up for the rights of people in this country, and religious rights and freedom of speech." Furthermore, he has pledged to wear the shirt when he returns to school on Monday.
Here’s a look at seven other Canadian teens who – often sparking controversy – have taken a stand on issues important to them.
Marc Hall’s prom date
Marc Hall’s sexual orientation was well-known to his parents and classmates, but his school took issue when he expressed a desire to bring his boyfriend to his high school prom in 2002. Arguing homosexuality was incompatible with Catholic teaching, officials at Monsignor John Pereyma Catholic Secondary School in Oshawa, Ont., said the school would scuttle Hall’s prom plans.
Hall took the Durham Catholic School Board to court, with his lawyer arguing that a publicly funded institution should abide by the laws of the province of Ontario. The board argued that it was acting within the religious freedom enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. On May 10, however, Justice Robert McKinnon granted a temporary injunction that allowed Hall and his boyfriend, Jean-Paul Dumont, to attend the event.
Pink Shirt Day
In 2007, David Shepherd and Travis Price, a pair of Grade 12 students in Cambridge, N.S., struck a blow against bullying. After fellow students attacked a Grade 9 boy with homophobic taunts for wearing a pink shirt, Shepherd and Price went out and purchased 50 pink shirts and circulated them to other students to create a “sea of pink.”
The stunt by Shepherd and Price not only stopped the harassment, but also earned praise from U.S. talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and inspired Pink Shirt Day, a Canada-wide awareness campaign that occurs every Feb. 27.
A hijab for soccer players
In June 2011, 15-year-old Sarah Benkirane was relieved from her duties as a referee in Quebec's Lac St. Louis Regional Soccer Association. The offence? She wears a hijab. When Benkarine protested, the league cited the policy of the Quebec Soccer Federation, which in turn follows the rules of FIFA, the international soccer governing body, which prohibits religious garments on the pitch.
FIFA hasn’t shown any signs of backing down, but in a parallel development, a 28-year-old Montreal designer named Elham Seyed Javad has approached FIFA with a “sports hijab.” If approved, Javad’s form-fitting headscarf could allow devout Muslim women to participate in the world’s most popular sport.
A heartfelt ode to girls’ ‘inner beauty’
In the run-up to Valentine’s Day 2012, 17-year-old Paul Gomille wrote an open letter to the female students at Archbishop Denis O'Connor Catholic High School in Ajax, Ont. Aiming to address the issue of feminine body image, Gomille praised women’s “inner beauty.”
“Real attractiveness doesn’t come from wearing the latest fashion, and it doesn’t come from being scantily clad in public, or putting on makeup, or having a pretty face, or a nice body,” Gomille wrote, suggesting instead that “real attractiveness comes from having a certain dignity.”
Tackling bullying – with help from Lady Gaga
Ontario teen Jacques St. Pierre endured taunts through elementary school for his interest in theatre and drama. The harassment stopped after he started attending the Etobicoke School of the Arts, but given media reports of teen suicide, St. Pierre remained acutely aware of the problem of bullying.
As student council president in 2011, St. Pierre organized a school assembly on the theme of bullying. In the preceding weeks, he had sent out notes through email and social media to various celebrities, hoping for their support. Surprisingly, pop star Lady Gaga got involved, recording a personalized video message that St. Pierre played at the assembly on Nov. 25, 2011.
Winnipeg sisters with hockey dreams
It took two years, but in 2006, Amy and Jesse Pasternak of Winnipeg won the right to try out for a boys’ hockey team. In 2004, the twin sisters filed a complaint against the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association (MHSSA) after it denied them the right to try out for senior boys' team at West Kildonan Collegiate. The MHSAA has a policy requiring female athletes to play only on teams of girls, but in 2006, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission ruled it was sex discrimination.
While she acknowledged that the ruling did not assure her or a sister a spot on the boys’ team, Amy Pasternak said the process had been “worth it for the girls coming up in the hockey program who want to pursue the same path that we have."