Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is invoking the notwithstanding clause for the first time in order to block a judge’s decision to ban funding for non-Catholic students in Catholic schools.
By doing so, Wall’s government will basically be overriding the court’s decision.
The province has said 10,000 non-Catholic students would be forced out of Catholic schools if it allowed the Court of Queen’s Bench ruling to stay in place.
“We support school choice including public, separate and faith-based schools,” Wall said in a press release. “We will defend school choice for students and parents. By invoking the notwithstanding clause we are protecting the rights of parents and students to choose the schools that work best for their families, regardless of their religious faith.”
The notwithstanding clause — also known as “overriding power” — is entrenched as Section 33 in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Provinces can pass a law to override portions of the Charter for a five-year period.
According to a government press release, the law doing just that is being prepared by the province “to to provide clarity and provide parents with the assurance that they will be able to continue to choose the kind of school they want their children to attend.”
On April 20, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Donald Layh ruled that provincial government funding of non-minority faith students attending separate schools infringes on religious neutrality and equality rights.
That decision stemmed from a 2003 dispute between the Yorkdale School Division (now the Good Spirit School Division) closed down its kindergarten-to-Grade 8 school in Theodore because of declining enrolment.
The 42 students in the area were to be bused to a school 17 kilometres away, but instead a local group created a Catholic School Division and opened up St. Theodore Roman Catholic School.