Grade one students relaxing on Ecole St. Elizabeth’s presentation stairs. Photo courtesy of the Government of Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan government fights to pay for non-Catholic students at Catholic schools

By  Catholic News Agency
  • March 13, 2019
REGINA – The government of Saskatchewan in Canada is arguing that it should be allowed to pay for non-Catholic students to attend Catholic school, appealing a 2017 court decision that could force up to 10,000 students out of Catholic schools because they are not Catholic.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Donald Layh first handed down the ruling in April 2017, saying that any provincial government funding for “non-minority faiths” would violate Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the state’s duty of religious neutrality, and equality rights.

Saskatchewan is arguing that its current model, whereby students of all faiths at Catholic schools are given funding, is religiously neutral, and that demanding religious proof to determine funding would not be religiously neutral, the CBC reports.

Saskatchewan is one of three Canadian provinces that partially fund Catholic school systems with taxpayer money. If it stands, the ruling could affect 26 other faith-based schools besides the Catholic schools, including a school for Muslim students.

This particular debate over school funding began in 2003, when the public school closed in the Saskatchewan village of Theodore. The public school district planned to bus 42 students to the public school in a neighboring village, but a group of Catholics petitioned the Minister of Education to form a new Catholic school division. The division then bought the old public school building and renamed it St. Theodore Roman Catholic School, CBC reports.

A local public school division filed a legal complaint against the Catholic school division and the provincial government in 2005. The complaint charged that the funding was unconstitutional and wrongly put the Catholic school in the role of a public school. Funding of non-Catholic students at the Catholic school constituted discrimination against public schools, the complaint said.

The lawsuit alleged that the community created the Catholic school division not to serve Catholic students, but to prevent students from being bused to another town to go to school, according to the Canadian site Global News.

Saskatchewan was given until June 2018 to follow the judge’s ruling, but instead they appealed and continued to pay for non-Catholic students to attend the Catholic school, Global News reports.

The government has said that if they lose again, they plan to counteract the ruling using a notwithstanding clause, which can temporarily override certain portions of the Canadian charter for five years, according to Global News. A panel of five judges in the court of appeals will have six to eighteen months to issue a ruling.

Both sides are expected to argue their case before the Court of Appeals this week.

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Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.