Province vows to fight Catholic school ruling

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April 24, 2017 - 7:21pm Updated: April 25, 2017 - 6:49am
The Saskatchewan government is reviewing its options following a court ruling ordering it to stop paying for non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools.
File Photo/650 CKOM
The Saskatchewan government is reviewing its options following a court ruling ordering it to stop paying for non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools.

Premier Brad Wall is weighing in on a court decision that has parents and students uneasy across the province.

Government lawyers spent the weekend poring over a judgment that bans government funding for non-Catholic students in the Catholic system.

Justice Donald Layh gave the province until June 30, 2018, to cease its payments to Catholic school boards for non-Catholic students.

The controversial ruling would effectively force thousands of students in the Catholic system into public schools.

Brad Wall posted to Facebook Monday saying he was concerned by the ruling and the government was examining all legal options to reverse it.

Education Minister Don Morgan stepped up the rhetoric on Gormley, saying not funding non-Catholic students is not on the table or a workable option.

"We have an obligation to fund all of the students in our province. We have a 100-year heritage of having the two school systems. It has served the citizens of our province very well," Morgan said.

The government has a 30-day period to appeal the decision. Morgan said using the notwithstanding clause is also an option being considered.

"It is something not to be taken lightly so we want to look at it carefully and we're doing it as quickly as we can."

Morgan said invoking the clause would require passing a new law, which he noted would be a challenge to get through during the current sitting of the legislature.

Law professor says Sask. government can dodge ruling

Dwight Newman, a constitutional expert at the University of Saskatchewan law school, said the province has a wide range of powers at its disposal in regards to the case.

He said an appeal could be an option, given the Yorkton ruling touches on areas of law that could be viewed as unsettled.

"I think there's a possibility that there could be arguments about what the law is, and that's one of the bases that could ground an appeal," he said.

Newman noted that an appeal carries no guarantees of a successful outcome.

However, he said because education is a clear area of provincial jurisdiction, Saskatchewan's government can use the constitution's notwithstanding clause to effectively ignore the ruling.

"The notwithstanding clause allows the government to say that particular legislation will stand, or be in place, notwithstanding the court's interpretation that there's an infringement of the Charter," he said.

Newman explained that any use of the notwithstanding clause comes with a five-year time limit, meaning the province would be required to decide whether to renew it.

Use of the notwithstanding clause has proven exceptionally rare since the Charter of Rights was introduced in 1982.

Perhaps its most famous use was by the Quebec government, which invoked the clause in 1988 to protect a law mandating French-only signage on the province's businesses. That law was amended after the five-year period to allow English, so long as French was displayed more prominently.

Saskatchewan used the clause in 1986 to shield back-to-work legislation imposed on striking public service workers. That use of the clause was later made unnecessary by a Supreme Court ruling which determined the Charter did not protect the right to strike.

In 2000, the Government of Alberta used the clause to protect a bill defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. That was overridden when the Supreme Court ruled that defining marriage was a matter of federal jurisdiction.

Saskatoon Catholic board issues open letter to parents

An open letter posted on the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School website said the ruling has raised many questions and created some degree of uncertainty.

"My short answer to you is that we remain a welcoming community, and our doors will continue to be open to all families who choose a faith-based education for their children — regardless of their religious affiliation," wrote Greg Chatlain, director of education.

Chatlain said the court ruling will have no impact on plans to open four new schools in Saskatoon in September 2017, along with one in each in Warman and Martensville.

— with files from Brent Bosker and Bryn Levy

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