Catholic Student Arrested as Gender Belief Controversy Escalates at Ontario School

By Tara MacIsaac
Tara MacIsaac
Tara MacIsaac
​​Tara MacIsaac is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.
February 7, 2023Updated: February 8, 2023

A 16-year-old student was arrested for attending St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Renfrew, Ont., on Feb. 6, after the principal had previously banned him from school grounds because he said he would continue to express his belief that God created only two genders.

“They excluded me for no reason other than religious discrimination,” Josh Alexander told The Epoch Times on Feb. 7. “I would argue that I was supposed to be there.”

Alexander was released shortly after his arrest and charged with trespassing, which he and his lawyer will contest.

“He’s not a belligerent kid and this isn’t about him getting his 15 minutes of fame,” his lawyer, James Kitchen, told The Epoch Times. “This is about principle. It’s about beliefs. Josh was not going to tacitly condone the religious segregation.”

Kitchen said there has to be a balancing of the rights of transgender students with the rights of students like Josh who hold Catholic beliefs about the immutability of gender, or the rights of girls who want female-only washrooms.

Alexander’s problems with the school started when he organized a protest last year advocating for female students who were uncomfortable with biological males in the girls’ washroom.

One girl at the school told The Epoch Times she was caught off-guard by a transgender student who followed her into the girls washroom “because I didn’t even really know at that point that he self-identified as female.”

“It was for my own privacy and safety that I felt like I had to say something,” she said.

Alexander also engaged in classroom discussions about gender, and called transgender students by their “dead names.” He was suspended in November, then “excluded” in January (which is similar to being suspended, but considered non-disciplinary).


The exclusion notice, sent to Kitchen by the school’s lawyer, said the principal is authorized by the Education Act to exclude a student “if his or her presence is detrimental to the safety or well-being of a person on the premises.”

The notice lists things Alexander has refused to do that have led to his exclusion, such as refusing to use pronouns or names that are inconsistent with students’ biological sex. He has also refused to refrain from freely professing that people cannot change gender and that “boys must not be permitted to enter girls’ private spaces as a matter of morality, modesty, and safety.”

The school board’s Superintendent of Educational Services has supported the principal in determining that Alexander should be excluded, the notice said. The school’s principal, Derek Lennox, and the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board told The Epoch Times they cannot comment on particular students.

Human Rights Code

Mark Searson, the board’s director of education, told The Epoch Times in December that, in general, the schools have gender-neutral washrooms available for transgender students. However, “the Ontario Human Rights Code has made it very explicit that individuals do have the right to utilize the restricted washroom of their lived gender identity,” he said.

Kitchen contested this understanding of the code. “If gender identity was the only right the Human Rights Code protected, yes [transgender students] would be allowed in the girls’ washrooms. But the Human Rights Code protects other grounds,” he said, adding that religion is one of them.

“The code requires balancing of rights,” said Kitchen, who works with the Christian conservative Liberty Coalition Canada.

Aside from Alexander’s right to express his religious beliefs, Kitchen said, some Christian girls and others also have beliefs “about sexual modesty. It’s not right that you’re in there, you could be potentially viewed by a boy.”

Searson did not reply to a request for comment on Kitchen’s statements about the Human Rights Code as of publication.

Kitchen said Alexander’s going to the school despite the exclusion had a purpose. It was to show he doesn’t recognize the “unlawful” exclusion based on “religious discrimination.”

A lot of other youth who may feel the same way don’t necessarily speak up, Kitchen said. “Josh is courageous and principled enough, and he’s got a high enough risk tolerance to see it through all the way.”

Alexander said some girls who want a washroom without male-bodied students have been reluctant to speak out about it.

Sophie Smith-Doré, co-founder of Arnprior Pride and mother of a transgender student at the school, told The Epoch Times in a written message in January: “Trans folks and their loved ones (like most marginalized folks) are constantly doing this emotional work and it’s exhausting. We bear the burden of trying to protect our gender-diverse kids.”

Kitchen and Alexander will challenge the trespassing charge, and will file a human rights complaint on the basis of religious discrimination.

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