Following a recent Court of Queen’s Bench ruling that, if allowed to stand, would force about 10,000 non-Catholic students out of Catholic schools, CCSTA had made a statement on the Theodore Case decision.
“The Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association strongly believes an appeal in the Theodore case is warranted. While pleased that Premier Wall is invoking the not-withstanding clause to allow non Catholics to attend Catholic schools and receive funding, the SCSBA feels they have good grounds for an appeal. At this time they are waiting to see if the Saskatchewan government will appeal the ruling. If an appeal goes ahead CCSTA will in all likelihood seek intervenor status,” says Executive Director Julian Hanlon.
The CCSTA response is to an April 20 Court of Queen’s Bench ruling on a legal challenge by the Good Spirit School Division of Christ the Teacher Catholic Schools’ right to receive provincial funding for non-Catholic students. The Court ruled that the government must stop funding non-minority faith students to attend separate schools.
In 2005, York School Division (now Good Spirit School Division #204 (GSSD)) filed a legal complaint against what is now Christ the Teacher Roman Catholic School Division #212 (CTRCSD) and the Government of Saskatchewan.
The complaint 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—serving Catholics who are the minority religion in the region. They alleged it was created merely as a means to prevent the school from closing and children being bussed to a nearby town, and they are challenging the legal status of the division.
Their argument was that 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.
What does this mean? Essentially, that non-Catholic students attending a Catholic School shouldn’t be allowed to do so. Instead, the GSSD argued these students shouldn’t be allowed to choose whether they should attend a public or separate school; rather, the government should only allow these students one choice: the public system.
After years of attempting to reconcile this complaint, the case came before the provincial court.
The 12-week trial took place in Yorkton and started in November, 2015. Following a five-week trial, they re-convened in May, 2015 for another seven weeks (with breaks integrated throughout). When the trial wrapped up in mid-July, one thing was for sure: there was significant information presented from all three sides involved – the public school board (the plaintiff), the Catholic school board (the defence) and the provincial government (the defence).
Following the 12-week trial, the Judge, Justice Layh, had to review the 7,000 pages of transcripts as well as the submissions made by both the plaintiff and the defendants.
On April 20, the Court ruled that the government must stop funding non-minority faith students to attend separate schools.
SCSBA Set to Appeal
On April 28, the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association (SCSBA) announced that an appeal of the recent decision in the Theodore court case will be filed on behalf of Christ the Teacher School Division. The decision to appeal has been unanimously endorsed by all eight Catholic school boards in the province.
“The legal team representing Christ the Teacher School Division in this case has carefully reviewed the trial judge’s lengthy decision, and we believe that there are several strong grounds for appeal,” said SCSBA spokesperson Tom Fortosky.
The Government’s Response
On May 1, Premier Brad Wall announced the government will protect school choice in Saskatchewan by invoking the notwithstanding clause of The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The move comes in response to a recent Court of Queen’s Bench ruling that, if allowed to stand, would force about 10,000 non-Catholic students out of Catholic schools. The ruling could also risk provincial funding of 26 other faith-based schools including Luther College, Regina Christian School, Saskatoon Christian School and Huda School.
“We support school choice including public, separate and faith-based schools,” Wall said. “We will defend school choice for students and parents. By invoking the notwithstanding clause we are protecting the rights of parents and students to choose the schools that work best for their families, regardless of their religious faith.”
Section 33 of The Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives provincial legislatures the authority to override certain portions of the Charter for a five year term. Invoking the notwithstanding clause requires an Act of the Legislative Assembly.
“I have asked the Ministers of Education and Justice to begin preparing legislation to invoke the notwithstanding clause to protect choice in our school system,” Wall said. “We wanted to announce this now to provide clarity and provide parents with the assurance that they will be able to continue to choose the kind of school they want their children to attend.”
To learn more about the court case, decision and next steps, visit the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association website.