09/26/2013 02:24 EDT | Updated 09/26/2013 02:59 EDT

Tamara Miyanaga, Catholic Woman, Can't Run For Public School Trustee Because Of Her Faith


A Southern Alberta woman is being denied the chance to run for public school board trustee because of her faith.

Tamara Miyanaga, who currently holds a job with Taber's Horizon School Division - a public school board - was told she is not allowed to run in the upcoming election because she is Roman Catholic.

According to the Calgary Herald, Miyanaga learned last week her religion bars her from her bid, despite being an employee at the Ace Place Learning Centre, a school within the division.

“It was a surprise to me that my faith would prohibit me from running in an election in Canada,” she told the Lethbridge Herald.

Section 44 (4) of Alberta School Act states, “Where a separate school district is established, an individual residing within the boundaries of the separate school district who is of the same faith as those who established the district, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, is a resident of the separate school district, and is not a resident of the public school district.”

In Miyanaga's Taber-area ward, there are both a Catholic school board and public school board, meaning a person of Catholic faith is only eligible to run for trustee of the Catholic school division.

It also means that those who identify as Catholic can only vote in the Catholic school board election.

Eligibility to vote for a trustee for a particular system is determined by faith, not by which school authority an elector’s children attends,” Alberta Education spokeswoman Leanne Niblock told the Calgary Herald in an e-mail.

As Taber's former Citizen of the Year, as well as winning an award for her work with the Southern Alberta Summer Games, Miyanaga has dedicated much of her life to her community. Hence her surprise to find a dated rule will prevent her from her goal of contributing further to her community.

She previously told the Taber Times her life philosophy was simple -- to make the community a better place to live and provide opportunities for others, particularly children.

“It was disappointing to me for sure because I felt like I had something to offer Horizon School Division,” Miyanaga told the Lethbridge Herald.

“It was quite overwhelming and I’m wondering if school districts in Alberta, are they really aware of their voting lists and are our separate schools really aware of their voting lists? They know who lives in their ward, but what’s their religious affiliation?”

So, despite the fact that Miyanaga, works in the public school system, has children attending public schools and pays taxes to the public school board, the current rules make her eligible to run for the public board because of her personal faith.

According to the Lethbridge Herald, the rules also apply to Catholic schools in Saskatchewan and Ontario -- the only other provinces to maintain publicly funded Catholic school systems.

Miyanaga told Lethbridge Herald she has spent hours researching her situation and has been in contact with Alberta Education, the Human Rights Commission and the Alberta School Board Association. She also penned a letter to several politicians, including Premier Alison Redford.

“I believe Alberta is a province of tolerance and acceptance. I live in a community which gives countless hours and financial support to help people overcome tragedy and make a better life for themselves. I believe in religion and culture and that we must respect and nurture each so we become an understanding and compassionate society. Anytime faith or culture is discriminated it can create animosity and distrust. As a citizen of Alberta I believe we are a leading example of acceptance; we do not want laws that clearly discriminate or restrict based on religious affiliation,” Miyanaga wrote in her letter.

Wilco Timensen, superintendent of the Horizon School Division, told the Calgary Herald the current legislation is a "grey area," adding that the school district has to uphold the current rules, despite them being outdated.

Niblock, however, told the Calgary Herald the rule will likely change in 2015 with the proclamation of the new Alberta Education Act.

“Under the Education Act, a separate school elector will be allowed to run and vote for public trustee, but the reverse will still be prohibited.”

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