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Supreme Court of Canada dismisses appeal in Saskatchewan Theodore case

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WATCH: After the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the Theodore case, it appears a lengthy court battle between the public and Catholic school boards is over. – Feb 26, 2021

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Good Spirit Public School Division’s application for leave to appeal the Theodore case on Thursday.

The dismissal supports the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal’s unanimous decision in March 2020 that overturned a 2017 ruling attempting to limit public funding for non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools in the province.

“We are relieved and reassured by this decision, and we believe it can be considered a victory for both religious and parental rights and freedoms,” Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association executive director Tom Fortosky said in a statement Thursday.

Read more: Public Schools of Saskatchewan appealing Theodore decision to Supreme Court of Canada

“Even though the government of Saskatchewan assured us they would do whatever is necessary to protect your choice for your child’s education, this decision definitively confirms what we have said and believed all along.

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“Parents know what is best for their children and they should be able to choose Catholic, faith-based education if that is what they want — no matter their reasons, faith backgrounds or traditions.”

Read more: Decision overturned in funding appeal for non-Catholic students in Saskatchewan

Fortosky said he is grateful to the parents and guardians of the students for the ongoing support throughout the case.

“In spite of this period of uncertainty, they have made their choice and we are humbled and honoured that so many continue to choose Catholic education for their children and families,” Fortosky said.

“We are also grateful to the many donors who generously funded the costs of this appeal. Because of them, all eight Catholic boards in the province were able to keep education funds in the classroom and not divert them to cover costly courtroom expenses.”

Meanwhile, Norm Dray, Public Schools of Saskatchewan executive director, said he’s deeply disappointed with the decision.

“We felt we had a good case to take forward and that it should be heard,” Dray said.

“We believe that Catholic schools have a constitutional right to exist but we don’t think there should be competing public school systems.”

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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also weighed in on the decision on Twitter.

“Our government strongly supports parent and student choice in education, including Saskatchewan’s public, separate and faith-based schools,” the post read.

“Last year, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that all students have the right to attend public or separate schools, regardless of their religious affiliation.

“With today’s news that the Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed the leave for appeal to challenge this decision, we are pleased that we can continue to rely on the previous ruling which provides certainty for thousands of families in our province.”

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

The dispute started in 2003 when Yorkdale School Division, now Good Spirit School Division, closed its kindergarten-to-Grade-8 school in the town of Theodore, Sask., due to declining enrolment.

Community members created their own Catholic school division and opened St. Theodore Roman Catholic School with less than one-third of students being of the Catholic faith.

Click to play video: 'Public Schools of Saskatchewan appealing Theodore decision to Supreme Court of Canada' Public Schools of Saskatchewan appealing Theodore decision to Supreme Court of Canada
Public Schools of Saskatchewan appealing Theodore decision to Supreme Court of Canada – Apr 9, 2020

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.

In April 2017, Saskatchewan’s Court of Queen’s Bench ruled the province’s funding of non-Catholic students in Catholic schools violated the “state’s duty of religious neutrality,” under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but was unanimously overturned by the province’s Court of Appeal in March 2020.

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As is its practice, the Supreme Court of Canada did not give reasons for dismissing the leave to appeal application.

— with files from Dave Giles

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