Late last week the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the Good Spirit School Division's application for leave to appeal the Theodore school case to the court, ending 16 years of legal back and forth on whether non-Catholic students can receive provincial funding to attend Catholic schools.
The ruling now means that funding non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools is allowed.
“The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the application for leave. So what that means is that the Court of Appeal, the unanimous Court of Appeal decision in Saskatchewan is law of the land in Saskatchewan. Practically speaking it means that nothing is really changing in education as far as Catholic education goes,” Tom Fortosky Executive Director Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association (SCSBA) said.
“We are grateful, we are relieved we don't have to carry on with this case anymore and we just want to get back to doing what we do best and that's educating children,” he added.
The ruling means that the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal decision from April 2017 stands as the ruling in the case. Good Spirit has now exhausted all of their legal options in the case.
“I am sure you are as happy and relieved by this decision as I am,” Prince Albert Catholic Division board chair Suzanne Stubbs said in a letter published at the division's website last week.
“Even though the Government of Saskatchewan assured us they would do whatever is necessary to protect your choice for your child’s education, this decision definitively confirms what we have said and believed all along: as parents, you know what is best for your children and you should be able to choose Catholic, faith-based education if that is what you want—no matter your reason, faith background or tradition,”
The case has a long and winding history in the province.
“The facts that gave rise to the case started in 2003, the lawsuit started in 2005 so it has been 16 years and in education terms that's more than one person going through school starting from Kindergarten,” Fortosky said.
The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled in March, 2020 that provincial funding for non-Catholic students in Catholic schools was acceptable.
This unanimous decision overturned a 2017 trial decision, where Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Donald Layh declared that the funding violates “the state’s duty of religious neutrality,” which contradicts the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He explained that the decision means that Catholic education can continue as it always has by offering a distinctly Catholic education to all those who choose it for their children.
The case concerns what is now known as St. Theodore Catholic School in Theodore, located 40 kilometres from Yorkton. In 2003 the public division made the decision to close what was then Theodore School and the local Catholic community petitioned to form a new Catholic Division and eventually purchased the school and opened it under a new name.
The then-Yorkdale School Division (now part of Good Spirit) planned to bus students to Springside. The Good Spirit School Division launched a lawsuit in 2005 claiming the school was only created to prevent students from being bused to Springside.
The case was taken to the Supreme Court by Public Schools of Saskatchewan in 2020.
The Supreme Court’s decision also means the provincial government does not have to follow through on a promise to use the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to protect the funding.
The cost of funding the appeal was supported by many large and small donors and the SCSBA began fundraising when the appeal process began, Fortosky said.
“We were very pleased with the support that we got. We were getting small donations from people who supported what we do in Catholic education. We had some donors like the Knights of Columbus who gave significant amounts, there was some large ones, but for the most part we had just a wide ranging support given to us for the appeal piece, so that was very gratifying to see.”
“A significant amount of time and money has been spent on this court case, and we are pleased that we can all refocus our energy and resources on our students and families to build upon the exemplary model of education we have in this province,” Stubbs said.
In the letter, Stubbs noted that if there was questions of concerns to contact her or any of the trustees on the board of education.
Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald