Student arrested for trespassing at St. Joe’s following “non-disciplinary exclusion”

Renfrew — On Monday, February 6, Josh Alexander entered St. Joseph’s High School in Renfrew to attend his Automotive Mechanic class. It was 9:30 in the morning and he understood the importance of attending this class in person.

“You can’t physically get inside a vehicle if you are learning online,” he said referring to his “Non-Disciplinary Exclusion” letter he received from the school board. He was notified him he was not allowed on school property and such action would result in him being charged with trespassing.

When he entered the workshop, the teacher told him to leave the room and report to the office. 

He went to the office and was met by the Vice-Principal and Principal. They chatted briefly before an Ontario Provincial Police constable from the Renfrew Detachment arrived. Josh was informed he was under arrest and would be charged with trespassing under 474/00: Access to School Premises Trespass to Property Act.

“I told the officer I should not be excluded from attending in-person classes-because of religious discrimination against me,” he argued.

The constable was joined by a second officer and they escorted him from the school and once he was off the property, he was read his rights and placed in the rear seat of one of the cruisers.

“I was not sure if I was going to the police station to be formally charged or what was happening,” he told the Leader. “I sat in the back for about 20 minutes and then they let me out. They did not handcuff me but they did give me a ticket and a fine for $65.”

He said he will not be entering school property in the future without authorization, but with the assistance of his lawyer, he will continue to appeal the school board’s decision to exclude him, on what he argues is religious discrimination.

“I have a right to physically go to my classes and it is far better than online learning plus I do better in a classroom. My lawyer is still helping me appeal, but the school board won’t even recognize my appeal. That is why I intend to go the Human Rights Tribunal and lodge a complaint because my human rights are being taken away and its all based on religious discrimination.”

Editor’s note: For more read the story about his ban from school and also the hiring of his lawyer, also in this issue of the Leader.

Student banned from school

Renfrew – Josh Alexander, a Grade 11 St. Joseph’s High School student who organized and led a protest with the intent of stopping transgendered people from using the washroom of their choice, was issued a ‘non-disciplinary exclusion’ notice by the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board (RCCDSB) recently.

He is not allowed on school property for the remainder of the school year and was given the option of online learning to complete his remaining courses.

The email, which he received late last week, was sent by the Ottawa based law firm Emond-Harnden on behalf of the RCCDSB.

Mr. Alexander had previously been issued an ‘indefinite suspension’ on November 23, two days before the actual protest took place. The suspension itself lasted 20 days before he was scheduled to return to classes.

“I was very surprised when I read the email,” he told the Leader. “It is disappointing they are excluding me, and they can’t justify an expulsion because they know they can’t expel me. So instead, they send me a non-disciplinary exclusion letter because I expressed my religious beliefs in a Catholic school. That is pretty disappointing.”

He indicated he weighed his options and will file a formal complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal indicating he is being discriminated against for his religious beliefs. He is also appealing the two suspensions and two expulsions that were issued stemming from his role in the protest in November, 2022.

“We will appeal first to the school and if that fails, we will appeal directly to the trustees, but I am not sure if it is going to go anywhere,” he said. “We did some research and because they can’t expel me over this, they are using the ‘non-disciplinary exclusion’ excuse. It is designed for students who they consider a possibility to be problematic.” 

Protest Over Transgender Use of Washrooms

Mr. Alexander, a devout Christian, transferred to St. Joseph’s High School in September and took exception to the school administration\s policy of allowing transgender individuals to use the washroom of their choice. He brought his concerns to the school principal, Derek Lennox, but said he failed to persuade Mr. Lennox to reverse the policy.

On November 25 he spoke to the Leader a few minutes prior to the beginning of the protest.

“The idea for the protest started about two weeks prior when the principal refused to take any action in regard to allowing males to use the girl’s washroom,” he said at the time. “Males do not belong in female washrooms is our message. So, I put a post out on social media, and it all led up to today.”

He notified the school administration he was going to organize a peaceful protest, and it would occur at 12 p.m. He purposely scheduled the protest off school property, and it was open not just to students, but anyone who wanted to attend.

Starting at noon, approximately 30 individuals were located along the median on Barnet Boulevard and carried large Canadian flags. Some protesters displayed handwritten posters with various Bible quotes or posters stating washrooms are designated for male and female and entry to those facilities are based on their anatomy

He notified the public of the rally through various social media platforms and was quite direct in his messaging.

