Court of appeal says province can fund non-Catholic students at Catholic schools
REGINA -- Saskatchewan's highest court has voted to overturn a ruling that said the province could no longer fund non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools.
A panel of judges released the unanimous ruling on Wednesday.
The written decision says a judge's declaration of "constitutionality invalidity is set aside." The judges also say it will allow the appeal of costs decisions.
"Given that the fundamental source of funding for all parties – Good Spirit, Christ the Teacher and the Government – comes from the taxpayers of this province, we would make no order as to costs either for or against any party in either Court with respect to the applications and the appeal," the decision read.
The Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association said in an email that it is "relieved, reassured and grateful" for the decision.
"This decision overturns the 2017 ruling that sought to limit public funding for students who choose to attend Catholic schools in Saskatchewan but lack a Catholic baptismal certificate," the association said.
In a landmark decision in 2017, a Saskatchewan judge said the province doesn’t have the legal right to give Catholic schools funding for non-Catholic students. Justice Donald Layh's ruling stemmed from a lawsuit over the province's policy of funding separate schools based on enrolment regardless of religious affiliation.
"Obviously we are disappointed with the decision, we believe that our arguments should carry. Now we've got two courts, two level of courts each with a different opinion," said Norm Dray the executive director of Public Schools of Saskatchewan.
"We have to take another look at things and examine the case. We haven't had much time with it yet I'm afraid, the case was just released today, we need some more time with the case to take a look at it, meet with our legal advisors and then to consult with our membership."
The province said in a statement that it is pleased with the Court of Appeal's decision giving parents the ability to choose how their child is educated.
"We respect the court’s decision and thank them for their time hearing this case. We will review the decision and consider all our options before determining any next steps that may be taken," said Gordon Wyant, the Saskatchewan Minister of Education.
"Our government has passed legislation allowing for the use of the “notwithstanding clause” as it relates to this case, though not proclaimed it. We will continue to keep this legislation as an option"
The case dates back to 2003, when Theodore, Sask.'s public school closed its doors due to declining enrolment. The Yorkdale School Division, now the Good Spirit School Division, planned to bus students 17 kilometres to Springside.
In response, a local group created its own Catholic school division and opened St. Theodore Roman Catholic School. That move prompted the Good Spirit School Division to launch a lawsuit claiming the school was only created to prevent students from having to travel to a neighbouring town.
Layh said the provincial government's funding of non-Catholic students infringed on religious neutrality and equality rights. He also said the ruling wouldn't need to be enforced until June of 2018.
When the ruling was handed down in 2017, the province said it would force 10,000 students to switch to public schools. Saskatchewan invoked the notwithstanding clause for just the second time in more than 30 years, which allowed student enrolment to remain unchanged for five years.
An appeal in 2019 heard arguments from school boards in Ontario and Alberta.
With files from The Canadian Press