SASKATOON — The Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association (SCSBA) has 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 case is specific to Christ the Teacher division, but affects all Catholic education in the Province,” said SCSBA spokesperson Tom Fortosky at an April 28 news conference.
On April 20, Justice Donald Layh ruled that the government of Saskatchewan could no longer fund non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools in Saskatchewan, starting June 30, 2018.
In 2005, Good Spirit public school division filed a legal complaint against Christ the Teacher Roman Catholic school division and the government of Saskatchewan over the creation of a new Catholic school in Theodore, Sask., after Theodore public school was closed. Layh ruled that funding non-Catholic students in Catholic schools violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and “the state’s duty of religious neutrality.”
“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,” Fortosky said.
“At its essence, the Constitution provides the Catholic minority with the right to operate a school system in accordance with Catholic values and beliefs,” said Fortosky.
“We believe that this includes the right to have an inclusive and welcoming admittance policy consistent with the church’s ecumenical efforts since the Second Vatican Council. This benefits the broader community, as more parents have had the opportunity to exercise parental choice and choose a faith-based education for their children.”
The SCSBA legal team maintains the ruling erred in finding that the provincial government must discriminate on the basis of religion in its allocation of funding. The constitutional provision in section 17(2) of the Saskatchewan Act (which established the province in 1905) expressly prohibits any such discrimination, Fortosky said.
The legal team also holds that the trial judge erroneously interpreted several long-standing legal principles — as established by past decisions of the courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada — related to the Constitution.
“We are fortunate that Saskatchewan has enjoyed a separate school system since our inception,” Fortosky added. “Parents have obviously endorsed Catholic education by entrusting Catholic schools with the education of their children. And we’ll do everything we can to ensure that choice for faith-based education in Saskatchewan remains for future generations.”
Rather than requiring proof of Catholicity, Catholic schools have operated from a position of welcome and inclusivity, he said.
Filing an appeal puts the court ruling on hold, pausing the June 2018 implementation date.
This week Diane Boyko, chair of the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools Board of Education, stressed that it is business as usual for the school district. “We will continue to welcome our students, and we will continue to educate them. We will continue to enrol new students, Catholic and non-Catholic, within our school and we will continue the partnership that exists between the church and the community and our families,” she said.
She addressed misconceptions about Catholic education. “We offer a Catholic school, not only a school for Catholics. I think that’s an important point for people to understand — that we are a welcoming community, and that we welcome all, anyone, any parent or guardian who feels that there is a place for their child within the Catholic school system. We have a moral obligation to ensure that parents and guardians have that choice.”
In a message to parents and guardians earlier in the week, Boyko said the most common questions she has heard in the wake of the ruling are “What does this mean for me and my children” and “What can I do?”
“I assure you that we remain a welcoming community, and our doors continue to be open to all families who choose a Catholic education for their children. The decision is about funding; it does not state non-Catholics cannot attend Catholic schools,” she wrote.
It is important to note that the decision does not refute the constitutional rights for separate schools, she said. “This court ruling will have no impact on our current plans to open six new schools in September 2017 (four in Saskatoon, one in Warman and one in Martensville),” Boyko added.
She also noted that both Premier Brad Wall and Education Minister Don Morgan have publicly stated their concern over the court ruling and their support of parental choice.
“I believe that it is time to help our community leaders understand how important Catholic education is and encourage their continued support,” she told parents and guardians, urging all those who value Catholic education and parental choice to contact elected officials to express support for Catholic schools and concern about the court decision.