“It is time to expose the perverted agenda in our education system,” his post stated. “Males do not belong in female washrooms. Protect the girls from this evil narrative. Stop depriving our students of a healthy and natural environment. ‘God made them male and female: Mark 10:6’.”

What he didn’t expect was a large turnout of anti-protesters, many of them from various LBGTQ-supportive agencies and organizations who more than tripled the assembled protest group. For close to 90 minutes the two sides faced each other, less than 40 feet apart. There was a heavy police presence, but the event remained peaceful.

Retained Legal Representation

Mr. Alexander has hired legal representation following the suspension.

“I hired my lawyer over the Christmas break and he contacted the school and I was scheduled to return to school on January 9,” he told the Leader. “On the night of January 8, the night before I was going back to school, I received another email informing me I was excluded from the school. I was told the principal (Derek Lennox) felt my presence would be detrimental to the physical and mental well-being of the ‘peoples’.”

Mr. Alexander said the email stated it was a “non-disciplinary exclusion” from the school. He said he was permanently banned from attending two classes (Religion and Mathematics) and there were conditions that had to be met in order for him to return to school. The next step was his exclusion from all classes because of him failing to adhere to the conditions of his return.

“That is when I hired my lawyer,” he said. “My lawyer informed the school I would be attending all of my classes as I felt it was unlawful and discriminatory. I showed up for my afternoon classes on January 9 and they told me to leave. I respectfully told them to speak to my lawyer and did not speak to them.”

He said some staff members basically followed him around the school for the entire day and wrote down anything he said. He returned home after school, and was notified he was issued a trespassing notice informing him he was not allowed on school property. He was also issued an additional five-day suspension.

“I was told if I returned to school the OPP would be notified and I would be removed from school property, which I understood meant I would likely be arrested,” he said.

His lawyer, James Kitchen, is the Chief Litigator for Liberty Coalition Canada (LCC). The LCC was founded by several clergies in January 2021 and, according to its mission statement, is committed to supporting Canadians who are facing unjust and illegal discrimination for exercising their lawful freedoms.

The LCC also advocates for human rights and constitutional freedoms with legal backing and the LCC is currently covering the legal expenses incurred by Mr. Alexander and his family.

Mr. Alexander is opposed to the suspension not only because he argued it is based on religious discrimination, but he said the quality of education is not satisfactory for him to excel in course work.

“We just came out of nearly two-years of online education because of COVID,” he said. “There is no way it is comparable to in-person learning and to me, that is another form of discrimination.

“We are just completing the first semester at the end of January, and I will be starting four courses for my second term. Because I have been unable to attend school and banned from attending two of my classes, it is likely I will lose those credits.”

He said his social life has been affected by the entire affair and he has learned to adjust his life to try and ignore those who are critical of his stance.

“My family and friends have been supportive all along and that has really helped,” he said. “I do my best to ignore the postings on social media pages. There are both good and bad opinions of me. I really don’t engage anyone who is going to slander a 16-year-old for standing up for his religious beliefs. I just ignore it and go on day-to-day.”

Since receiving his non-disciplinary exclusion letter, he has advised his lawyer of his intent to file a lawsuit.

Prior to his first suspension issued on November 23, Mr. Alexander had never faced any form of disciplinary action while attending St. Joseph’s or any other school. When asked if he would do anything differently, he said nothing would persuade him to go against his personal convictions.

“I had fully expected to be able to return to school by February 1, but with the way the school board is playing games, I don’t know what the next step will be,” he said. “What I do know is I am being discriminated against for standing up for my personal and religious beliefs.

“If you told me six months ago my life would have gone in this direction, I never would have believed you. This is not something any 16-year-old high school student could ever imagine, but here we are. One thing I do know is that I need to finish my course work to get my credits. That is something I will have to complete no matter what happens.”

The Leader spoke to Mark Searson, Director of Education for the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board prior to Mr. Alexander’s formal non-disciplinary expulsion letter. Mr. Searson said he could not comment regarding the suspension or the school board’s stance on the use of washrooms of choice by transgendered individuals.

He indicated the matter is now of a legal nature and can therefore offer no comment.