A Saskatchewan judge has ruled that the provincial government must stop paying for non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools in the province.

Justice Donald Layh's far-reaching decision was released publicly Thursday afternoon.

It is set to take effect in June 2018, in recognition of its "significant repercussions," according to the ruling.   

Layh wrote that funding "non-minority faith students" in Catholic schools violates both the Charter of Rights and "the state's duty of religious neutrality."

The ruling stands to upend the provincial government's current practice of paying for any students who attend Catholic schools, regardless of students' religious affiliations. 

In a written statement, the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association said it was disappointed by the decision and is giving serious thought to an appeal.

"This greatly affects students and parents in Christ the Teacher School Division in particular, and families throughout the province," wrote past president Tom Fortosky. "We'll take some time to go over the 230-page decision, consult with our lawyers and process what this means for the division, for Catholic education in Saskatchewan and for all of the families who choose Catholic education."

2005 lawsuit

Layh's decision stems from a 2005 lawsuit filed by the Good Spirit School Division No. 204 (GSSD) against the Christ the Teacher Roman Catholic Separate School Division No. 212.

At issue was the creation in 2003 of a Catholic school in the village of Theodore, Sask., and the subsequent attendance of provincially-funded non-Catholic students at that school. 

The GSSD argued that the constitutional protection of Catholic schools does not include the right for those schools to receive government funding for non–Catholic students.

Bob Leurer, one of three lawyers for the Good Spirit School Division, said Thursday evening that the board had only begun to pore over the ruling and was not prepared to comment at the time. 

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Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said that Bob Leurer is a lawyer representing the Catholic School Board. In fact, he represents the Good Spirit School Division.
    Apr 21, 2017 10:03 AM CT