Court rules public dollars for non-Catholic separate school students unconstitutional

Saskatchewan’s Catholic school divisions are scrambling to figure out the implications of a landmark court decision released Thursday that ruled public funding for non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools is unconstitutional.

The long-awaited decision, written by Justice D.H. Layh, is the culmination of 12 years of court battles over a small Catholic school in the Yorkton area.

In 2003, the Good Spirit School Division (GSSD) decided to close the community K-8 school located in the Community of Theodore.

The 42 students were to be bussed 17km down the Yellowhead Highway to neighbouring Springside.

Looking to save their community school, a minority group of Catholics successfully lobbied for the creation of a school division with a single Catholic school. The division later joined a neighbouring Catholic school division.

During the school’s existence, the percentage of Catholic students has never exceeded 39 per cent, falling to a low of 23 per cent. At the time the case was brought before the courts, in 2005, of the school’s 26 students, only nine were Catholic.

The case revolved around interpretations of the Canadian Constitution, the Saskatchewan Act, which formed the province of Saskatchewan, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The public school division was arguing that the historic constitutional protection of separate schools does not include the right for the school to receive government funding for non-Catholic students.

The existence of Catholic and Protestant separate school divisions dates back to confederation, when religious minorities were provided that constitutional protection.

For more on this story, please see the April 22 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.