A Court of Queen’s Bench judge in Saskatchewan has ruled that non-Catholic students may not be funded in Catholic schools in the province, as of June 30, 2018.
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Donald Layh stated that “provincial government funding of non-minority faith students attending schools is a violation of the state’s duty of religious neutrality,” under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He also stated “provincial government funding of non-minority faith students attending separate schools is a violation of equality rights,” under the Charter.
“Having found that funding of non-minority faith students violates ss. 2(a) and 15(1) of the Charter and cannot be justified under s. 1, I declare, pursuant to s. 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, that those provisions of The Education Act, 1995 and The Education Funding Regulations, to the extent that the Government of Saskatchewan has provided funding grants to separate schools respecting students not of the minority faith, are of no force and effect,” Layh said.
The Saskatchewan government has not commented on the ruling, with officials saying they needed time to review the decision first.
The decision was the result of a lawsuit between the Good Spirit School Division (GSSD) and the Christ the Teacher Catholic Separate School Division (CTTS).
The case challenged the creation of a separate school division in Theodore, Sask., in 2003, northwest of Yorkton, Sask.
Prior to the closure of a public school in the village, Roman Catholic electors in the Theodore district created the Theodore Roman Catholic Separate School Division. The division later amalgamated into CTTS.
Some parents of non-Catholic students in Theodore opted to send their children to the local school instead of being bused to the public school in Springside, Sask.
In 2005, the York School Division, GSSD, filed a legal complaint against CTTS and the provincial government.
GSSD alleged that it was unconstitutional for CTTS to receive separate school funding as the separate division was operating a public school. Their argument was per-student grants paid to a Catholic school division for non-Catholic students is discriminatory against public schools under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
They alleged that the creation of the new school division after the closure of Theodore Public School did not meet the criteria of being a separate school, which would serve Catholics in the region.
They also said the division was created to prevent the public school from closing, and the students to be bused to a new town.
“A public school system exists to nurture kids in the understanding that they live and will live together, regardless of race, religion, economic circumstances, intellect and many other differences. Public school education can and does teach about religion and spirituality. It takes care, however, to recognize that faith is personal to each person, and that it would be wrong for the institutions of the State to bring their weight to bear in promoting one faith over another,” Public Schools of Saskatchewan said in an open letter in 2015.
CTTS argued that the non-Catholic parents have an individual right to their own education decisions and the public division could not invoke the constitution, which deals with individual freedoms.
“Catholic school divisions believe we have the right to decide to admit non-Catholic students and to determine the extent to which their admission allows us to maintain a truly authentic faith-based Catholic school system. Our faith is a journey that includes inquiry of non-Catholics and growth of existing members. This requires inclusion and a welcoming spirit,” the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association said in a letter on its website.