A national secular group has charged that students at a Toronto-area high school have been “coerced” into signing an anti-abortion petition — an allegation the Catholic school board denies.

“Having students learn about their faith is one thing, coercing them into supporting a Bill in the House of Commons is another,” said Michael Payton, national executive director of Centre for Inquiry Canada, a Toronto-based atheist group.

“This is a clear example of indoctrination and pernicious lobbying that is being funded by taxpayers in Ontario.”

Late last week, students at St. Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga were asked whether they would be willing to sign a petition in support of Stephen Woodworth, the Kitchener Centre Tory MP who has asked the House of Commons to open a debate on Section 223 of the Criminal Code, which states a child in the womb is not human until birth. Mr. Woodworth has not proposed a “bill” but rather a “motion” that would allow Section 223 to be debated.

The section does not cover abortion — there has been no abortion law in Canada for 24 years — but it does play a role in the debate.

This type of activity is more proof that Catholic schools in the province should lose their funding, said Justin Trottier, a spokesman for the centre.

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