REGINA, Canada – The Saskatchewan government has said it will seek a temporary exemption to block a judge’s ruling that could force up to 10,000 students out of Catholic schools because they are not Catholic.
“We support school choice, including public, separate and faith-based schools,” Premier Brad Wall said, adding, “We will defend school choice for students and parents.”
He responded to a ruling that barred taxpayer funding for non-Catholic students at Catholic schools. Besides the Catholic schools, the ruling could affect 26 other faith-based schools, including a school for Muslim students.
Wall said that the use of the exemption, called a notwithstanding clause, will protect the rights of students and parents “to choose the schools that work best for their families, regardless of their religious faith.”
The notwithstanding clause allows Canadian provinces to create laws that operate in spite of charter rights that the laws appear to violate. The temporary use of the clause can be renewed every five years.
On April 20, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Donald Layh ruled that any provincial government funding would violate Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the state’s duty of religious neutrality, and equality rights.
The decision concerned a lawsuit between a public school division and the Christ the Teacher Catholic Separate School Division.
It challenged the creation of a separate school division in 2003 in the village of Theodore, 130 miles northeast of Regina, before the village’s public school closed.
Some parents of non-Catholic students decided to send their children to the local Catholic school instead of busing them to a public school in another town.
The 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 complaint also charged that a new school division was wrongly created to prevent the public school from closing.
The ruling was to have taken effect in July 2018.
Leader of the Opposition Trent Wotherspoon backed the government’s use of the notwithstanding clause, but said the government should have mediated a solution during the long period in which the case was considered by the courts.
The notwithstanding clause was last invoked in the year 2000, when Quebec used the clause in laws involving religious schools and schools for indigenous students. The Alberta province also invoked the clause.