Court ruling threatens Saskatchewan Catholic schools.

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Court ruling threatens Saskatchewan Catholic schools.

#1  Postby Shrunk » Apr 22, 2017 12:24 pm

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.... ... katchewan/

Some background: Saskatchewan is one of three Canadian provinces in which the existence of publicly funded Catholic schools is mandated. This is, in large part, a vestige of the time of Confederation, when the (predominantly Catholic) French minority faced persecution from the (Protestant) English majority. While it seems quite clear that these measures, once designed to protect religious minorities, now amount to preferential treatment of a particular religion by the state, because this system is enshrined in the Constitution it is not subject to challenge under the Charter of Rights.

In Saskatchewan, the way the system works is that if a Protestant or Catholic minority in a particular district want to establish a school for their own religion, they must hold a vote (just among members of that religion) and if the proposal is passed, the province must set up a separate school district, and fund the schools established within it. The funding is determined according to the number of students enrolled in a school. Crucially for this case, the Catholic schools admit students of any faith. They are just required to be respectful of Catholic faith. (I believe there is discrimination on the basis of religion in terms of hiring teachers and other staff, however).

This case arose from a situation in which a local (non-Catholic) public school was closed because of declining enrollment, which meant kids would be bused to a neighbouring town. The townspeople hit on a clever plan to prevent this: Catholic parents successfully petitioned to have a Catholic school established in the town. The newly-created separate school board then took control of the school that was to be closed and continued to operate it, now as a Catholic school. This was despite the fact fewer than 40% of the students were Catholic. This school was fully funded by the provincial gov't, as required by law.

The public school board then legally challenged the establishment of this school and, 12 years later, were victorious.
As best as I can tell, the judge's decision hinges on the fact that, while the Constitution requires that Catholic schools be established and funded, it does not require that non-Catholic students attending such schools be funded. This amounts to preferential treatment by the state of one religion over another. In his ruling, the judge gives the example of a Muslim school which does not receive such funding, and states that this preferential treatment is "axiomatically" a violation of the Charter.

The outcome of this ruling could be far-reaching. Firstly, the practice of funding non-Catholic students exists in other provinces, so this would also be unconsitutional. And while heretofore there has been little political appetite for the Constitutional amenmdments necessary to abolish the separate school systems, that may well change if the running of such schools is no longer financially feasible, and if the schools are truly reserved only for students of a single religion.

More to come, no doubt.
"A community is infinitely more brutalised by the habitual employment of punishment than it is by the occasional occurrence of crime." -Oscar Wilde
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