March 11, 2019 6:29 pm
Updated: March 12, 2019 7:22 am

Sask. appealing decision to no longer fund non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools

WATCH: The Government of Saskatchewan will be appealing the decision to no longer fund non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools on Tuesday.

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A landmark ruling is back before the courts as the Saskatchewan government is appealing the decision to no longer fund non-Catholic students who attend Catholic schools.

Good Spirits School Division versus Christ the Teacher Catholic Separate School Division and the province will put their case to the Court of Appeal on Tuesday.

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READ MORE: Saskatchewan public schools disappointed with premier’s comments on court ruling

The dispute started in 2003 when the Yorkdale School Division, now Good Spirit School Division, closed its kindergarten-to-Grade 8 school in the town of Theodore, about 40 kilometres northwest of Yorkton, because of declining enrollment. The division planned to bus its 42 students to a nearby community.

Community members were unhappy and created their own Catholic school division and opened St. Theodore Roman Catholic School.

That prompted Good Spirit School Division to launch a lawsuit claiming the creation of the new school division was not to serve Catholics in the community, but rather to prevent the students from being bused to a neighbouring town.

More than a decade later, in 2017, Justice Layh ruled the province’s funding of non-Catholics to attend Catholic schools is a violation of equality rights under the charter.

READ MORE: Judge rules Sask. government cannot fund non-Catholic students in Catholic schools

“The reason Good Spirit brought this forward is that there’s a need from their perspective and the province’s public boards to protect the public school system,” said Khurrum Awan, Good Spirit School Division lawyer.

“In a society which is increasingly diverse, increasingly multi-religious, it is important the public school system have the resources necessary to provide education in a religiously neutral environment.”

The province had until June 2018 to follow the ruling, but instead, they appealed and continued to pay for non-Catholic students to attend Catholic school.

READ MORE: Sask. parents concerned about what Theodore court case will mean for non-Catholic students

The government has been adamant that if they lose again, they plan to counteract the ruling using the notwithstanding clause, which can temporarily override certain portions of the charter for five years.

“We believe it’s important to protect the rights of parents, to ensure that their children can go to a publicly funded institution, whether that is a public school or one of the separate schools,” said Gord Wyant, education minister.

“So that is why we appealed the decision of Mr. Justice Layh, so parents have a choice where to send their children.”

This case will be before the Court of Appeal for two days. After, the panel of five judges will have six-to-18 months to make a decision. Wyant said he expects to see this reach the Supreme Ccourt.

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