Judge rules province can't fund non-Catholics to go to Catholic schools

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April 21, 2017 - 6:35am Updated: April 21, 2017 - 8:09am
After a court ruling, non-Catholic students won't be able to get provincial government funding to attend Catholic schools after June 30, 2018.
File Photo/980 CJME
After a court ruling, non-Catholic students won't be able to get provincial government funding to attend Catholic schools after June 30, 2018.

A Yorkton Court of Queen's Bench judge has ruled it unconstitutional for the province to pay for non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools.

Justice Donald Layh's decision was published Thursday.

In it, he wrote “the implementation of this declaration will cause significant repercussions in the province.”  As such, the ruling will take effect on June 30, 2018.

The trial involved the public Good Spirit School Division (GSSD) and Christ the Teacher School Division (CTSD), a Catholic board.

The boards had a dispute over St. Theodore Roman Catholic, located about 40 kilometres north of Yorkton in Theodore, Sask. It was a public school prior to 2003.

The public school in Theodore was set to close but a group of Catholics in the area successfully petitioned the province to form the Theodore Roman Catholic School Division, which eventually became a part of CTSD.

The group purchased the school and reopened it as a Catholic school.

Parents in the area, whether they were Catholic or not, decided they preferred to send their kids to the local school instead of having them bused to the public school in Springside, about 15 minutes away on Highway 16.

St. Theodore Roman Catholic had 42 students enrolled when it first opened in 2003. At that time only 13 kids, or 31 per cent of students, were Roman Catholic.

The percentage of Roman Catholics in the school has since reached as high as 39 per cent and dipped to as lows as  23 per cent. At the time of the trial, 26 students were enrolled and nine were Catholic.

GSSD filed a legal complaint in 2005, alleging it was against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for CTSD to get funding for non-Catholic students when GSSD was acting as the public board in the area.

Layh agreed with that position in his ruling, writing that “provincial government funding of non-minority faith students attending separate schools is a violation of the state’s duty of religious neutrality.”

The decision could potentially make it impossible for non-Catholics throughout the province to attend Catholic schools, as they would lose thousands of dollars in per-student funding from the province.

Catholic school boards group reacts

Tom Fortosky, a spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association, put out a statement in the wake of Layh's ruling.

Fortoksy wrote that with a 230-page decision to digest, it was still too early to say exactly how Catholic boards will choose to proceed. He added there was limited appetite to continue paying to fight the case, given that it's already been 12 years in the courts.

But he didn't rule out an appeal.

"However, we have an obligation to stand up for the constitutional rights of separate school divisions, so we are giving serious consideration to an appeal." he wrote.

Fortosky wrote that a final decision on funding for non-Catholics would be a long way off in the event of an appeal.

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